Oh, hello, my new favorite Internet rabbit hole. The New York Public library has digitized more than 187,000 images, all in the public domain—meaning they’re freely available for anyone to use. And not just that: They’re organized beautifully.
This is a big deal at a time when libraries and other institutions are still trying to figure out how to make their collections digitally accessible. Plopping a bunch of photos, documents, and illustrations online is great, theoretically, but making it easy for people to navigate such resources is much, much greater.
It’s hard to do this. The Library of Congress has for years been hashing out the blueprint for a plan to completely reinvent its card-catalogue system, upgrading it for the semantic web. The latest digitization by the New York Public Library, and a stunning visualization of that work, represents the culmination of a longstanding effort to do something similar.
One of my favorite ways to explore the visualization is to sort images by “century created.” (The image above is sorted by type; it shows part of the huge collection of stereoscopic views.) You can see the beige and brown of 15th and 16th century documents give way to the grays of 17th century and 18th century illustrations, browns of 19th century photographs, and reds, blues, and yellows of bright prints and color photos in the 20th century.