Not all gifs, the popular animated image format, come from pop culture or YouTube. from old archival videos, and can help bring history to life on the internet. This summer, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), in partnership with Imgur, is rolling out the Summer of Archives, a collection of historical pictures and moving images repurposed for the digital world.
"There are a lot of opportunities for historical footage to be relevant to people through the gif and modern implications of technology," says Kenny Whitebloom of the DPLA. "These sort of films aren't on the forefront of the average internet users daily browsing habits, and yet there are stories in them that are interesting things that are actually quite relevant and cool."
The concept of a national digital library had been discussed since the 1990s, but it truly came to fruition after a 2010 meeting of 40 leaders from libraries, technology projects and academia, who decided that it was time for the United States to create "an open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources that would draw on the nation’s living heritage from libraries, universities, archives, and museums in order to educate, inform, and empower everyone in current and future generations." Since its launch in April of 2013, the DPLA has amassed an open collection of more than 7 million items, which users can search through a digital catalog available to all internet users. It also functions as a platform for digital innovation, encouraging users to take advantage of its various digital programming platforms and interfaces to expand and create innovative digital technology. Lastly, the DPLA functions as a sort of advocacy foundation, working to keep digital information as widely accessible as possible.
Earlier this year, after finding that historic photos performed particularly well on the site, Imgur reached out to the DPLA with a proposal to collaborate and bring wider audiences to the archive's images. "We came up with the idea to highlight some of the amazing things that are in archives of museums that the average user of the Internet might not know exists," says Whitebloom.
So far, the DPLA and Imgur have released five albums. The first, a collection of gifs from World War II footage, came out on May 30. Since then, they've released albums of antique summer postcards, maps and charts from history, a 16-part gif of World War I footage, and, most recently, a collection of gifs that fall under the theme of "Forever Loops" (these gifs are the ones shown in this post).
"Forever Loops" are perhaps the gif-iest of the Summer of Archives thus far: 10 animations that seamlessly loop an image or action over and over. To decide which images would become gifs, Whitebloom and those at the DPLA wanted to choose images that either showed important moments in history (such as those of the Moon landing) or images that showed pieces of everyday life that might be overlooked in our modern times (such as the gif of a skier falling off of a ski jump).
"Even if they may not be interesting in the historical context themselves," Whitebloom says of the images, "they're visually interesting, and that resonates."
The Summer of Archives will continue through the beginning of September, with four more albums planned.