Saturday, January 22, 2011

Historic Photographs from the Spokane Public Library

Here is a great new resource for local history: Spokane Public Library - Northwest Room Digital Collections. "The Northwest Room of Spokane Public Library is pleased to introduce a digital collections page of photographs selected from collections in the Northwest Room. These collections emphasize the most frequently requested subjects in the Northwest Room – the homes, buildings, streets and activities in and around Spokane."

Remains of the Glover/Pioneer Block after the fire of 1889.
So far the collection contains about 350 items, and Northwest Room librarian Riva Dean says that the library plans to add "plenty more." The initial collection includes historic Spokane photographs in six categories: the Spokane Fire (1889), Spokane River, Spokane Views, Spokane Homes, Spokane Parks, Spokane Bridges, and Spokane Streets. Unfortunately the images are provided using ContentDM, which is the industry standard despite being a fairly stodgy piece of commercial software. It presents information adequately but does not allow users to interact with item to add data or offer corrections. (It would be nice, for example, to flag this item, which contains a picture of one Spokane park with a description of a different park, without having to go back to the library webpage and figure out who to email the correction.) It also does not allow users to easily save or export the images or to share them with friends via Facebook or other social media. (I extracted the image on this page using the Picnik extension on the Chrome browser.)

The first set of pictures are delightful, from scenes of the devastating 1889 fire to early street images to intriguing homes (anyone know where this one is?).

It is a shame the site is not more interactive because these are wonderful photographs and could easily become nodes of online discussion about Spokane history. Many have only partial information with them-the dates are unknown, the locations have been forgotten, etc. If there were a discussion area with each photo, patrons could probably help fill in a lot of the missing information.

The Spokane Public Library is doing a real service to its public by making these photographs so easily accessible. I look forward to watching them add to the collection. Of course if you are the impatient type you can just go to the Northwest Room of the Spokane Public Library, where they have a vast collection of primary resources for Spokane History.


Charles Hansen said...

Thanks Larry I downloaded a couple of the street scenes for an upcoming project I am working on.
Stratton's Addition begins at center of block between Monroe and Madison, east through the the center of the blocks between Spofford and Maxwell to center of blocks between Calispel and Washington, south to Boone av, and west to center of blocks between Monroe and Madison, So probably near North Central High School, and those basalt rocks near there.

Clayton Hanson said...

As the student doing the scanning and writing for this project, I'm really torn about this critique.

First, it's absolutely right on that ContentDM is pretty vanilla. At the same time, I am reminded of your post from 2009 that the alternative is often something like flickr. You've already discussed the problems with it and its implementation by the LoC. However, even smaller collections have to deal with spurious comments and a lot of noise.

Not that my brain is the greatest at coming up with solutions but I have some thoughts I've already discussed with Riva. Who knows how feasible they are considering the SPL budget and other priorities!