Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. "FIFTY THIRD ANNIVRSARY [held by] CANONICUS LODGE NUMBER NINE [at] ODD FELLOWS HALL (OTHER (PRIVATE CLUB?))" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1898. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47db-3117-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Visual artists of the world, rejoice. The New York Public Library has placed more than 180,000 images of its collection up for download. They include historical snapshots, event invitations, menus, shots of handwritten letters, and on and on. Most of them are now public domain, free for you to use.
The images span the last millennium. Four hundred individual pieces date to the 11th century, and many of those feature early Islamic themes and writing.
The NYPL is leaving its goals for the project deliberately open-ended as a way of encouraging innovative uses for the material. “We see digitization as a starting point, not end point,” Ben Vershbow, the director of the group within the NYPL that led the project, told the New York Times. “We don’t just want to put stuff online and say, ‘Here it is,’ but rev the engines and encourage reuse.”
Browsing through the massive database, it’s easy to imagine artists incorporating these images into their work, creating a visual version of music sampling. Sampling took off when older songs and beats became more accessible, so maybe these kinds of displays will spark a similar renaissance in a different medium.
The coolest part of the collection for the casual user may just be browsing through the page that aggregated the entire database, breaking it down by collection, century, genre and even color. The wealth and diversity of one of the country’s premier libraries is rarely more striking. It also gets a little weird.