Should my art museum put some of our collection on Flickr?
February 3, 2011 6:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm working on a proposal that the art museum where I work should put images of some of our collection onto our Flickr account. Are there downsides to this that I'm missing?

My museum is about 3/4 the way through the process of digitizing our collection, and we have a Flickr account that's basically unused right now. Our current website isn't very good for displaying digitized images of the collection, and while a revamp is in the works, it's going to take a while. I want to partially bridge the gap by putting some images- along with basic ID information- on our Flickr account.

One obvious pitfall that I see is rights/reproductions trouble; to get around this, I want to limit the project to objects which have passed into the public doman, or for which we have a signed release from the artist giving us the rights to use the photography.

Are there other pitfalls that I'm missing? While I see a lot of museums putting images on Flickr, I see damned few art museums doing it.
posted by COBRA! to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Flickr actually has a subsection called "The Commons" that is just for this kind of thing.

The only thing I would suggest is don't just use Flickr for this. Yahoo is far from solid and stable and who knows what the future holds for Flickr. So make sure you keep your own copy of all the additional metadata.

So put things on Flickr but also put them up through other services too.
posted by srboisvert at 7:29 AM on February 3, 2011

Response by poster: Yeah, we definitely wouldn't be using Flickr as the only repository for either the pictures or the metadata; that stuff all has a home on our internal servers, with a backup regime.

I need to look into the Commons a little more, to see exactly what's up with rights there. Looks pretty straightforward with public-domain works, but not as clear in a non-public-domain-but-the-museum-has-rights situation.

posted by COBRA! at 8:27 AM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: The minor downside I see is a perhaps trivial one of perception (it always seems slightly off to me when organizations use clearly hosted solutions for things like this - I don't know why I have this prejudice since for many organizations it makes perfect sense).

I've been tinkering with omeka while putting together a proposal for a club history committee, and finding it interesting. (MeMail if you want a link.) Apologies if this alternative misses the mark in terms of your real question regarding Flickr.
posted by cairnish at 9:00 AM on February 3, 2011

For the record, I think it's well worth doing, but some potential concerns could include:

--Flickr accidentally deleting everything you post, or more generally, the problems attendant to putting your collections into a commercial service that you don't control.

--Increased likelihood that users will reuse the images in ways you don't care for, or will copy them without the data which identifies you as the source.

--Possible embarrassment from inappropriate comments or tagging on your posts.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:00 AM on February 3, 2011

I think it's a great idea. Especially for items which would otherwise be sitting in a storeroom. There are already a lot of people out there (me included) digging through museum archives and posting overlooked artworks to Flickr, museums themselves doing it would be awesome.
posted by fire&wings at 9:10 AM on February 3, 2011

Response by poster: cairnish- how has Omeka been to work with? That's been in the back of my mind as something to look into.

Horace- thanks, that's the kind of concern I'm looking for... I want to at least think through the ramifications of each before I try to sell the idea.
posted by COBRA! at 9:12 AM on February 3, 2011

... how has Omeka been to work with?

It's been fairly easy to work with once I got more comfortable with where various (page layout) things are kept, for those parts outside of the theme css. My biggest concern is scalability of input for large numbers of items. The interface is simple, but a tad clunky to work through repetitively for large numbers of items. Fortunately there are some plugins to help productivity by doing some bulk-processing.

The workflow I've settled on so far is to upload a batch of files to its "dropbox" directory (I was very confused at first because I thought it would be integrated with THE dropbox - instead, it's a sort of staging directory and script to move files around behind the scenes). Then I update a spreadsheet of metadata so it contains the metadata elements for this batch. Then I use the CSV Import plugin to create items for each artifact, assign them to the correct collection, add the tags etc. Then it's a simple matter to march through the web interface and assign the correct file to each new item. It sounds more complex than it is in practice. I believe it will work for us at a scale of hundreds or maybe a couple thousand items, as long as I don't have to do them all at once :-)

There is the usual wrestling you get with any templated system, where I always want just slightly more control, or something slightly different than theme controls provide; so you end up editing a few core files to move a page element around, or insert some text or something.

