To open, a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson about a limbo of libraries…

In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends, but they are imprisoned by an enchanter in these paper and leathern boxes; and though they know us, and have been waiting two, ten, or twenty centuries for us,—some of them,—and are eager to give us a sign and unbosom themselves, it is the law of their limbo that they must not speak until spoken to; and as the enchanter has dressed them, like battalions of infantry, in coat and jacket of one cut, by the thousand and ten thousand, your chance of hitting on the right one is to be computed by the arithmetical rule of Permutation and Combination,—not a choice out of three caskets, but out of half a million caskets, all alike.

We’d like to welcome the New York Public Library to The Commons on Flickr today, joining with a curious selection from its collection; opening up 16 “caskets” for us to see!

Apart from all the beautiful photos that the Library is sharing in the Commons today, we’re also trying an experiment: NYPL librarians have already spent a ton of time describing many of these photos, particularly with subject headings that describe the contents of the images. Rather than discarding this information, we’ve added a selection of these tags as a nucleus for everyone else to build from; the hope is that this will provoke rather than stifle activity on the Commons, with librarians and non-librarians collaborating on the description of this material. Time will tell, though, so check back in a few months for some analysis.

This release of around 1,200 photographs include a collection taken of Ellis Island in the early 1900s, by Lewis Hine and others…

[Algerian man.]

[Guadeloupean woman.]

[Hindoo boy.]


[Danish man.]

[Romanian woman.]

Beautiful documentary of a “Changing New York” in the 1930s, photographed by Berenice Abbott for the Federal Art Project (FAP) around 1935…

Spring and Varick Streets, Manhattan.
Pike and Henry Streets, Manhattan.

The contents of an “Album of Photographs of Japan”

Sacred Car
Akasaka, Tokyo

A “landmark in the histories both of photography and of publishing: the first photographic work by a woman – Anna Atkins (1799-1871) – and the first book produced entirely by photographic means”, Cyanotypes of British Algae

[Titlepage.] Bangia fusco-purpurea.

There is a lot more to look through, 16 sets in all, from the Civil War to early modern dance to images of Egypt and Syria that compliment the Brooklyn Museum’s lantern slides beautifully, to a selection of their Farm Security Administration Collection, that also compliments the FSA photographs from The Library of Congress and more! Make sure you’ve finished work before you dive in ;)

And in other Commons news, The Library of Congress has released a report called “For The Common Good: The Library of Congress Flickr Pilot Project” (PDF) about their experience in The Commons and it’s a fascinating read. There’s also a summary version, in addition to the full report.

A very big THANK YOU to everyone who contributed a tag, added a note, or posted a comment. What a thrill to have helped improve the data in the Library’s catalog!