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


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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!

  • Dr S K Roy Chaudhary says:

    Very inspir­ing

  • Sharon says:

    It is won­der­ful for any bud­ding his­to­ri­an to have access to these items from any­where in the world. It was not that long ago that research was an extreme­ly expen­sive enter­prise.

  • Doroteo Arango A. says:

    I would love to vis­it your coun­try and enjoy these trea­sures. Sadly,I promised to myself nev­er set a foot on the land that destroyed my life, my coun­try and my fam­i­ly by orga­niz­ing the vio­lent over­throw of my coun­try’s gov­ern­ment.

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