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Oregon State U. Releases Photo Collections to Flickr Commons

In an effort to broaden access to its image archives, Oregon State University has become the first university to join Flickr Commons, a section of the popular photo-sharing service devoted to making historic images available to the public.

“We’re always looking for new areas of engagement, new avenues for putting our materials out there,” said Tiah Edmunson-Morton, reference and instruction archivist at the university’s Valley Library, in an interview today. “It seemed a base to reach a whole new set of users.”

Flickr, the image- and video-sharing site owned by Yahoo, opened the Commons last year as a space where archival institutions—like the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, which are both using the service—can post photos and visitors can comment on them. “The key goals of the Commons on Flickr are to firstly show you hidden treasures in the world’s public photography archives, and secondly to show how your input and knowledge can help make these collections even richer,” explains a message on the site’s home page.

So far, Oregon State has chosen to contribute digital images from the strongest areas of its photographic collection—natural resources, environmental history, forestry, and agriculture. The institution’s first post consisted of 116 photos of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, collected by the forestry historian Gerald W. Williams.

“These same images sat in our own Flickr account—and people looked at them sort of, but nobody commented on them and nobody tagged them,” said Ms. Edmunson-Morton. “When we launched into the Commons, it was literally shocking: Our first week, we had 15,000 image views. And we hadn’t that many in our other Flickr account, total.” Oregon State’s non-Commons account had been open for seven months.

Ms. Edmunson-Morton said she hopes the move will encourage students and professors at Oregon State, in addition to remote users, to engage more frequently with those resources, now that they are only a few mouse clicks away.

“I think too often historical images and archives are put of a shelf and not used,” she said. The easier the access, she added, the more likely professors may be to incorporate these photographs into a lecture or students to peruse them in their free time. –Steve Kolowich

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