NYPL Releases Hi-Res Images, Metadata for 180,000 Public Domain Items in its Digital Collections
Announces new Remix Residency to promote transformative use of materials
JANUARY 6, 2016 -- The New York Public Library has expanded access to more than 180,000 items with no known U.S. copyright restrictions in its Digital Collections database, releasing hi-res images, metadata, and tools facilitating digital creation and reuse. The release represents both a simplification and an enhancement of digital access to a trove of unique and rare materials: a removal of administration fees and processes from public domain content, and also improvements to interfaces — popular and technical — to the digital assets themselves. Online users of the NYPL Digital Collections website will find more prominent download links and filters highlighting restriction-free content; while more technically inclined users will also benefit from updates to the Library's collections API enabling bulk use and analysis, as well as data exports and utilities posted to NYPL's GitHub account. These changes are intended to facilitate sharing, research and reuse by scholars, artists, educators, technologists, publishers, and Internet users of all kinds. All subsequently digitized public domain collections will be made available in the same way, joining a growing repository of open materials.
"The New York Public Library is committed to giving our users access to information and resources however possible," said Tony Marx, president of the Library. "Today, we are going beyond providing our users with digital facsimiles that give only an impression of something we have in our physical collection. By making our highest-quality assets freely available, we are truly giving our users the greatest access possible to our collections in the digital environment."
To encourage novel uses of its digital resources, NYPL is also now accepting applications for a new Remix Residency program. Administered by the Library's digitization and innovation team, NYPL Labs, the residency is intended for artists, information designers, software developers, data scientists, journalists, digital researchers, and others to make transformative and creative uses of digital collections and data,and the public domain assets in particular. Two projects will be selected, receiving financial and consultative support from Library curators and technologists.
To provide further inspiration for reuse, the NYPL Labs team has also released several demonstration projects delving into specific collections, as well as a visual browsing tool allowing users to explore the public domain collections at scale. These projects — which include a then-and-now comparison of New York's Fifth Avenue, juxtaposing 1911 wide angle photographs with Google Street View, and a "trip planner" using locations extracted from mid-20th century motor guides that listed hotels, restaurants, bars, and other destinations where black travelers would be welcome — suggest just a few of the myriad investigations made possible by fully opening these collections.
The public domain release spans the breadth and depth of NYPL's holdings, from the Library's rich New York City collection, historic maps, botanical illustrations, unique manuscripts, photographs, ancient religious texts, and more. Materials include:
- Berenice Abbott's iconic documentation of 1930s New York for the Federal Art Project
- Farm Security Administration photographs by Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks, and others
- Manuscripts of American literary masters like Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Papers and correspondence of founding American political figures like Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison
- Sheet music for popular American songs at the turn of the 20th century
- WPA-era lithographs, etchings, and pastels by African American artists
- Lewis Hine's photographs of Ellis Island immigrants and social conditions in early 20th century America
- Anna Atkins' cyanotypes of British algae, the first recorded photographic work by a woman (1843)
- Handscrolls of the Tale of Genji, created in 1554
- Medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts from Western Europe
- Over 20,000 maps and atlases documenting New York City, North America, and the world
- More than 40,000 stereoscopic views documenting all regions of the United States
Visit nypl.org/publicdomain for information about the materials related to the public domain update and links to all of the projects demonstrating creative reuse of public domain materials.
The New York Public Library's Rights and Information Policy team has carefully reviewed Items and collections to determine their copyright status under U.S. law. As a U.S.-based library, NYPL limits its determinations to U.S. law and does not analyze the copyright status of an item in every country. However, when speaking more generally, the Library uses terms such as "public domain" and "unrestricted materials," which are used to describe the aggregate collection of items it can offer to the public without any restrictions on subsequent use.
In March 2005, the New York Public Library debuted a site called Digital Gallery, which featured 275,000 images from the Library's collections. Over time, however, the Library reconsidered the purpose of a site showcasing digitized materials to aid in research and spur creative reuse, and determined that a passive "gallery" failed to offer the level of access possible. In 2013, the Library launched the Digital Collections portal, which today spans a wide range of historical eras, geography, and media, NYPL Digital Collections offers drawings, illuminated manuscripts, maps, photographs, posters, prints, rare illustrated books, videos, audio, and more from the Library's holdings. Although the Digital Collections includes nearly 850,000 digitized items, it represents only a small fraction of NYPL's entire collection. The aim of Digital Collections is to provide access to and context for the materials we have digitized and to inspire people to use and reuse the media and data on offer here to advance knowledge and create new works.
The Library's digitization efforts are ongoing, and funded by private donations.
Nora Lyons | noralyons [at] nypl [dot] org
About The New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library serves more than 18 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.