Celebrating the Commons on Flickr, Part Deux

January 15, 2013 · 7 comments

in Guest Bloggers,Photographs,Projects,Research,Social Media

This is our second blog post celebrating the 5th anniversary of The Commons on Flickr which falls tomorrow, Wednesday 16 January. This means a 5th Birthday for the Library of Congress photostream. We’re not quite into the Terrible Twos on Flickr Commons ourselves yet here at the National Library of Ireland, but we’re certainly looking forward to our own 5th Birthday! In the previous blog post, I wrote all about our relentless, argumentative (in a good way), competitive, funny researchers from all over the world, who work away on our photographs every day, establishing locations, dates, identifying people…

The great thing about all of this effort is that the information our fantastic Flickroonies contribute to our photos on Flickr Commons does not just languish there or float off into the ether, but feeds directly back into our NLI catalogue. On the technical end, this is possible because we use open-source software here at Library Towers. An excellent developer here, Lutz Biedinger, was able to code an extension which displays all the wonderful comments directly on our catalogue via the Flickr API (Application Programming Interface). So, whether you’re on Flickr or our NLI catalogue, all the information is at your fingertips. Where our Flickroonies have established a solid location, we extended our catalogue to display it using the Google Maps API. Users can even switch to Streetview to see what the scene looks like today. (In the spirt of the Commons, we’ve contributed the code for both these extensions back to the open-source community!)


Information and location from Flickr research feeds back into our NLI catalogue...

All of these improvements to our catalogue means that we’re achieving exactly what The Commons on Flickr was set up to do. We share our photographic collections online, and our Flickr users’ input and knowledge is helping “make these collections even richer”.

Happy Days!

Carol Maddock, NLI Flickr Commons Admin


The Flying Huntsman, Limerick

Flying Huntsman

The Flying Huntsman, Limerick picked by swordscookie aka Sean Mulligan. NLI ref. EAS_2794

Picked by swordscookie aka Sean Mulligan

The scene in this photograph is much the same as it was when I was a child in the late 1940s and early 1950s (bar the Paddle Steamer in the foreground). Back then ships were often berthed along these quays which were tidal, and the ships ended up resting on the river bed until the next tide. When the coal and timber ships came in, that quay was a throng of horses and carts, dockers and hangers-on. The carts were similar to the one to the right of the ship and the drivers pulled up in lines outside Limerick Steamship Company, Mullock’s, and the other coal merchants. One by one, the carts came across and were loaded with bags of coal or lengths of timber to be taken away to the coal and timber yards. It was slow and very labour intensive, but there was work for men who would otherwise be almost penniless.

The skyline was more or less the same when I was growing up and Limerick was a buzzing place with life in all its forms going on. Off to the left behind Limerick Boat and Shannon Rowing Clubs on Wellesley Bridge (now Sarsfields) you can see the bell tower of St. Mary’s Cathedral.

The land side of this photo is changed utterly, and today an hotel stands on the site with blocks of modern apartments and a car park showing how time has affected my native place! In my mind’s eye however I can still see the colour, hear the calls of the drivers, the crash of hooves and rattle of wheels over cobbles as the quays come to life once again.


Mitchelstown Eviction

Mitchelstown Eviction

Mitchelstown Eviction picked by mogey. NLI ref. L_ROY_01083

Picked by mogey

This is one of my favourite photos because it shows a piece of social history that can get ignored with all the photos of grand occasions. Also, I have to say I love the detective work done by Flickroonies using maps, streetview, wind direction, etc. to find out where and when a photo was taken. The discussions are very enthusiastic and a lot of fun (all kept in order by the wit of Carol). Putting these photos online is a terrific public service … keep it up.


Linen Bleach Green

Linen Bleach Green

Linen Bleach Green picked by derangedlemur. NLI ref. L_ROY_02416

Picked by derangedlemur

I don’t really have an aesthetically favourite image; There are too many good pictures and not enough outstanding railway or castle ones. I just rate them by how much fun they are to research. While I hold a few speed records based on the fact that I’m up earlier than everyone else, the two images that afforded me the most fun were Oscar Traynor (under the X) and Linen Bleach Green. In the first instance, I was able to put the kibosh on the proposed date based on the angle of the sun. Despite scepticism in some quarters, this technique was proved to be reasonably accurate by the corroborating efforts of other investigators. In the latter instance, I was able to pinpoint the exact location of the photographer despite the limited number of clues in the image, allowing another intrepid investigator to duplicate the photo.

I would choose the Linen Bleach Green as my favourite, not simply because it was My Finest Hour, but also because of an affinity with the subject. My mother is from Lisburn, the centre of the linen industry in Ireland, and this image took me back to times spent there visiting my grandparents, browsing their collection of superannuated almanacs advertising Lisburn linen (along with various dubious nostrums and specifics) and walking in the Antrim hills (not, as it turned out, that this photo was taken in Antrim). I also love the tidiness of the fields. Not a bramble in sight, the grass mowed. It’s clearly a summer’s day and as someone who feels the cold and has too much stress, the tranquility of the scene and the look of warmth about it really appeals to me.


