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500 Years’ Worth of Book Illustrations Have Just Been Liberated From Print

The internet’s about to get a wealth of illustrations from more than two million books

(Photo: Internet Archive Book Images)
smithsonian.com

The knowledge trapped in dusty print books isn't just contained in their words—book illustrations, too, contain insights into past culture and psyche. But as the Washington Post points out, digitization efforts to date have focused mainly on printed text, rather than the illustrations that go with them. Now, a joint project between Georgetown University, Flickr and the Internet Archive aims to change that.

The researchers behind the effort plan to digitize images from some two million printed books, published over the past 500 years. So far, they have already added more than 2.5 million photos to the project's Flickr page, all of which, the Washington Post adds, are licensed within the public domain. 

As an added bonus, the illustrations—unlike many digitized text scans contained in PDF files—will soon be fully searchable. Kalev Leetaru, the Georgetown researcher behind the project, told the Washington Post that he will be releasing an app sometime in the next few weeks that will allow people to use keywords to search through what will eventually be around 10 million images. As Leetaru said, he hopes to create "a single massive gallery of our history" where "all of the world’s out-of-copyright book images" can reside. 

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