Audio Podcast: Library of Congress on partnering with Flickr and finding its voice in social media

Welcome to Voices of the Past, The podcast that helps you advocate for cultural heritage through the web, I’m Jeff Guin. Today we have kind of a special show for you. Traditionally we try to promote independent bloggers who are talking about heritage online but this time, we’re actually talking about a very large governmental agency. And specifically I’m talking about the Library of Congress. Now I’m sure that you are probably aware of the Library of Congress’ partnership with Flickr and Yahoo, and sharing so much of its image catalog online. It’s been hugely popular — seen by millions of people. We’re going to examine the Flickr partnership, how it started, and what lessons the Library of Congress has learned as a result of this partnership. Now I was fortunate to be able to visit with Michelle Springer and Helena Zinkham who are heading up the Flickr efforts there. And they cover a lot of ground in this podcast. They talk about issues of policy, what it’s like to work with a social media company when you’re a large government organization, and also, among the folks who are commenting on their photos and who are contributing data, how they’re actually using that data, and getting it back into their system.

Guin: we’ll start the podcast with Michelle explaining how the Flickr partnership first came about.

Springer: We started out in early 2007 in the Office of Strategic Initiatives wanting to look at a pilot using user generated content and seeing how that might help us describe our collections. Photographs seemed a very good fit for us so we partnered with the photographs division to look at, how we might do this. Photographs are very approachable and can be appreciated at all different levels. We decided as a pilot, this would be a very good place to start. We didn’t know the outcome that it would be when we went into it. We had three goals:

  1. We were interested in exploring how user-generated content could help both the library and users of the collections.
  2. We also wanted to increase awareness of the photographs with the idea that not everyone might realize that the library has pictures, and so this is a way of getting the word out for that.
  3. The third goal that we had was to gain experience using web 2.0, techniques and vendors to get an experience of how you speak, for example, in the social media environment as opposed to the more formal way the library usually communicates. So getting staff experience in swimming in those waters was a part of that.

That was how we started it and it took off like a rocket and we can’t say that we were expecting such a popular response. When we created it, it was very much a pilot. We didn’t set an end date to the pilot because we didn’t know how long it would take for us to get enough data to actually evaluate the success. Within 24 hours we had over a million views of the c

ontent. It just exploded in the blogosphere as a great idea and people were very interested in it, people really enjoyed it and I think the success, the longevity of the project over the last two years have underscored that this was a very good idea, people really like this.

Zinkham: When it comes to thinking about heritage and how it’s preserved this Flickr project with the Library of Congress — as you can imagine we’re a massive four thousand person organization, largest library in the world, but we’re also everyday human people. It turned out to be a very strong partnership between people who understand technology and the future well, like Michelle and the custodians of the physical objects or the stewards — that’s my area, the prints and photograph division.  I was given the fun of picking the first two collections to put online in Flickr. And they needed to be rights free, they needed to be fully available on the Library of Congresses own web page so that what we were offering out on Flickr wasn’t exclusive in any way. We needed that technique for people to begin to talk about the pictures and with each other, not just passively read a catalog record.

It’s very much an experience that the people who come to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and hold the physical collections in their hands. They have always, when interacting with picture collections, come with great stories. “That’s how my grandmother spun wool or that’s how my grandfather built trucks or flew airplanes.” They also bring often us corrected and new information: “Can’t you tell that’s Akron, Ohio, and not Sioux Falls, South Dakota?” Well with so many pictures here, we haven’t looked at each one as closely as you can so we’re really quite dependent for a long time on other people coming, doing their research, telling us more. They bring their questions. It isn’t always about bringing information; sometimes it’s just sheer curiosity. “What is that sign is the window about, what does it tell you related to segregation or integration of society? What’s the identity of that person? I see one clue, does another person have a clue?” Though it was technology, future, faith, people coming to past old heritage collection — I think in the end it was a tremendously strong partnership because we knew from the way that the physical pictures were handled. So as soon as we looked at a site like Flickr you could see the kind conversations that were absolutely familiar to us whereas I think with books or some other information resource in the library, that would not necessarily have been the traditional practice. Flickr is a very good fit for the kind of experience that picture libraries have long had with their physical users and it became a forum where we could reach out to the international community of what are essentially volunteers reacting in all kinds of ways to the pictures: Your basic fan mail, “I love it, great blue sky.” Or more hardcore specialists: “See that name on the hub of the back wheel, that’s how I know it’s a 1932 such and such car opposed to a 1933.” Again, very familiar debates and conversations for us and a real privilege for us to be able to have them held in such an international form.