Overall I think it will work for us and I've been enjoying working with it.
posted by cairnish at 9:59 AM on February 3, 2011

p.s. I should clarify that I am just a "cut-n-paste" and "look it up real quick on google" type of css/html person. So my perspective is that of curious dabbler, not web professional.
posted by cairnish at 10:03 AM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: I used Flickr at the museum where I used to work but pretty much only for images of kids in programs, parties, that kind of thing. I think it would be cool to use it for collections images but would recommend uploading low, low res images. That way, nobody can really do too much with them that might be an issue with licensing. Having only low res images out there should also reassure your curators and registrars that nobody else is going to be producing posters or greeting cards or sexy T-shirts or inappropriate mashups or downright forgeries or any of the other things that they will immediately bring up as objections to uploading them. My second to last museum job had several hysterical old school staff virulently opposed to putting anything at all online lest it be used for evil, so low res only was the argument I used to try to get around it. Didn't work but you may have better luck: that was 2005 and one would think that by now even the old guard have resigned themselves to this internet phenomena not going away any time soon.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:04 AM on February 3, 2011

If you have items in your collection now that are to be given to your museum as part of a bequest, the donor of those items may object to those works being available online. If you've elimated items that are not yet owned by your musuem, then it's not a concern.
posted by Verdant at 10:27 AM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: I haven't been on the backend of this myself though I'm heartily in favor. There are museums who have done this so much they have some pretty well developed policies on it, and I suggest just picking up the phone. The Brooklyn Museum has always been forward thinking in its uses of media - maybe start with them.

As with anything in museums, I'd also articulate the purposes. Why go to the trouble? You are providing one kind of access to images, but how do you expect them to be used? Are they to be organized to create an interpretive narrative? Are you inviting user input to learn more about your collection (something the Commons has found an incredible benefit)? Are they intended for teachers to use in classroom settings (In that case, you might do better providing a registration-only, downloadable teacher packet, because teachers usually do want good quality images)? Will it be project- based? If you know some of the ways you expect users to interact with what you put online, you can do a better job of managing and presenting it.
posted by Miko at 11:17 AM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: Flickr employee here, though I'm not speaking in an official capacity, so take this as 'I'm more informed than most', not 'here's the official perspective.'

First, we restored the mistakenly deleted account (hooray!). That mistake has been made twice in all of Flickr history, that I know of, and we're working on a feature that will ensure it never happens again.

Second, you can choose the copyright for any image you upload, as well as download and size restrictions. I'd highly, highly recommend that you upload the largest possible quality you can, because it's lovely to see artwork at high resolutions, and if you're only uploading images that are out of copyright, or for which you hold reproduction rights, you might as well upload the highest quality images you have available. The internet will only get faster, screen resolutions will only get sharper, and so on.

Third, you can restrict comments on art, if you're very concerned. But comments on Flickr tend to be high-quality, and our community team is top-notch and quick to moderate.

Finally, here's why I'd recommend Flickr over other image sharing services:

- We have the most robust tools for archiving, referencing, and finding images. If you wanted to, you could geotag every piece of art you upload, and then show them all on a world map. Or you could show them chronologically. Or by artist. The possibilities are really endless.

- Unlike most other image sharing sites, Flickr is designed to be a long-term archive. We want to be the digital equivalent of the shoebox full of photos stored under your bed, for individual users.

For museums, institutions, and government agencies, we want to help archive and share amazing works that people wouldn't have access to otherwise. Flickr's an amazingly powerful image sharing tool; we'd be remiss not to use that power for good.

If you'd like to discuss more, please feel free to send me a message. I'd be happy to talk you through the site.
posted by timoni at 1:35 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all!
posted by COBRA! at 8:00 AM on February 4, 2011

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