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Then and now.


The arrival of Web 2.0 has given libraries new opportunities to enable their users to interact with their collections. Traditionally, users have been able to search for items but the ability to interact with collections has been limited. Today, users are able to post comments on items, add tags and apply ratings to items. One area where this is particularly prevalent is photographic collections.

The ever-decreasing cost and availability of digital cameras, particularly in mobile phones, has seen a surge in the numbers of photos being taken by members of the public. The emergence of Flickr in 2004 combined a photo-storage service with social networking, and many similar sites have since emerged. Flickr has become one of the largest photographic archives in the world, with over three-billion photographs uploaded to the service.

Cultural institutions have taken advantage of Flickr's massive user base to promote and enhance their collections. Picture Australia was one of the first collection websites to partner with Flickr to enhance its collection. Flickr offered a way for Picture Australia to source images of current events. before then, the Picture Australia collection had been primarily historical.

Up until recently, the copyright policies of Flickr have presented problems for collecting agencies. The copyright of historical images was often uncertain and there was limited choice in the licences that institutions could apply to their images. Flickr responded in 2007 with the creation of Flickr Commons, that allows images to be published under the licence 'no known copyright'.

The Library of Congress was the first participant in this new program. With a view to using the large user base to help with tagging and annotatation, the library uploaded a large collection of historical images to Flickr. The experiment was very successful.

At the beginning of 2008, the Powerhouse Museum followed suit by uploading historical images of Sydney, in particular the Tyrrell Collection. Part of the Tyrrell Collection is a set of glass negatives showing daily life in Sydney in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of the photos are street views of Sydney landmarks. The museum also calculated the latitude and longitude of the places in the photos and included this metadata with their images.

In 2005, Google revolutionised maps on the Web by introducing Google Maps. The facility offered a platform upon which anyone could build a mapping application using highly detailed mapping data. This was done by purchasing the data and making the interface available via a set of APIs (application programming interfaces). In their spare time, Web developers started to plot data onto the Google Maps interface, such as plotting crime data in Chicago and petrol prices in California.

In August 2008, Google enhanced its Australian Google Maps service by launching Street View. Google photographed streets in Australia with cameras mounted on the roof of cars and published the images on the Google Maps interface. Users could then see a 360-degree panoramic view of street locations in Australia.

Google and Flickr

Web 2.0 applications are characterised by their social ability. This opens the potential for users to create other applications using the shared data--in other words, to do other things that weren't originally thought of.

By extracting the information from Flickr, the location of where the historical photos were taken can be plotted on a modern-day map, placing the images in a modern-day context that that people can relate to. This can be extended one step further by combining the map information with the Street View images, giving a fully automated 'then-and-now' presentation of the modern-day location juxtaposed with the historical photograph.

As the process is fully automated, it has also been applied to images from the State Library of New South Wales, the National Library of New Zealand and the New York Public Library. These can all be viewd online at

In the future, as opportunities to share data between websites increases, libraries will continue to look at new ways of presenting their collections on the Web.

Paul Hagon, Senior Web Designer
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Title Annotation:photograph collections of libraries and museums
Author:Hagon, Paul
Publication:National Library of Australia Gateways
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Aug 1, 2009
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