Guin: Ok well lets go into a little more deeply then because crowd sourcing and the concept of open data has become increasingly popular in Gov 2.0 circles but not a lot of organizations have opened up quite so much content as you have for public comment. Would you describe that process and how has it changed the way the Library of Congress interacts with the public?

Springer: Once we decided and thought this would be a good fit for the pilot that we wanted to do, we had to approach Flickr because the Library of Congress has the office copyright, and we take copyright very seriously. Their rights statement which was the default rights statement of Flickr was not appropriate for the photographs that we were going to place there so we contacted Flickr management and we explained what we wanted to do there, and they were very accommodating and we worked with a staff member who is no longer there, George Oats, who looked forward and thought “this is the kind of model where not just the Library of Congress but other institutions could possibly add photographs.” And working with our office of general counsel,  as Helena referred to is a very collaborative project. Working with the office of copyright, the general counsel’s office, experts in prints and photographs and office of technology here, we approach them about different rights statement, which is the no known copyright restrictions statement, which allowed us to place our photographs and some others which is an observation about what we know about the photographs and if you look at Flickr it links back to every institution about what that means about the collections that they’ve been loading on the photographs, but that’s what allowed us to move forward with Flickr.

Guin: I think that’s interesting because here you are armed with the federal government and you have things that need to be done a certain way in the interest of open access and you’re teaching these lessons to a social media company. But at the same time, you’re learning how to engage in social media. Helena can you describe that process a little more and how you actually started to engage with folks through Flickr.

Springer:  We aim to participate in Flickr as regular members — part of a community — not people bringing some great big gift or opportunity, not some special admiration session, that wasn’t a part of the goal. We really wanted to be one among many members of Flickr. But this single area of copyright was the main challenge we presented to Flickr because by in large the Flickr member is the photographer. They have a very different relationship to the photographs. We are caretakers to the collection. We’re not the creators. So we can’t say we’ll put this in the public domain or will use a particular Creative Commons type of license. So that was the one area, challenge, that we took to Flickr to say, we would like to participate, could you consider making a change. And you ask what’s it like to work with a social media company: The answer is fast, nimble, responsive, and they took our basic request for a regular account with a new rights statement and said; “hang on, what about if we open this to all kinds of institutions? Could this be a whole new category of user and participant.” And as long as the pictures are rights free as best as you can ascertain, then we can go forward. And now something more than 30 institutions from Australia, to London, to France, Canada — many people have brought tremendously strong photo collections to the table. That’s another piece of the answer, why Flickr. There are many photosharing sites. But it’s Flickr felt like a good fit to our traditional libraries and the conversations that would happen in the reading room would now happening in an online environment. It’s a very photo focused community. Yes, you can share your family pictures and such but people are thinking about the composition of the image, they’re having large discussions about how to frame and crop and mix and mash up the images, the absolute focus it’s not just a means of transferring or printing or viewing, but real conversation about the content of the pictures. That is how Flickr came to feel like a good fit for our collections.

Guin: And it really has become a model for government agencies working with web companies. Even though you’re best known for the Flickr project you actually engage in a lot of other different types of social media-type services, and I wondered Michelle if you’d be able to tell me a little bit about how those services work together in addition to the Flickr project to increase your interaction with the public.

