The Library of Congress Makes Thousands of Fabulous Photos, Posters & Images Free to Use & Reuse

The his­to­ry of the ven­er­a­ble Library of Con­gress demon­strates the vast impor­tance that the founders of the U.S. accord­ed to read­ing and study­ing. It may be one of the country’s most durable insti­tu­tions, “the old­est fed­er­al cul­tur­al insti­tu­tion in the nation,” it pro­claims. While par­ti­san ran­cor, war, and vio­lence recur, the LoC has stolid­ly held an ever-increas­ing­ly diverse col­lec­tion of arti­facts sit­ting peace­ful­ly along­side each oth­er on sev­er­al hun­dred miles of shelves, a mon­u­ment to the life of the mind that ought to get more atten­tion.

Tout­ing itself as “the largest library in the world,” its col­lec­tions “are uni­ver­sal, not lim­it­ed by sub­ject, for­mat, or nation­al bound­ary, and include research mate­ri­als from all parts of the world and in more than 450 lan­guages.”

Its first mate­ri­als were, of course, books—including over six-thou­sand books pur­chased from Thomas Jefferson’s pri­vate col­lec­tion after the British burned the orig­i­nal library down in 1814. Now, it “adds approx­i­mate­ly 12,000 items to the col­lec­tion dai­ly,” in every pos­si­ble for­mat one can imag­ine.

And since its dig­i­tal col­lec­tions came online, any­one, any­where in the world can call up these vast resources with an inter­net con­nec­tion and a few clicks. Though we tend to take such things for grant­ed in our fer­vid­ly dis­tract­ed times, a lit­tle reflec­tion should remind us of how incred­i­ble that is. But before we wax too rhap­sod­ic, let’s remem­ber there’s a busi­ness end to the LoC and it’s called the U.S. Copy­right Office, that guardian of intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty that both ensures cre­ators can prof­it from their labors and pre­vents the free and open use of so many enrich­ing mate­ri­als long after those cre­ators have need of them.

But the Library has done its dig­i­tal users a ser­vice in this regard as well, with its “Free to Use and Reuse Sets,” a siz­able col­lec­tion of images that the Library “believes… is either in the pub­lic domain, has no known copy­right, or has been cleared by the copy­right own­er for pub­lic use.” (The use of the word “believes” seems to leave room for doubt, but if you got it with per­mis­sion from the LoC, you’re prob­a­bly safe.) Need pho­tographs of Abra­ham Lincoln—and scans of his speech­es, let­ters, and “duel­ing instruc­tions”—for that book you’re writ­ing? You’re cov­ered with this gallery. Need a col­lec­tion of clas­sic chil­dren’s books for your web­site (or your read­ing plea­sure)? Here you go.

From the graph­ic genius of vin­tage WPA and trav­el posters to icon­ic jazz por­traits by William Got­tlieb to base­ball cards to end­less­ly quaint and quirky Amer­i­can road­side attrac­tions to pic­tures of dogs and their peo­ple… you nev­er know when you might need such images, but when you do you now know where to find them. Want to know what’s in the set called “Not an Ostrich”? A valkyrie cat named Brunnhilde, for one thing, and much more here.

The Library cur­rent­ly high­lights its “Poster Parade”—a set of posters from the 1890s to the 1960s fea­tur­ing “trav­el, com­mer­cial prod­ucts, war pro­pa­gan­da, enter­tain­ment, and more”—in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Poster House, a muse­um open­ing in New York next year. These range from delec­table art nou­veau ads to shouty broad­sides telling you to drink your milk, brush your teeth, or have “More Cour­tesy.” Sen­si­ble pre­scrip­tions, but we also need more knowl­edge, study, and thought. Start at the LoC’s Dig­i­tal Col­lec­tions here and har­vest your free to use and reuse images here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Library of Con­gress Makes 25 Mil­lion Records From Its Cat­a­log Free to Down­load

Large Archive of Han­nah Arendt’s Papers Dig­i­tized by the Library of Con­gress: Read Her Lec­tures, Drafts of Arti­cles, Notes & Cor­re­spon­dence

Get­ty Images Makes 35 Mil­lion Pho­tos Free to Use Online

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


by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.