A few months ago, the British Library launched the Mechanical Curator. This was a tool built out of the BL Labs project, which automatically extracted images from 65,000 or so out-of-copyright 19th century books which Microsoft had digitised for the Library backs in the days when it thought it might compete with Google in the mass book digitisation game (it changed its mind, but we got to keep what had been digitised). By an ingenious process of image recognition and metadata extraction, the Mechanical Curator automatically lifted images from these digitised pages where it could find them, uploaded them to a Tumblr site complete with book title and a link to the catalogue record (with downloadable PDF of the complete book), and proceeded to publish these images one an hour, every hour, announcing each new image via its Twitter account. No too many people actually followed the Twitter account, but it proceeded methodically to add the images, hour by hour.
Now the project has gone one stage further, and has uploaded the images to Flickr under a Creative Commons licence, so they are free to use by anyone. There are one million of them. In one fell swoop the Library has created, attributed, catalogued, uploaded and shared a unique image collection of prodigious size and infinite application. There are portraits, sketches, landscapes, cartoons, illustrations of fictional characters, maps, diagrams, photographs, advertisements, ornamental letters and many examples of elaborate chapter titles and page borders. The effect is of some mad scrapbook from the Victorian era, a fabulous treasure trove from an age when people learned so much about the world around them through illustrations. It is a monument to the great skills of the (often anonymous) artists of that age and a delight to the twenty-first-century eye.
Source: Luke McKernan