Springer: The Library of Congress has a number of web 2.0 or social media accounts. There are two Twitter accounts that the library has, there are I believe four Facebook pages, we have three blogs that allow people to comment on the blog posts so user generated comment is available on in that way. In fact, the blog came first and we used the criteria we worked out for the blog to moderate the content on Flickr and that was actually another criteria, in reference to the previous question, that we could use to moderate the content that was placed on our account with a light hand but we did want to remove spam, personal attacks, some criteria like that so that we could maintain that safe account. Again it comes down to the business case, in Flickr we are definitely trying to engage the community and have them provide information back to us about the photographs. The library has an account on YouTube that’s strictly an awareness exercise so in that instance we have comments that are turned off. We’re not asking that the community tell us about those videos, we’re just placing them in a location where they are more findable and more discoverable, hopefully because the YouTube boxes are the number two search engine on the web so that provides us with an avenue to display our historical materials as well as some of the events that happen at the library where people are more likely to find it.

Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California (LOC)
Famous 1936 Photo from the LOC Flickrstream: Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California (LOC)

Guin: You are obviously very engaged on the web at work, but I know there have to be issues with creating boundaries between your personal interaction and your very public social media face with the Library of Congress. Do you have personal accounts on social media?

Springer: I do, partially because my job relates to the policies connected to social media so I have to understand Twitter, Facebook, iTunes, all of these in order to advise the library and to look at the issues that we might have as an institution participating. But an institution participates very differently than a person participates. For example on Facebook I have a profile but the institution has a page. I decide that I will friend you if you want to be my friend in Facebook but a page is open to anyone, anyone can “like” the page, and we get no personal data back from anybody on that page. There are differences, but I think it’s important, just as we talked about one of the initial goals for the Flickr project was to get sort of get your feet wet for staff in web 2.0 and how to talk in that milieu — that people have some personal experience with that. When people approach us institutionally and say,” I’d like to have a twitter account”. We ask them for a business case but we also ask what’s your experience talking in this milieu, have you written a blog post for example or if you haven’t would you do a guest post on the LOC blog just to see and sort of become familiar with the way that people talk in these types of venues oppose to our type of institutional speak?

There’s no reason that, I personally feel, that people should have to intermingle those personal and professional accounts. Facebook, you have to use as an administrator of an official account you’re still using your personal profile as an administrator, but those from the outside looking in you would never see the connection of those accounts. We’ve tried to create a very bright line between personal information, personal accounts versus their professional accounts. So although the people behind the Library of Congress Twitter account have personal accounts, they are separate from the Library of Congress accounts. And that’s true on Facebook, that’s true on Flickr. When staff respond to the commenters, Helena at LOC, Michelle at LOC, those are separate accounts than their personal accounts

Guin: Now this is very interesting to me because you talk about that “bright line,” yet so much of what goes into social media success depends on voice and authenticity. How do you make that happen if you’re trying to keep the personalities of the individuals out of the official social media channels.

Springer: When we launch institutional accounts, when there’s going to be a new Twitter account for example, it’s going be a Twitter account that is related to work, related to some business activity at the Library of Congress. We would have a class with the Office of Communications here, the office of general council, myself and others who would talk about experience that they’ve had so far and talk about the voice issue. A blog post is a different voice than the Twitter voice which is a branded account. Twitter tends to be we, while a blog is first-person voice, and what does that mean? We have three blogs present, pretty soon we’ll have some more that are in the works. For example, Jennifer Harbster and Donna Scanlon, who do the Inside Adams blog, may very well have personal blogs, personal accounts, Facebook accounts, whatever, but they don’t intermingle those two. They speak with an authentic first-person voice with the blogs posts they post but they don’t reference their personal accounts. That point gets back to the business case of why they’re doing the library accounts. It has to do with business, but that doesn’t mean they don’t bring their personal viewpoint or personal flavor.

