Sharing Archival Photographs in a Digital World

      2 Comments on Sharing Archival Photographs in a Digital World

UA archives, Upper Arlington History, Flickr Commons

Earlier this month there was considerable discussion on the ARCAN and the Archives & Archivists listserves about which photo sharing/hosting sites can best serve the needs of archival institutions.  Despite all the chatter there was little consensus on what hosting site was ideal for archival organizations.

Many cultural heritage groups are looking for affordable solutions to making their collections more accessible to the general public.  There are numerous options available but no clear winner has come across as an ideal image hosting site.

The current forerunners of the free or low cost image sharing options include:

There are three different account options available to organizations using Flickr; the free account, a professional account, and a Flickr commons account.  All three accounts have the ability to include metadata in photograph tags and include photo descriptions.  Users also have the option of limiting access to photographs or making them available to everyone. Organizations can organize photographs into collections, overlay photographs on maps, and include copyright statements.

Flickr Free Account
-Upload limit of two videos and 300MB worth of photos each calendar month.
-Only small compressed images are available to you and to the public
-Does not store high-resolution originals for you.
-Only the 200 most recent photographs will be displayed.

Flickr Professional Account
-Annual fee of $24.95 US dollars.
-Unlimited photo and video uploads, unlimited storage and bandwith
-The ability to show high definition video
-Flickr stores all high-resolution originals you upload, which you can later download at anytime while you have your Pro account.
-Compiles basic user statistics

Flickr Commons
-An initiative started in 2008 by Flickr and the Library of Congress that was designed specifically to increase accessibility to publicly held collections.
-Registration process is required as you must be a cultural heritage or public organization. Currently the registration process includes a waiting period for approval.
-There is a wide range of community for support for tech problems and description.
-All material uploaded MUST have no known copyright restrictions
-Additional details on institutions results from posting material on Flickr Commons can be seen here.

Picasa Web Albums
-Includes 1 GB of free storage for photos and videos. Photos up to 800 x 800 pixels in size and videos up to 15 minutes won’t count towards your free storage.  Once you’ve reached your limit photographs will automatically be re-sized to not count toward your limit.
-Additional storage can be purchased for an annual fee (20GB for $5, 80GB for $20, 200GB for $50, etc).
-Account is automatically linked to other Google applications such as Google+ and analytics.
-Metadata and description details can easily be attached, including person and geographical tags.
-Access to photos can be restricted and you can attach copyright descriptions.
-Photographs can be sorted into collections using the photo album feature.
-Includes an easy to use export feature that will export your data and photographs.

Wikimedia Commons
-Focuses on public domain and freely licensed material that can be used for educational purposes.  This means that material bust be  free reuse or the creation of derivative works for any purpose (including commercial).
-Integrated with Wikipedia
-Files are uploaded using a template information form which includes fields for description, date, source, author, and permission information.
-Uses open file formats only.  File size limits is 100MB
-You can set up galleries and contribute to other relevant galleries and categories.
-Includes geocoding functionality
-There is a bit of a learning curve for formatting descriptions if you have never used wiki’ before, but there is a tremendous amount of documentation and community support in the Wikimedia community if you have problems.

So, what does all this mean? I don’t think there is a clear winner.  It boils down to the quantity and type of information you want to put online.  For example, Flickr Commons has a great reputation as it hosts only cultural heritage institutions but only information that has no copyright restrictions can be posted, which might not be ideal for an institution with a lot of more recent photographs.

Organizations should consider their intended audiences, the copyright status of their material, the file size and quality of their material, the cost, the need for cloud backups, and how much time a staff person can dedicate to updating an account.

What experience have you had using an image hosting site? What digital platforms have you found successful in disseminating content to a broad audience?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Blog posts published before October  28, 2018 are licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License.

2 thoughts on “Sharing Archival Photographs in a Digital World

  1. Jess Posgate

    Hi Krista,
    just to note that some archives in Ontario are using the VITA Toolkit. We are presently offering the toolkit far and wide: beyond the borders of this province. VITA is a complete solution for archives looking to create fulsome records (with authoritative and standardized metadata templates), upload digital files (images, text, video, audio and more), and exhibit those collections online with terrific search, browse, discovery and interactive options for end users. For more information, contact me at or go to the interim website for this service at

  2. Krista McCracken Post author

    Having previously worked with the VITA toolkit (and Jess), I agree that VITA is a great more in-depth digital platform for archives that have a bit more leeway in budget.

    However, with a starting price point of $350 a year for 1GB of storage it might not be an option for community based organizations that don’t have a digitization budget.

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