The New York Public Library Lets You Download 180,000 Images in High Resolution: Historic Photographs, Maps, Letters & More

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Most of us Open Culture writers and readers surely grew up thinking of the local public library as an endless source of fascinating things. But the New York Public Library’s collections take that to a whole other level, and, so far, they’ve spent the age of the internet taking it to a level beyond that, digitizing ever more of their fascinating things and making them freely available for all of our perusal (and even for use in our own work). Just in the past couple of years, we’ve featured their release of 20,000 high-resolution maps, 17,000 restaurant menus, and lots of theater ephemera.




This week, The New York Public Library (NYPL) announced not only that their digital collection now contains over 180,000 items, but that they’ve made it possible, “no permission required, no hoops to jump through,” to download and use high-resolution images of all of them.

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You’ll find on their site “more prominent download links and filters highlighting restriction-free content,” and, if you have techier interests, “updates to the Digital Collections API enabling bulk use and analysis, as well as data exports and utilities posted to NYPL’s GitHub account.” You might also consider applying for the NYPL’s Remix Residency program, designed to foster “transformative and creative uses of digital collections and data, and the public domain assets in particular.”

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And what do those assets include? Enduring pieces of American documentary art like the Farm Security Administration photographs taken during the Great Depression by Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Gordon Parks. Lange’s shot of the Midway Dairy Cooperative near Santa Ana, California appears at the top of the post. Artifacts from the creative processes of such icons of American literature as Henry David ThoreauNathaniel Hawthorne, and Walt Whitman, whose handwritten preface to Specimen Days you’ll find second from the top. The letters and other papers of the Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson’s list of books for a private library just above. And, of course, all those maps, like the 1868 Plan of New York and Brooklyn just below.

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These selections make the NYPL’s digital collection seem strongly America-focused, and to an extent it is, but apart from hosting a rich repository of the history, art, and letters of the United States, it also contains such fascinating international materials as medieval European illuminated manuscripts16th-century handscrolls illustrating The Tale of Genji, the first novel; and 19th-century cyanotypes of British algae by botanist and photographer Anna Atkins, the first person to publish a book illustrated with photos. You can start your own browsing on the NYPL Digital Collections front page, and if you do, you’ll soon find that something else we knew about the library growing up — what good places they make in which to get lost — holds even truer on the internet.

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Related Content:

100,000+ Wonderful Pieces of Theater Ephemera Digitized by The New York Public Library

Foodie Alert: New York Public Library Presents an Archive of 17,000 Restaurant Menus (1851-2008)

New York Public Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Download and Use

The British Library Puts 1,000,000 Images into the Public Domain, Making Them Free to Reuse & Remix

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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  • David Goodland says:

    Thank you New York Public Library. I visited you 22 years ago, was utterly impressed then, and you still seem to be living up to your reputation as an open source of historical information for everyone to use and enjoy. Congratulations. David Goodland

  • Gary Sorin says:

    Really appreciate this amazing site.
    Thanks for all your hard work!

  • Nancy Record says:

    In my two plus years in NY, I spent many hours at the Main Library while doing research for two little books on the Dec Arts.
    I fondly remember the picture library made up of myriad boxes of photos and newspaper and magazine clippings, organized on topics such as animals, birds, architecture, etc. Each topic area had subsets. One could check out folios from the collection to tak home, utilize and then returned for more.
    I forget when, but remember reading that the collection had been disbanded.
    Now this new feature. I look forward to perusing the digitized version. Thank you.

  • Joyce roca says:

    Thank you N.Y. Public Library!!!!
    How inadequate words!
    But. Thank You!

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