One of the difficulties is with these social media accounts they give you system administrative access to the entire account. They’re not built as institutional accounts, they’re built for a person so it’s a little bit tricky to divide responsibilities with them in account. In Flickr, we have someone from our information technology office for example who load the photographs.  That’s a completely different activity from prints and photographs who modify the content and respond to the comments. For password security and general accounts security, we didn’t want everyone into the account in all aspects to the account who might be less familiar with some parts of the account so we’ve undertaken ways and business processes to try to limit access to the master account but still be able to respond back. This also adds a little bit of personal flavor so that the people from prints and photographs that are responding to the comments for example respond from “Christi@PNP” but it has the brand mark of the Library of Congress and they’re talking about Library of Congress information. They aren’t linking back to personal accounts if they even have them. They’re speaking in a professional role and it’s that sort of delineation trying to limit access to the master account. It was a little bit better for password access and the security of the account access and for personalized voice to create those other accounts for the staff and have them talk back from their own account.

This girl in a glass house is putting finishing touches on the bombardier nose section of a B-17F navy bomber, Long Beach, Calif. She's one of many capable women workers in the Douglas Aircraft Company plant. Better known as the "Flying Fortress," the B-1
From the LOC Collection: This girl in a glass house is putting finishing touches on the bombardier nose section of a B-17F navy bomber, Long Beach, Calif. She's one of many capable women workers in the Douglas Aircraft Company plant. Better known as the "Flying Fortress," the B-1

Guin: At this point I think that I should step back and acknowledge that the Library of Congress has a much larger role in the world than just this Flickr project and its social media engagement. As part of the U.S. government you really are seen as the global leader in archiving heritage. Helena what do you feel has been the impact of what the Library of Congress has been able to accomplish with that goal in general and also communicating that on the web.

Zinkham: It’s good to hear that the leadership role in visible and it’s a leadership role in two areas of course. There’s very large digital preservation programs and also lots of advice for preserving originals, photo negatives, prints, posters, books, magazines, movies. We’re dedicated to helping information resources last as long as possible while also making them accessible. When it comes to Flickr, our project is primarily about outreach and access so it helps to raise awareness and appreciation as well for the past. Based the comments that flow in still every day, many people are tripping across the pictures unexpectedly and discovering how much they enjoy that window into years long ago. We’ve loaded two collections: a set of news photographs from the 1910’s, so a century mark into the past. A very large set of color photos from the Great Depression, World War II so about 75 years ago and then a large block of color travel views. We’ll also dip into treasure views which usually are between 50 and 100 years ago. People bring to the table their own passion for the sport of polo, golfing or baseball. They love to talk about what their grandparents were doing, or their memories as a child that comes from more the octogenarians, who we can tell from the comments, people will often say things like “I printed this picture, I took it to my grandfather, and he says yes, that’s such and such building, that’s how they really flew those airplanes.” So we don’t have just awareness but a deep appreciation and affection for history and hopefully that begins to rub off on or will inspire questions. It hasn’t yet but I hope it will. How do I take care of my own pictures or how do I help my historical organization do a better job? I think the Flickr role is more built for goodwill and make it more immediately clear why the past is important to the present: because it’s interesting because it makes you think, because it helps you look twice, but it also helps you see the lessons we never quite learned. Whether it’s about war or racism or employment and labor practices, treatment of land and so the idea that 50 or 100 years ago and we’re still struggling trying to figure out fires and floods and so forth. That seems to cause people think twice about their own lives in the present.

Guin: Ok, well going back to how that concept fits into the Flickr project, I’m wondering how you engage your audience around the content and encourage the ongoing discussion that allows them to make those discoveries. I’m thinking in terms of when you post a photo, how you title it, how you describe it, tag it, those types of things.

