Free: Download 5.3 Million Images from Books Published Over Last 500 Years

Dance Records of the Month 1917

Back in 2014, we brought to your atten­tion an image archive rival­ing the largest of its kind on the web: the Inter­net Archive Book Images col­lec­tion at Flickr. There, you’ll find mil­lions of “pub­lic domain images, all extract­ed from books, mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers pub­lished over a 500 year peri­od.”

At the time, the col­lec­tion con­tained 2.6 mil­lion pub­lic domain images, but “even­tu­al­ly,” we not­ed in a pre­vi­ous post, “this archive will grow to 14.6 mil­lion images.” Well, it has almost dou­bled in size since our first post, and it now fea­tures over 5.3 mil­lion images, thanks again to Kalev Lee­taru, who head­ed the dig­i­ti­za­tion project while on a Yahoo-spon­sored fel­low­ship at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty.

Records of Big Game 1910

Rather than using opti­cal char­ac­ter recog­ni­tion (OCR), as most dig­i­ti­za­tion soft­ware does to scan only the text of books, Leetaru’s code reversed the process, extract­ing the images the Inter­net Archive’s OCR typ­i­cal­ly ignores. Thou­sands of graph­ic illus­tra­tions and pho­tographs await your dis­cov­ery in the search­able data­base. Type in “records,” for exam­ple, and you’ll run into the 1917 ad in “Colom­bia Records for June” (top) or the creepy 1910 pho­to­graph above from “Records of big game: with their dis­tri­b­u­tion, char­ac­ter­is­tics, dimen­sions, weights, and horn & tusk mea­sure­ments.” Two of many gems amidst util­i­tar­i­an images from dull cor­po­rate and gov­ern­ment record books.

1912 Book of Home Building

Search “library” and you’ll arrive at a fas­ci­nat­ing assem­blage, from the fash­ion­able room above from 1912’s “Book of Home Build­ing and Dec­o­ra­tion,” to the rotund, mourn­ful, soon-to-be carved pig below from 1882’s “The Amer­i­can Farmer: A Com­plete Agri­cul­tur­al Library,” to the nifty Nau­tilus draw­ing fur­ther down from an 1869 British Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry pub­li­ca­tion. To see more images from any of the sources, sim­ply click on the title of the book that appears in the search results. The orga­ni­za­tion of the archive could use some improve­ment: as yet mil­lions of images have not been orga­nized into the­mat­ic albums, which would great­ly stream­line brows­ing through them. But it’s a minor gripe giv­en the num­ber and vari­ety of free, pub­lic domain images avail­able for any kind of use.

American Farmer Library 1882

More­over, Lee­taru has planned to offer his code to insti­tu­tions, telling the BBC, “Any library could repeat this process. That’s actu­al­ly my hope, that libraries around the world run this same process of their dig­i­tized books to con­stant­ly expand this uni­verse of images.” Schol­ars and archivists of book and art his­to­ry and visu­al cul­ture will find such a “uni­verse of images” invalu­able, as will edi­tors of Wikipedia. “What I want to see,” Lee­taru also said, “is… Wikipedia have a nation­al day of going through this [col­lec­tion] to illus­trate Wikipedia arti­cles.”

Museum of Natural History 1869

Short of that, indi­vid­ual edi­tors and users can sort through images of all kinds when they can’t find freely avail­able pic­tures of their sub­ject. And, of course, sites like Open Culture—which rely main­ly on pub­lic domain and cre­ative com­mons images—benefit great­ly as well. So, thanks, Inter­net Archive Book Images Col­lec­tion! We’ll check back lat­er and let you know when they’ve grown even more.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load for Free 2.6 Mil­lion Images from Books Pub­lished Over Last 500 Years on Flickr

Old Book Illus­tra­tions: Free Archive Lets You Down­load Beau­ti­ful Images From the Gold­en Age of Book Illus­tra­tion

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

The Get­ty Adds Anoth­er 77,000 Images to its Open Con­tent Archive

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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