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February 11, 2016 / carlispina

Exploring New York Public Library’s Public Domain Collections

New York Public Library has conducted a number of interesting digital projects over the years, including scanning a wide range of items from their collection and sharing them online. While many of these items are in the public domain, it was not until recently that the Library started to focus on promoting these resources. These efforts included adding an option to retrieve only public domain resources when searching through their digital collections as seen in the picture below, but go well beyond this.

Digital Collections Search Tool screenshot

Also included in this new release is a series of blog posts highlighting specific public domain items as well as data and an API so that others can make use of this information in new and exciting ways. To get this ball rolling, NYPL created a few innovative digital projects using these public domain resources. The first is a visualization of the public domain images that they have released. The visualization can be manipulated to organize items by date of creation, genre, collection, or color. No matter which organizational method you choose, you can hover over the thumbnails to see a larger image and then click on the item to go to the full record (and download the item if you wish). This is a great example of a fun visualization and, since the code is available, is a great option for anyone who wants to learn more about how to build a tool of this sort.

Visualization Screenshot

In addition to this visualization, NYPL also released three “Public Domain Remixes,” which are applications that make use of the public domain items in very different ways including a game called Mansion Maniac, a collection of information and images from The Green Book which pulls valuable information from these resources and brings it to a modern audience, and Street View, Then & Now, which allows users to compare Fifth Avenue in the past to its modern day look. Though these are only intended to serve as inspirations, they are all fascinating in their own right. If these tools and resources inspire you to create your own application or visualization, you may also want to check out their Remix Residency, which will support select projects making use of these materials. But, act fast because the application deadline is February 19th!


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