logo

The Tao of Law Librarianship: Flickr is the Web Photo Tool Preferred by Superheroes and Librarians

By Connie Crosby, Published on October 15, 2006

If you haven't discovered Flickr yet, you are in for a treat! Flickr is an Internet-based service that allows people to store and share photographs. But it is far more robust than the usual web photo site. I first discovered it when I read a blog posting that linked to a group of photographs of librarians' desks. Thinking this was very funny, I actually took photos of my own desk and posted them. It was comforting to see other people's stacks of books and documents on their desks. I was not alone! No longer would I be haunted by the words of my mother from the one visit she made to my office, "why can't you tidy up and put things away?" I was also bemused by the action figures and other "toys" people seemed to accumulate, having hidden my own away a few months previous.

The features I discovered that take Flickr above being an average photo site include the ability to add comments, to add notes to specific parts of a photograph, to group photos into your own sets, and to join forces with other people by posting photos into groups. Groups also have a chat board function which allows for discussion of not just the photos but other related subjects of interest. My favourite feature allows me to post photos to my blogs from directly inside Flickr.

What truly sets Flickr apart as a Web 2.0 application, however, is the tagging. Tagging allows everyone to search for photos of the same subject. The tags also indicate which photos belong to a specific group. As with other social software of its ilk, there is no subject authority. Everyone does his or her own tagging. Photos by other people can also be marked and saved as "favorites" and individuals can add each other to their contact lists. Photos can be made either publicly available, or marked as private for viewing by invited friends and family. With all this functionality, no wonder Flickr was acquired by Yahoo! back in 2005.

Librarians quickly found this tool before the Yahoo! purchase and have been using it both for work and professional activities. There is a "Libraries and Librarians" group that was created at the same time as the "Librarians' Desks" group . A number of faces show up regularly in these library groups. One of the most intriguing, "libraryman", uses the image of super hero Libraryman as his avatar. His collection includes photographs of libraries from around the world. I decided to contact this mysterious fellow to find out more, and ask him about Flickr and libraries. I tracked him down through his blog, also named Libraryman, and soon learned that by day he goes by the name Michael Porter and is a Training and Support Coordinator for OCLC Western.

This is an excerpt of my discussion with Libraryman (alias Michael Porter):

CC: How long have you been using Flickr, and how or why did you start using it?

MP: As with so many popular web tools, Flickr itself is very new, only appearing officially in February of 2004. I uploaded my first picture into Flickr on February 25, 2005 though I had been playing with the service for a few months at that point. It is intriguing how Flickr has become such an indispensable work tool and enjoyable hobby in such a short time. My personal and professional experiences with Flickr really remind me of the advent of email in business/libraries. Even after a year or two, imagining my "on-line life" without the tool seems almost unimaginable.

Flickr has worked its way into everyday routine mostly because of my history with libraries, technology and community building. Until the US Library Program at the Gates Foundation wrapped in 2003 I worked there as a "Public Access Computing Trainer" traveling in 28 different US states training librarians to use technology to help their communities. Part of that job required us to take as many pictures as we could to document the program. I have a ton of digital pictures shot with one of those gigantic, expensive Mavica digital cameras. You know, the kind that you slide a floppy in the side of to store the image data. At any rate, it seems that because of this work, taking digital pictures was a somewhat earlier and more active pursuit for me than most. Having the image captures be associated with libraries and the travels required to visit them didn't hurt either. My next job had me setting up a series of technology lectures and computer workshops for Princess Cruises. Let's just say I was very, very fortunate to get paid to travel in luxury, talk about technology, see the world and take LOTS of digital pictures.

CC: How would you describe Flickr? What makes it different from other websites that allow you to post photos?

MP: Flickr says they are "almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world". I strongly agree. Having created so many digital images over the years I had tried all the Internet photo sharing tools I could find. Having a web page seemed like the best option for this, at least until Flickr came around. And this is just for the image sharing aspects of Flickr. While photo sharing is at the core of Flickr services (and it is the best tool for that in most cases in my opinion), this is just one valuable facets Flickr offers.

The intuitive connections Flickr creates and nurtures through its community and sharing tools reveal the reasons I talk about and work with Flickr so much as a librarian.

The ability to easily comment on and discuss images, put them in subject specific groups and have discussion threads within those groups makes Flickr much, much more than simply photo sharing. It actually helps deliver some of that "promise of the Internet" we've always wanted more of. Understanding Flickr and all of its features (like groups, mapping, commenting, setting friends, tagging, etc) is also one of the very best ways to get a grasp on all of the "2.0" business that seems to be all the rage in library (and other) circles now. There is a reason you hear that "2.0" term all the time at conferences and in professional publications and "getting" Flickr can be an amazingly fun, practical, engaging and psychologically rewarding "Library 2.0" learning experience.

CC. Please describe the "Libraries and Librarians" group. How many people take part ? In what way is it more than just a bunch of photos?

