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Library of Congress Reports on Flickr Pilot

By January 7, 2009December 20th, 2017Taxonomy

Last month the Library of Congress released their report on their ongoing Flickr project that i have been very interested in and have written about as the projectprogressed. From their blog post on the report:

“Only nine months into the Library of Congress’ pilot project placing Library photos on the Web site Flickr, the photos have drawn more than 10 million views, 7,166 comments and more than 67,000 tags, according to a new report from the project team overseeing the lively project.”

“The popularity and impact of the pilot have been remarkable,” said Michelle Springer, project manager for digital initiatives in the Office of Strategic Initiatives, who said total views reached 10 million in October. The site is averaging 500,000 views a month, she said, adding that Flickr members have marked 79 percent of the photos as “favorites.”

A summary of some of the outcomes:

  • Increasing awareness of the digital photograph collection the Library of Congress (LC) has which has been available for years on the Library’s website turning to not only an engaged audience but a lot of referral traffic to the Library’s Website. “Feedback of this nature suggests that as a result of this project the Library is reaching new audiences—people who did not or could not find this material on our own site, and people who never thought to look here.
  • Gain a Better Understanding of Social Tagging and Community Input (see below for more details)
  • Pilot helped the LC staff gain experience with Web 2.0 online interactions with ‘patrons’

Congress Synaptica blog









Since the beginning of the project i have been very interested in learning about some of the outcomes that the project would provide in regards to user tagging versus applied controlled vocabulary through traditional bibliographic cataloging. In the report the share that they used the Flickr API to do deeper analysis of the tagging that was done by the community (see pages 19-24 of the full report) based on nine categories that provided some interesting insight focused on issues commonly cited in comparisons of social tagging vs. assignement of controlled vocabulary terms(page 28). The categories analyzed were:

I. LC description-based (words copied from the Library-provided record): e.g., titles,
names, subjects, etc.

II. New descriptive words (words not present in the Library-provided description):

  • Place: e.g., cities, counties, countries, natural feature names
  • Format (physical characteristics of the original photos). Sample tags: LF, large format, black and white, bw, transparencies, glass plate
  • Photographic technique. Sample tags: shallow depth of field
  • Time period. Sample tags: wartime, WWII, 1912
  • Creator name: e.g., photographer’s name

III. New subject words (words not present in the Library-provided description):

  • Image (items seen in the image itself). Sample tags: cables, trees, apples, windows, hat, yellow
  • Associations/symbolism (phrases and slogans evoked by the image). Sample tags: Rosie the riveter, Norman Rockwell, We can do it!
  • Commentary (revealing the tagger’s value judgments). Sample tags: Sunday best,
  • proud, dapper, vintage.
  • Transcription (transcribing words found in items such as signs, posters, etc., within the photo)
  • Topic (terms that convey the topic of the photo). Sample tags: architecture, navy, baseball, story
  • Humor (tags intended to be humorous rather than descriptive) Sample tags: UFO, flying saucer

IV. Emotional/aesthetic responses: (personal reactions of the tagger). Sample tags: wow,
pretty, ugly, controversial

V. Personal knowledge/research (tags that could only have been added based on knowledge or research by the tagger, and that could not have been gleaned solely from the description provided or examination of the photo): For example, the tag murder used on a portrait of someone who was later murdered or tags added for the specific county when that information was not part of the description.

VI. Machine tags (added by the community not Library-supplied): e.g., geotags and Iconclass tags

VII. Variant forms (representing terms already tagged but in a different form, such as synonyms (e.g., WW2, WWII, World War II, worldwarii) or plural/singular differences (e.g., transparency/transparencies)

VIII. Foreign language (tags in foreign languages/scripts, whether they are translations of English-language tags, or new tags)

IX. Miscellaneous (tags that are not readily understood, that provide corrections to LC descriptions or to other taggers (e.g., not peaches), or tags later removed

Some of the Future Tag Analysis Interests (page 29) are also quite interesting such as actually incorporating popular concepts or variants into the LC’s own controlled vocabularies (yeah something i advocate in the hybrid approach!), bringing the tags into the LC’s search environment, populate bibliographic records with tags (although that have already added the Flickr URL to the “additional version available” field (MARC field 530) in some catalog records which leads users to the appropriate Flickr page that might provide historical information etc. on the image that is vaulable- see sample on page 36).

In the report they also share some of the experiences the staff learned from using Web2.0 tools in interacting with patrons that might be different from the traditional reference desk exchanges (page 37).

The good news? Skip to page 38 of the full report to see the recommendations and conculsions including details of headcount that is necessary for the program to continue and expand. But the report ends with the following good news:

“It should come as no surprise, then, that the Flickr team recommends that this experiment in Web 2.0 cease to be characterized as a pilot and evolve to an expanded involvement in this growing community (and other appropriate social networking opportunities that may arise) as resources permit. The benefits appear to far outweigh the costs and risks. “

The entire set of tags that have been applied can be seen alphabetically or as a tag cloud of the 150 most popular tags.

Many thanks to the Library of Congress staff for taking on this project and continuously sharing their progress through their blog as well as other resources (see Appendix C) and to the authors of the project report: Michelle Springer, Beth Dulabahn, Phil Michel, Barbara Natanson, David Reser, David Woodward, and Helena Zinkham.


This post is cross-posted on my personal blog]

Daniela Barbosa