Via a tweet by @briankelly I discovered Flickr Commons, a collaboration between the Library of Congress and Flickr to "give you a taste of the hidden treasures in the huge Library of Congress collection" and to demonstrate "how your input of a tag or two can make the collection even richer". There are more formal announcements here and here.
Brian's initial tweet generated a mini Twitter discussion (something that some people say Twitter isn't supposed to be used for though I tend to disagree). The general consensus seemed to be that using the resources and tools of the private sector to widen access to public collections makes perfect sense, provided ownership of the data is retained - i.e. in this case it is OK because Flickr isn't Facebook! :-) There are certainly some very, very obvious benefits in terms of visibility of content, size of audience, quality of user experience, and so on.
On that basis alone, this is a very interesting development and one that I'm sure many parts of the cultural heritage sector will be keeping a close eye on. Congratulations to the Library of Congress and Flickr for getting their fingers out and doing something to bring these worlds together! I'm guessing that the two collections that have been made available via Flickr so far are part of the American Memory collection - I haven't checked. I'm also guessing that, like much of that collection, these images are effectively in the public domain?
As I've said before, what is frustrating for those of us in the UK about this development is that it is much harder to see this kind of thing happening here, where so many of our cultural collections are locked behind restrictive 'personal', 'educational' use licences.
It'll be fascinating to see what kinds of tags people add. The Flickr policy statement - "Any Flickr member is able to add tags or comment on these collections. If you're a dork about it, shame on you. This is for the good of humanity, dude!!" is short and to the point. Like it!
I took a quick browse around the 1930s-40s in Color collection/set. Here's a nice image (see right), now tagged with 'bandana', a word not in the original catalogue record as far as I can tell. From there it is possible to navigate to other images in the collection with the same tag - there are three at the time of writing. OK, so this isn't a earth-shattering example of user-generated content but you get the idea, and bandana researchers all over the world might well be hugely grateful to have three more resources at their disposal! :-)
It will also be interesting to see the kind of comments that people leave. Hopefully we'll get beyond the use of 'wow' and 'awesome'! Wouldn't it be great to see comments by the people (or their families or colleagues) in the photos.
Final thought... we've been making the point here for a while that Flickr is a repository and that the Flickr experience is a useful benchmark when we think about how repositories should look and feel - I think this kind of development makes that even more obvious.