Zinkham: Because you can interact with the pictures, you can say what you think about them instead of the traditional perhaps “museum” experience, where there a lot of the Do Not Touch labels. Going out into the social media environment is the completely the opposite. It comes with a big please do touch me, please use me and in whatever creative way you can cook up. So all so all those share buttons, blog about this, add notes, add comments, add tags,  repurpose, mix up and mesh…

Springer:  And Flickr help set that stage for that too. They helped us describe our photographs and the message of the Commons was very much to provide value. And one of the questions we had was would people provide altruistically information about these photographs. In traditional model tagging, you tag something so that you can find it later. Would people be interested in tagging something so that other people could find it and I think that we’ve answered that question so that was another part of the mix too.

Guin: Ok, so what’s your goal for this crowdsourced content? Is there any type of information in particular that you are looking for when you post something? What do you need from your audience?

Zinkham: There’s the general message of the Commons: please help us describe and make the pictures more findable. And then we’ve set back and let people interact however they please. So we have that general request for help. But I’m just amazed over and over again by what people think to do on their own, whether its bringing geotagging with latitude-longitude coordinates into the tag pools. The group requests, houses with porches, Canadian grain silos, pictures with blue, pictures with white, all about whales, vintage England, vintage kitchen utensils. There’s an enormous world of special interest activity, which we did not anticipate, but with every group request the pictures are channeled into other photo streams and  new users come and look and you can almost feel the loops back through the special interest groups.

We did post one set of pictures where we had no idea of the places and within 48 hours, all 30 pictures had been identified. They were in some areas of Switzerland and France. We got teased about one of the pictures because it showed the Paris Opera House, which is the model for the Great Hall right here at the Jefferson building and all I could say in our defense was that we were working with 6,000 pictures this one didn’t have a caption and we just didn’t look quite long enough in order to make the connection. So there’ve been some embarrassing moments too. There are fourteen million pictures here, there is more than 30 people to work with them but that’s 30 people and 14 million pictures here, the ratio just isn’t going to work out. And so we’ve chosen consciously to digitize all 6,000 color travel views put them online. They were here for almost a decade and not one of those 30 pictures had accrued a “I know where that is” reaction, and yet when we put that set into Flickr, how primed people were to help. The guys from Switzerland passed the news around really fast and they debated with each other, “is it this bridge in France?” On their own, they know they need to say why they believe something to be true. That is one of the most impressive things that has happened. It’s not a rule, it’s not control, just good old-fashioned commonsense. They’re going to want to know and other people are going to want to know.  So they will send us pictures from other libraries: “see that’s the same bridge over here in the photo from the French library is captioned.” Those are things we could have found but that would have taken hours and we don’t have that much staff time available.

And that’s a great point for the “then and now” pictures. The Flickr members have been grand. They will take a picture and go and find the spot and then photograph it and send it as a comment. The comments don’t have to be just words, they can be pictures and these then and now pairings help to see how did that building turn out today — has it been torn down, is it a landmark, has it been converted to condominiums — they’ll send the street addresses. That willingness to hunt and understand an area, it’s a lot of fun actually.

Springer: This is probably a good place to talk about in the prints and photographs catalog on the libraries website, we have added after some time we realized there was all these great reminiscences and personal history, that we wouldn’t really have incorporate that into but still has a lot of value so we now provide the Flickr url and additional information may be available in the record of the photograph as it appears on LOC. So you can go out to Flickr and see that thread of reminiscences. We have incorporated a lot of data for names, for surnames, descriptions. Some of this historical information stays on Flickr and so there’s a two way combination of interaction between those.

Guin: Well here’s an important concept to explore then because you have the data that you maintain on your own, the data you find and put into these photos, but you also through crowd sourcing have a lot more content coming in, some of it useful, some of it not. How do you sort through that and get it back into the Library of Congresses database for the original photos?

