Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Public Demesne: Using Public Domain Images to raise funds

This post and series originally appeared on the LAIP in April 2016.

by Allana Mayer

The Concept

In early January 2016, I started a fundraiser for the Society of American Archivists Mosaic Scholarship, which was made to encourage diverse entrants into the field. I wanted to contribute, but didn’t have money to spare. Instead, I created a print-on-demand store with Society6 to sell items with designs I had made. Of course, I don’t have artistic skill, either, so I modified existing illustrations from the public domain.

I’m here to document what I did, in order to show how easy it is to get a shop up and running. The benefits for cultural heritage institutions are multiple: make some cash, promote your collections, enrich the world with beautiful vintage visuals, print your own art for your walls, and learn a new skill!

The process I employed to generate profitable clothes, home decor, phone cases, and a bunch of other cool stuff is pretty straightforward:

  • Identify awesome images in the public domain
  • Get the highest-quality version you can
  • Use Photoshop to turn the paper transparent and thicken up the ink lines
  • Use Illustrator to vectorize the image and scale it to a desired size
  • Use Photoshop to generate various versions of the image, depending on what products you want to sell
  • Upload each version to your print-on-demand shop according to their instructions
  • Promote to your pals and your library’s patrons
  • Make money for your library!

How It All Started

I browse the Flickr Commons pretty regularly, for images to illustrate articles and blog posts and sometimes just for my own amusement. When you look through the Commons these days, you’ll notice that a lot of the images shared are being generated through a robot that identifies images and illustrations in books uploaded to the Internet Archive. You’ll find that the generator will spit out a bunch of images from one book at a time. So, there I was browsing, and this image caught my eye:

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 9.27.13 PM

I thought “That would look great on a t-shirt.” So I put it on one.

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I followed the Commons image back to its source: a history book by John Ridpath from 1897, uploaded to the Internet Archive by the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University. It’s an expansive text that covers science, the birth of man, and a chunk of (now rather pejorative) anthropological examinations of different cultures. Despite the racism, I found some of the chemistry and astronomy parts of the text truly charming, and the illustrations fantastic.

You, of course, will have a library collection to work from. You’ll have access to lots of public-domain materials in your special collections, and maybe even high-quality digitization tools to do your own image capture. But maybe not – maybe you’re in need of a fundraiser, or branded gifts for guest speakers or awards, and you don’t have any of these things. Don’t worry – the public domain is here for you.

If you want to do as I did, and work from only one book, you can use the tags auto-generated by the robot (whatever starts with “bookid”). If you’re going for a theme, the images are relatively well-described and searchable. If you’re really starved for ideas, try searching the Commons for “geometry,” “botany,” “anatomy,” or “astronomy” – those are always inspiring to me. Just remember: if you’re finding “Internet Archive Book Images” uploads, they’re of lower quality than the original scans, so follow the images back to their source on the Internet Archive.

In the next post, I’ll talk about what to do with the designs you’ve found; I’ll go through my own process step-by-step, so you can see how it works.

Check it out online:


Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 9.16.39 PMAllana Mayer is an archivist, librarian, and freelance writer in Toronto. She has an undergraduate degree in cultural studies, and a graduate degree in library and information science. She researches and writes on all topics cultural-heritage but especially on art and media, digital preservation, copyright, scholarly communications, and technology for archives and archivists. | Twitter: @allanaaaaaaaBlog:


from Library as Incubator Project

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