Priceless Images: Getting Started with Flickr

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Some images are priceless, capturing a moment, a person, or an event in time. One of the most important things we can do with our online presence is to take advantage of the graphical nature of the Web and the interactive nature of many Web 2.0 sites to make a big splash with pictures–images of our libraries, our programs, and ourselves. A cost-effective way to do this (and one that yields some benefits for outreach and interaction) is to use Flickr–that Yahoo!-owned, image-sharing community site you may have heard about recently.

Using Flickr in Libraries

In early August, I spoke at the Northeast Kansas Library System Tech Day. One of the highlights for me was a presentation by Kansas librarians Joshua Neff and Mickey Coalwell on using Flickr in libraries. It was standing room only for their talk about the ins and outs of using this site. Proactively, they stressed that we should be exploring and learning about it, checking out the terms of service and offering user education. At a time when the looming Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) seeks to block library and school access to social sites, Coalwell provided a handout that included this important suggestion for library use:

Educate yourself, your staff, your board of trustees, and governing agencies about social sites, like flickr, and the issues surrounding them. Educate your patrons and your community about the good–and bad–of flickr and other social software sites. Sit down at a library computer with any patron who has a concern, and demonstrate the site to the patron. Let them see the benefits first hand.

It’s inspiring stuff. Based on adaptations of things I’ve written at Tame The Web and from their own explorations, Coalwell and Neff also presented ways to use Flickr in libraries that really utilize the interactive nature of the social Web. Flickr, for example, allows for all sorts of 2.0 goodness: commenting on pictures by registered users, user tagging, photo album “sets” for sharing similar images or photos of events, image groups or pools devoted to all sorts of subjects, and notes that add text or links to pictures. There’s also a new feature-a map interface that allows folks to associate their images with the locations where they were taken. Users can configure their Flickr accounts with the Blog This feature as well to instantly post images and text to blogs of all kinds.

It might seem overwhelming at first, but worry not–the best thing you can do is take some time and explore. Dive into some image pools, surf some tags you find interesting, and upload your own pictures to the site with a free or “pro” account. Play around with the features and some of the Flickr Toys that have sprung up because of the open nature of Flickr’s database. Try some tagging. Join the Libraries and Librarians group and share pictures of your building.

Ten Ways to Use Flickr

Armed with your digital camera or scanner, a Flickr pro account, and access to your own library blog or Web pages, here are a few things you can do to make your online presence more interactive and much more fun:

  1. Edit that profile and make some contacts. Make sure your library’s Flickr account profile page includes the URL, mission, contact information, and more. Look for other local organizations or other libraries to make connections as contacts. Invite your patrons to be contacts as well. See the Gwinnett County Public Library’s profile for a useful guideline.
  2. Tag your images. Make sure you are findable via tags for the library’s name, town, university, school etc., as well as through descriptive words for the images themselves. Maybe people searching Flickr for their hometowns will discover images of their local libraries and learn of services or programs they didn’t know about.
  3. Display images via RSS. Did you know every Flickr account, tag, group, or pool has an RSS feed? Use the feed to display images anywhere on your Web site–each time you update your Flickr images, the feed updates as well. This way, you’ll always have new images displaying on your site. See the site’s Feedroll to generate the code. Just plug the URL for an RSS feed into the site’s form, and it will generate the necessary code to display images (or text). All you have to do is copy that code and paste it into your own HTML page. Once live on the Web, images from the Flickr RSS feed will appear on your page; they’ll magically update every time the original site adds new content.
  4. Create sets of your programs, events, and specialties. Use the Set feature to organize and present your programs, events, gaming tournaments, and more. Check out the Newport Public Library’s Library Programs set for an ongoing chronicle of what’s happening. What innovative service or program does your library offer? Flickr it! Tag it and share it with others.
  5. Host images for your blog or Web site. Flickr provides the HTML code to easily insert images into a blog post or onto your library’s home page. Follow the link on one of your image pages to Different Sizes and choose the size you want. The code is either static or dynamic, meaning the picture can be a static image on your site or it can link to Flickr for commenting, tagging, and more. This is a no-muss, nofuss way to get pictures online; it avoids messy FTP or having to send all Web site pics through one person.
  6. Use notes for HTML links and more. Using the Add Note feature, you can easily insert a link to your Web site, blog, or catalog. In fact, some of your colleagues have experimented with posting pictures of new books and linking them to the catalog, thus enabling the “virtual browsing” of new hook shelves. The code is simple HTML.
  7. Engage users with those images. Inserting that dynamic, linked code as well as hyperlinked notes can pull folks to your Flickr pages and allow them to comment or interact. Illinois’ Westmont Public Library uses this feature as a mini online book club.
  8. Share the library’s history. See the site for Colorado College’s Tutt Library for an example of librarians sharing historic photos of their places and spaces through the years. Some folks may want to comment and share their own memories. Blog the historical photo set and point the way.
  9. Use some Flickr Toys to make some snazzy graphics. Have you seen the librarian trading cards? READ posters? Magazine covers? Movie posters? All of these are created at FD’s Flickr Toys. Think of the innovative promotional items (like below!) you could create with a badge maker, poster creator, and more. Use them online, or print them for even more excitement. Why not offer a class for teens or kids that includes getting their own magazine covers? Start by training your librarians to make their own trading cards.
  10. Allow Flickr access on library computers. Finally, make sure you can access Flickr inside your library. I’ve received e-mails from librarians who lament that their public computers block access to Flickr. What about folks who may want to upload their images while on vacation?

These 10 tips just scratch the surface for all of the uses for Flickr in our institutions–I didn’t even cover applications in K-12 schools or library programs. Imagine students using Flickr to create their own cards for a c]ass project. Sites such as this, paired with the Flickr Toys site, can be powerful tools for extending your online presence.

A Few Words About Money

Many of the tips and tools Rachel and I have discussed in this department are free or close to it. Flickr pro accounts do come with a price–$25 a year. This is money well-spent because of the benefits to libraries. This might be a time for you to consider paying the fee to become a pro member because the access, storage, and bandwidth allowances are top-notch. According to the Flickr FAQ, pro accounts offer a 2-GB monthly upload limit; unlimited storage, bandwidth, and photosets; permanent archiving of high-resolution original images; the ability to replace a photo; and ad-free browsing and sharing.

So, to wrap up:

• Cost of a Flickr pro account per year for your library: $25

• Cost of experimentation, play, learning: staff time (and it’s worth it)

• Having an easy, cost-effective way to store and display images, interact with users, create community, host pictures for library blogs, and more: priceless

Resources Discussed

Colorado College Tutt Library:

FD’s Flickr Toys:

Feedroll (for RSS):


Flickr FAQ:

“Flickr Is Scary to Some..” at ALA Techsource:

Gwinnett County Public Library at Flickr:

Newport Public Library’s Programs Set:

Westmont Public Library:

This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine October 2006, published by Information Today Inc.