Written out of history


Written out of history picked by MKSeery aka Michael Seery. NLI ref. L_CAB_02631

Picked by MKSeery aka Michael Seery

My favourite images on NLI Flickr are ones where a date or location is unknown. I think this is a fantastic way to engage with images (and perhaps a little bit competitive…!). I don’t know how many hours I spent looking up architectural styles for the infamous Sandymount Castle photo. Not in vain though, as I learned a lot. The image I have chosen though is one I like, Written out of history – not for what is in the foreground (a statue of Daniel O’Connell) – but for the almost hidden detail in the background. The call came out to help establish a date. Using the higher resolution version, it was possible to make out some shop names on 45-48 Sackville Street. Noting these, I took a few extended coffee breaks to NLI HQ to look in Thom’s Directory, and luckily one of the shop names had changed in a short period of time. We were able to narrow the date to 1889-1894 (from 1865-1914). Another user has since reduced it again to 1889-1892. I love that these photographs have so much history hidden in them, and that as we unearth it, it feeds back into the NLI catalogue. There is a nice sense of contributing to the “greater knowledge” … But the biggest reward was that this analysis rendered Bean an Phoist, the Post Mistress of the NLI blog (temporarily) speechless. Keep up the good work.


Miss W. Mandeville

Miss Mandeville

Miss W. Mandeville picked by John Spooner and La Belle Province. NLI ref. P_WP_2843

Picked by John Spooner and La Belle Province

John Spooner wrote: Obviously it’s got to be Miss Mandeville – A superb portrait, A. H. Poole at his best.

As for Miss Winifred Mandeville, she eluded all initial attempts to discover who she was, and I gave up several times, but every time I looked at her photo, it was if she was looking back at me, challenging me to find out more. Slowly the family history revealed itself – her father’s heroic military past, his two marriages, the mysterious fire at Anner Castle, and then her joy and tragedy so soon after this photo was taken. And finally the contact from her nephew to flesh out the dry facts with his own personal memory.

La Belle Province also fell under Miss Mandeville’s spell: I’m a shameless fan of the National Library of Ireland on The Commons because of the great hats. It’s costume drama at its finest, and there are so many weddings, christenings, fancy dress parties and gallant men in uniform. It’s as if I get invited to everything.

This young lady in particular struck me with how lively and fresh she is. You sense that she’s smart, kind and knows how to tell a good joke. She has great taste, and a Modigliani elegance. Although it was taken almost 100 years ago, I feel as if this photo could have been taken yesterday, because Miss Mandeville looks at us so directly it’s as if we’re friends.


November 14, 1922


November 14, 1922 picked by whatsthatpicture aka James Morley. NLI ref. P_WP_3076

Picked by whatsthatpicture aka James Morley

Having followed Flickr Commons from the outset, this was one of the earliest images from the National Library of Ireland to catch my eye. It may seem a rather odd choice given the wealth of beautiful and fascinating images that they share, but it has both a personal appeal and in a striking way epitomises the joy to be had from NLI images. After all, who else can you think of that might post an image like this? And get comments and a debate going?

To explain, as a botanist by training I instantly like anything plant related. But as a collector of vintage images, and someone who appreciates good photography, it has a quality at both an aesthetic and technical level that appeals. Then there’s the mystery, and a botanical mystery at that – what is it? But it also has everything that is so great about the whole community on Flickr. People are chipping in with opinions from around the world, agreeing to differ, explaining those lovely subtle cultural differences that have evolved in English speaking countries. And being funny too. And all because of NLI and their picture of a pile of turnips / swedes / mangolds / neeps / rutabagas*

* delete according to personal preference!

Leave a Comment

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Alan Renga January 16, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I love your photostream! And I am very impressed with your linking of the Commons to your Catalog. We are trying to do something similar using the flickr IPA and extracting comments and corrections into our DAMS. If you have any advice our suggestions I would love to hear them!
Alan Renga
San Diego Air and Space Museum


Bean an Phoist January 16, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Hi Alan! I saw your appeal for information on Flickr Commons group, but the last couple of days have been a little busy with the whole fantastic 5th anniversary extravaganza. I have no advice or suggestions, but I might know a man here at Library Towers who does! 馃槈

Be in touch…


La Belle Province January 16, 2013 at 12:33 am

Carol, thank you so much for letting us Flickroonies share this celebration with you. I so loved reading everyone’s stories about their favourite photos. So lovely, and life-enriching, and so many more photos and discussions to come.


Bean an Phoist January 16, 2013 at 8:19 am

Absolutely, here’s to the next 5 years of Flickr Commons, and long live our Fantastic Flickroonies (this means you, Liza!), who bring people like our lovely Miss Mandeville to life!


P贸l贸 January 15, 2013 at 11:26 pm

I’m only just coming across all this stuff now. My earlier contacts with the National Library go back to the days of Glassplate Lawrence and Hardcopy Hayes.

But the stuff you’re doing here is mindblowing. I thought digitising the photos/catalogues and having them digitally searchable was a sufficient quantum leap in itself. But all the extra stuff, crosslinking, backreferencing, crowdsourced detective work, and open-source /API development. is really fantastic. Cutting edge and sharing. Love it. Congratulations and I’ll have to start spreading the gospel.


Bean an Phoist January 16, 2013 at 8:19 am

To infiinity and beyond, P贸l!


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