Zinkham: We do it by hand. There’s a crew of about 10 people in the prints and photographs division so that’s almost 25 percent of our staff and we take turns. It’s a real mix of people by the way — reference librarians, catalogers, digital library specialists. They adopt the Flickr account for one week and scroll through all the comments that come over the door sill. So if it’s fan mail, that’s great. We don’t always need to respond. Sometimes there’ll be a particular question asked to us. They might see a question and step in to say if you’re interested in that kind of subject we also have additional materials so you can be proactive about pointing people to in depth resources. But for folks who are saying it’s a different street, a different name, a different date going beyond the telling of a story and “now” pairing of a photo. They take the information and the Flickr community almost always provides a link that makes it easier for you to verify. So if a descendent of Jay Gould says “that’s not my grandfather, that’s my great uncle and here’s how I know,” we can follow that link and in this case it wasn’t a particular physical portrait it was more the birth and death dates in the obituary and the guessing of the age of the man in the scene. So we also then checked on our own portrait file to see how many Jay Gould’s we have and sure enough the name on the glass negative on the news photos had gotten mixed up. We straightened it out and credit the Flickr community as the source for the new information. It’s a sifting through, finding the changes that will make a substance of difference in the basic identification of the image, and then we spend some time verifying. We’ll go in by hand and edit our records.

Guin: Well now I’m even more impressed because I assumed there is some level of automation there, I didn’t realize that there was a staff member from the Library of Congress going back and reviewing all of those changes for  the inclusion of that information back in the database. Moving on a bit, I wonder if you have any tips for people or organizations on how they could use your Flickr media on their own websites, or their social outlets and can you give me some examples of some creative uses of these photos that are out there.

Zinkham: We have plenty of examples of special interest groups or blogs, newspapers, podcasts, webcasts coming across the Flickr pictures, whether they came across them in a basic Google search or were inside of Flickr themselves. They might be writing about paper recycling. So they’ll dip in for a World War II photo about their recycling efforts during the war and the past used to illustrate the importance of continuing the efforts for today. So that published illustration use seems to be going on strong. We’ve talked sometimes within the Commons that sometimes institutions have portions of collections, so I would imagine for example with the Civil War in the United States, many of us would probably load our holdings and then there might begin to be more overlap. The Smithsonian and the Library of Congress partnered up for Western survey exploration photos from the 1870’s to 1880’s We’ve had an across-the-Commons effort for international women’s day, for what we call in the United States, Veterans day, Remembrance day. So there have been some efforts to collaborate in that way. But I guess the bottom line message would be if someone anyone finds any of the pictures useful then please, go ahead and use them.

Guin: Well continuing on that line of thought I’m wondering if you have any people or heritage organizations that are planning to use photo sharing as part of their own social media strategy.

Zinkham: The very first thing is to be clear about the reason for participating. Is it to build awareness, gather good will, to collect information, to acquire new pictures for your collection? There can be so many different purposes. It gets confusing and it can be counterproductive. It takes the prints and photographs division anywhere between 8 and 15 hours every week to moderate the count updates of records. When we look at the institutional-wide investments, including everything from policy decision making time to actually loading the photos in the technology area it floats between 10 and 20 hours a week. That’s a way of saying it’s a serious level of investment and you don’t want to just put the pictures out there and let them sit. It’s a garden to tend; you need to water it for it to flourish. The point is to interact. Awareness is good but sometimes you need to be ready to have special themes  or a challenge to send in photos. The Flickr bloggers do that beautifully. Challenge people to find pictures related to a particular theme and then react to them.  Not as difficult as a homework assignment but not as frivolous as find me every hat with a feather. Just being prepared to step in and encourage the engagement. That’s a part of being a real person not being some big imposing institution. You’re not there to control it but you’re there to participate. It’s not a lot of rules about don’t say this, don’t do that. It’s open to everyone’s creativity to bring to the table and then sometimes you want to be ready to stir the pot.

Guin: Helena I think you touch on an important reason why so many people have responded so favorably to this project. We don’t usually associate government with the concepts of either listening or stirring the pot. Michelle what do you have to say about that?

