We have released over a million images onto Flickr Commons for anyone to use, remix and repurpose. These images were taken from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th century books digitised by Microsoft who then generously gifted the scanned images to us, allowing us to release them back into the Public Domain. The images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of.
We plan to launch a crowdsourcing application at the beginning of next year, to help describe what the images portray. Our intention is to use this data to train automated classifiers that will run against the whole of the content. The data from this will be as openly licensed as is sensible (given the nature of crowdsourcing) and the code, as always, will be under an open licence.
The manifests of images, with descriptions of the works that they were taken from, are available on github and are also released under a public-domain ‘licence’. This set of metadata being on github should indicate that we fully intend people to work with it, to adapt it, and to push back improvements that should help others work with this release.
There are very few datasets of this nature free for any use and by putting it online we hope to stimulate and support research concerning printed illustrations, maps and other material not currently studied. Given that the images are derived from just 65,000 volumes and that the library holds many millions of items.
Image: Detail, page 331, “L’Alsace et des Alsaciens à travers les siècles,” via the British Library on Flickr. Select to embiggen.
The British Library in London has just paid about $14 million to purchase Europe’s oldest intact book, known as the St. Cuthbert Gospel. It’s a copy of the Gospel of St. John, thought to have been produced in northeastern England sometime during the seventh century.
"It is the earliest intact European book. So its pages, and the stitching that holds them together, and the covers that protect the pages are intact, as it was made at the end of the seventh century," Claire Breay, the curator of medieval and early modern manuscripts at the British Library, tells NPR. "So it’s really the starting point of our evidence for the history of the Western book."
In a bit of necrobiblia, the gospel was buried with the medieval missionary St. Cuthbert and then exhumed from his coffin a few hundred years later.