Columbus had fiberglass cows; Toledo, fiberglass frogs; Athens, fiberglass bulldogs; Atlanta, fiberglass yellow jackets and fiberglass dolphins. Blacksburg has fiberglass Hokies – and we have pictures.
In the Digital Library and Archives department at Virginia Tech, we have some large collections of images. The images that have been digitized and placed online are scattered across several systems, including an old homegrown system called ImageBase, Luna Insight, CONTENTdm, and assorted other HTML pages and databases.
A selection of the HokieBirds from ImageBase are now available on Flickr. The upload was automated with Ruby code and the flickraw gem, so we have the potential to add thousands of images, even on a throwaway day filled with meetings and meals. I started with a small and silly set, though. It will take more time to figure out how to do this right, and I’d also like to answer some questions. Will people find the photographs and view them? Will library staff generally support the idea, or will they feel that potential problems outweigh benefits?
Many of the staff members that created or supported our legacy systems for display of images have been gone for quite some time, which has made maintenance a challenge. We’ve recently taken the approach of copying the images from these legacy systems into VTechWorks, our new institutional repository based on DSpace software. The software serves a preservation role, and our current feeling is that by moving everything into a common platform, we can reduce licensing costs, and, even better, risk and staff time. When we need to build exhibits and displays with special interfaces around our digital collections, we can integrate our IR with other software and services.
It makes sense to me that Flickr could be one of these services. There’s precedent for this: the Library of Congress has placed some collections of historical photographs on Flickr. It’s low cost and low risk. Flickr has been around for Internet ages, but even if it vanishes some day, our digitized master images and metadata are still stored in our local systems. It’s low maintenance, because we don’t need to curate the collections exported to Flickr, and we don’t maintain the computer servers. By putting our images on Flickr, we’ll benefit from the Flickr interface, which includes a slideshow viewer and the availability of multiple image sizes. The interface is updated often to keep up with web standards. We’ll also make our collections readily available to Flickr’s millions of users, which is in line with our mission as a library at a land grant university to disseminate knowledge.