Springer: There is a lot more movement in the government towards the open data movement — to make information sharable, to make it portable. So I think it’s continuing. We happen to be at the beginning of the bell curve on this but I’ll just add a few more things to what culture heritage institutions should look at: Talk to your lawyer, that’s one of the first parts. Look at the terms of service. Sometimes its easy for institutions and people on personal accounts click through that user agreement and say yes I’ll create that account but often you don’t really read it and you don’t really notice the policies. If you’re doing this on behalf of an institution you’re going to have to look at those terms of service with different eyes than you do as an individual. Also be aware of the rights statement, the default all rights reserved. Is that appropriate for the content you’re placing? Some institutions place current photographs of events that took place at their institution. That’s a totally different model than historical photographs from their collections.

Look at what it is that you are trying to do. The resources that Helena talked about, part of the message about that is that’s a measure of engagement. A lot of time is spent because people are so engaged with our photographs. You can really look like that as a measure of success, not just as a resource requirement because if people weren’t engaging and sending us information and we didn’t have new content all the time that we didn’t have to moderate then our resource requirements would go down in the time. It won’t be that level for everyone because of that level of engagement is very high for the Library of Congress account. One of the things that feeds that is the fact that so many Flickr members (I think it’s over 17 thousand now) have made us a contact. So every time we load new photos, it automatically loads in their personal accounts and say “oh, I should come back to the Library of Congress and see those new photographs. It’s kind of self perpetuating. You want people to make you a contact so we have these other ways of sort of getting the word out when we load new content. But because the Library of Congress has the most photographs of any participating institution in Flickr, we have a lot of photographs embedded in Flickr throughout various groups and whatnot. People come across them serendipitously not just by coming to the Library of Congress account, and that leads them back and they discover more. That’s kind of that trial.

Guin: That’s the social medium trail of breadcrumbs. So what are the lessons to be learned from this project?

Springer: We learned by doing. We started out not sure about groups. What’s the time investment if we agree to groups requests and what does that mean to accept a group. Once we became more comfortable and understood what that meant, we accept group requests now for public groups, safe groups. You don’t have to have absolutely everything thought-out in the beginning when you start. I think we certainly learned by doing. One of the things is we do a lot of presentations about this project, and at the end of the presentation we often have a benefits and challenges list. One of the challenges is the comfort of releasing the photographs into the wild as it were. In Flickr, if you allow tagging in your photographs you have to allow notes. Notes are annotations that are actually made on the photo. There are differing levels of comfort about that. It can sometimes be wonderfully beneficial when you have tiny little text, someone will point out in a large crowd scene, “there’s President Taft,” or when you have cars going down the street and someone will transcribe all of those signs on the street corner and all of the signs that are on the placards. You may also attract snarky humor and some people are not comfortable with that. You don’t have that ability to turn that functionality off without turning off tagging and tagging is a really important part of this project for us, at least for our model. Also another thing we didn’t quite mention is that all of that extra metadata that the users are adding: that adds weight in all of the search engines. The same photograph on Flickr will come up higher in the search results than it will come up on the Library of Congresses version of the photograph–sometimes by several pages. We encourage all of that metadata and the comfort of that caution level, being aware that that is going to occur. When you’ve said yes to one thing you’ve said yes to another. We pretty much have our settings as open as they can be. You can blog about, you can print out, you can make copies, you can do all of these various things on our account. But not everyone and every institution will be comfortable with those settings, and you’re not required. You have to think about that as you kind of evaluate what you want to do.

Guin: Michelle and Helena, I appreciate you doing the podcast. Amazing stuff, it was good talking to you.

That was Michelle Springer and Helena Zinkham. If you’d like to learn more about their efforts involving social media and the Flickr project at the Library of Congress you can learn more about it at our show notes site. That’s There you’ll find a transcript of this interview and several others we’ve done with folks in the heritage field using social media to make a difference in their worlds. That’s it for this edition of the Voices of the Past podcast. Until next time, we’ll see you online.

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