The New York Public Library just released a treasure trove of digitized public domain images, featuring epic poetry from the 11th century to photographs of used car lots in Columbus, Ohio from the 1930s. Over 180,000 manuscripts, maps, photographs, sheet music, lithographs, postcards, and other images were released online Wednesday in incredibly high resolution, and are available to download using the library's user-friendly visualization tool. It's a nostalgist's dream come true.
"No permission required, no hoops to jump through: just go forth and reuse!" writes Shana Kimball, manager of the library's public programs and outreach.
It's a dizzying display. Casual users will likely have to wade through a surplus of mundane ephemera — Yiddish menus for vacation retreats in the Catskills, watercolors of Dutch military officers, 19th century stereoscopic images of the White House — before stumbling upon something truly unique, like these utterly delightful 18th century Indian color drawings.
The images can be sorted by century, color, genre, or library collection. And to inspire further exploration and reuse, the library has also created a number of digital games and tools, such as a "mansion builder" game, where users control a little blue Pac-man-like figure through the floor plans of grand turn-of-the-century New York apartments.
Then there's "then-and-now" comparisons of New York City's 5th Avenue from wide-angle, placing photographs from 1911 alongside the Google Street View of today. And finally, users can explore a "trip planner" using locations extracted from a mid-20th century motor guide called The Green Book that "list[s] hotels, restaurants, bars, and gas stations where black travelers would be welcome."
Digitization is all the rage among libraries and museums these days, with millions of books and images posted online over the last decade. The New York Public Library says it hopes this recent release of public domain images serves as a starting point for future creative reuses. Given the overwhelming number of images now available in the library's collection — well over 670,000, they say — it seems very likely that someone with a penchant for coding and history will certainly take them up on that offer.