MP: In mid October of 2006, the Libraries and Librarians group had over 5,500 images in its "pool". These were added by the 925 members of the group, from six continents. It's like a club of librarians, libraries and library lovers that everyone is invited to join.

The Librarians' Desks Group really is a fun Flickr librarian group by the way! I've added a couple of shots to that group too, one of the few times I've ever taken a photo specifically to add to a group. There are other interesting library groups as well, like Librarians in Glasses, Modified Librarians (tattoos, piercings, etc), Librarians in Hardhats, Librarian Fit Club and several others. The nice thing about the Libraries and Librarians Group is that all of these other group photos could also go there, especially once they are accurately "tagged" with descriptive keywords.

So, the Libraries and Librarians Group is the biggest, most active and successful library related group on Flickr. From its inception, it has been a real joy to work with the folks who have decided to make it a "living" online community. I have learned so much from the images I've seen there and the people I've met in this group. My fellow group administrators and I have been able to set up collaborative group tagging projects and a group mash-up project too. I've even have had the opportunity to do virtual presentations with group members from the National Library of Australia (Fiona Hooten) and Barcelona University (Lluisa Nunez). The collaborative relationships we developed came entirely from connections made in the Libraries and Librarians Group.

CC: On Flickr and your blog you have taken on the persona or avatar "Libraryman". Who is Libraryman and why do you use this identity rather than your own name? Do many librarians use pseudonyms when using Flickr?

MP: Ha, ha! Well, we all have aspirations and nick-names, right? As with so many on-line tools, from your moniker to your profile information, to your avatar, you get to shape how you present yourself, which is almost always a good thing. It seems that Libraryman is really just catchy, easy to remember and humorously evocative. Because of this it really has become my on-line moniker. This was a slow process starting back in Library School in 1997. You know, the "real" Libraryman is actually not me. The story of the "real" Libraryman is actually quite funny though unless you ply me with goodies at a conference or a presentation you aren't likely to get it out of me. You might think of me as Libraryman's Jimmy Olsen.

CC: In your experience, what types of libraries and librarians primarily are using Flickr? How are they using it?

MP: All types! Academic, Law, Special, Corporate, National, amateur….you name it, they are all there contributing and using it. Some use Flickr very formally and align what they post with a series of institutional policies and practices. Others just post everything they take pictures of both in and out of the library.

CC: I notice Creative Commons licensing is built into Flickr. Are you using this, and what does it do for you? Do you find people ask you permission before using your photos?

MP: For librarians, the fact that Flickr has included Creative Commons licensing demonstrates another reason why it is worth knowing this tool. In particular, if the law librarians out there haven't checked out the Flickr Creative Commons set-up you might really enjoy taking a look at how it has been rather delicately folded into the service.

Flickr users have to select the Creative Commons licensing option they prefer and then request that it be applied to some or all of their images. Users that don't do this have "All Rights Reserved" applied to all of the images they upload. In answer to your question, I do use Creative Commons licensing. Most of my photos are "Some Rights Reserved" using an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Creative Commons license. And yes, I have had many individuals and web sites ask to use my images. Most people don't ask (but if you use a couple of internet tricks you can find many of these folks). I'm surprised more professional publications haven't used images from Flickr that have set their Creative Commons license up so that would be legal, but I imagine that will slowly change. In fact, last month I saw a picture from one of our Libraries and Librarians Group members in a major library magazine, which makes perfect sense.

CC: Are there other ways you are using Flickr yourself that you have not already described (especially for work)?

MP: When I present to groups of library folks I usually upload pictures of the audience to Flickr. I have a couple of groups of pictures set aside for use in a couple of specific classes, too. Also, I very often post work related screen shots from outside programs that I am using or thinking about. Sometimes these sorts of images get added to my blog as well.

CC: Is there anything else you would like to say about Flickr?

MP: Give it a whirl! Have fun, play and learn! Join the Libraries and Librarians Group! Set me (libraryman) as one of your contacts there!


You can register for a free password to sign onto Flickr for full functionality. The free registration level allows you to upload up to 20 mb of photo files per month. You are not charged for storage of the files once they have been uploaded. Thus far I have found this sufficient for uploading both personal and conference photos. I am now considering upgrading to the "Pro" level after a particularly photo-intensive vacation. That would allow me to add in more photographs at a time (up to 2 Gb per month), and to create an unlimited number of picture sets for myself. That way I can group those 400-plus pictures into various sets and allow my friends to choose how much or how little they would like to see.

If you would like to get in touch with Libraryman, his links are:

Blog: http://www.libraryman.com/blog
Email: mp@libraryman.com
Flickr photos: http://flickr.com/photos/libraryman/

I also learned he speaks regularly on Flickr and libraries, and can be seen at the upcoming Internet Librarian 2006 conference in Monterey, the 2006 Educators' Conference being put on by the Montana Education Association, and the Hawaii Library Association Conference 2006.

To see my photos on Flickr, look me up under the name "conniec". I'm not as prolific as Libraryman nor as talented, but with some practice that could change.