The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Folger Tooltips: Introducing “Folger Collection, by Folger Readers”

The purpose of this post is to introduce a new venue for you, Dear Readers, to post, share, and comment on photos taken by in the course of your research here: a new Flickr group, “Folger Collection, by Folger Readers”.

But first, some background …

Our Current Reading Room Camera Use Policy

As anyone who has worked in our New or Old Reading Rooms in the last 18 months or so knows, we now have a Reading Room Camera Use Policy, which states (in part, but be sure to read the whole thing!):

Researchers may take photographs of collection materials as allowed by the library, based on the physical condition of the materials, copyright law, donor restrictions and reading room regulations.

Classroom use is encouraged, as is use for personal study, scholarship, research and other noncommercial activities. Photographs may be made for personal or noncommercial uses, provided that researchers include copyright notice where applicable, and the statement “Photo by [Your Name Here] courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.”

Just how popular has this been? My colleagues in the Reading Room report (and I concur, as an occasional Saturday Reading Room Supervisor) that it has been overwhelmingly popular, while at the same time remaining something that can be accommodated under our existing recommendations for Care and Handling of Rare Materials.

So how did we get here?

‘”Capture and Release”: Digital Cameras in the Reading Room’

A Feb. 2010 report (pdf) by this title aimed to provide guidance to special collections institutions on the issues to be considered when permitting reader use of digital cameras. The report was co-authored by our former Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Books Steven Galbraith (now RIT’s Curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection), with Lisa Miller (of Stanford’s Hoover Institution Library) and the RLG Partnership Working Group on Streamlining Photography and Scanning (of OCLC Research). After reviewing the policies at thirty-five repositories in academic, independent research, and public libraries, and in historical societies and government archives, the group provided a set of suggested practices and a sample policy. Among their conclusions:

The next generation of archivists, librarians, and curators will view digital cameras the way we currently view photocopy machines, as essential components of our reference system. The issues of new technology are wrongly framed as a threat or a challenge for repositories to remain relevant. Rather, digital cameras should be considered from the perspective of our most fundamental goals—improving conditions for our collections materials, facilitating greater research economically and efficiently, and resolving competing demands for resources and maximizing the productivity of our staff.

Well said, indeed.

And just a few short months later (in May of 2010) a local working group proposed, and the Folger implemented, the policy now in cheerful use by Folger readers.

“Folger Collection, by Folger Readers”

Fast forward to 2012, and the subject of today’s post. For those of you unfamiliar with the tool, Flickr is a photo-sharing site that’s been around for a number of years (since 2005), one that is characterized by strong involvement in photo-sharing by cultural heritage organizations.

Our new Flickr group is a bit different from other existing cultural heritage models in that we aim to create a tool explicitly for Reader use. But I’ll mention just a couple of examples well worth exploring: The Flickr Commons, where museums and archives release images from their collections under a “no known restrictions” license (inviting not only public re-use, but also public input and description of these images); individual special collections institutions posting fully-cataloged images like the Beinecke (Yale) (be sure also to check out their “Flickr laboratory”).

Not yet a Flickr member? Sign up (it’s free)!

Already a Flickr user? Then please, join our group!

Got some images (of non-copyrighted 1 Folger collection material) to share? Check out our “tips for titles and captions”, and bring them on over.

Additions to the pool should be:

  • Photos taken by Readers or staff in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Reading Rooms
  • Photos of non-copyrighted material from the Folger collections
  • Photos taken in accordance with Folger Reading Room Camera Use Policy

Looking forward to seeing you all there.

And don’t forget that some great tips on Reading Room photography were provided in a previous collation post, our Q & A with Julie Ainsworth, Head of Photography and Digital Imaging.

Digital Preservation Coda

Finally, let me put my hat on as the staff member charged with worrying about strategies for digital preservation of the images of Folger collection material created by Julie Ainsworth and her staff in our Photography and Digital Imaging lab.

I want to end by putting in a plug (no, call that a strong recommendation) for personal digital preservation. Our portable storage devices (despite looking for all the world like real, solid objects) are in fact radically ephemeral. If you haven’t lost personal data yet, consider yourself one of the few, the happy (for now) few.

So: we could all use some tips on preserving our digital images.

For instance, take a look at Butch Lazorchak’s recent post at Library of Congress’ digital preservation blog, The Signal. Butch provided Four Easy Tips for Preserving Your Digital Photographs.

Or visit the more fulsome LC site on Personal Archiving: Preserving Your Digital Memories.

Check them out. Your friends and family will thank you; but perhaps more on point: so will your grad students and research assistants!



  1. Of course IANAL, but for a useful overview designed for educators and librarians of the legal concept of the public domain, check out Stanford’s Copyright & Fair Use site, or more particularly, their essay “Welcome to the Public Domain”; or, for a quick look-up, have a look at Cornell’s handy chart, “Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States”, most recently updated on Jan. 1, 2012.


  • To give a little data point of background to the number of readers wielding digital cameras, we have a total of 157 readers who have signed up to use cameras in the Reading Room!

  • Hi there, thanks for the post on a thorny issue. I’m interested in how the Folger is dealing with in-copyright materials with potential for commercial exploitation such as production photographs, costume designs and works of art. Do you allow copying of these materials? Do copyright-holders not feel that publishing on the Library’s Flickr could contravene copyright? I’ve got experience of both sides, having managed copyright collections for years, and now publishing my own blog, The Shakespeare blog.

  • Thanks for your question, which is a good one. Three things are worth pointing out about the Folger camera use policy as it relates to copyright: first, the policy does not permit reader photography of in-copyright material; second, those wishing to use a camera in our reading rooms are required to sign a copy of our policy, thereby indicating their receipt and acceptance of these limitations; and finally, this policy states that “the Library reserves the right to deny or revoke permission to photograph any of its collection materials.” Further, our flickr group includes the rule that additions must be “Photos of non-copyrighted material from the Folger collections.” Those who join the flickr group agree to this (and other) rules, and all photo contributions to the flickr pool are moderated. All of these seem like reasonable approaches for encouraging copyright-compliant open inquiry and research.

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