Web 2.0: Online Photo Sharing For Libraries

Note: This post was created for a graduate level class at the University of Alberta: EDES 501 Web 2.0 for Libraries.

Photo sharing has rapidly become a popular web 2.0 tool. Photo sharing involves registering for one of the many online photo sharing sites such as flickr, photobucket, facebook or picasa. One may then upload, edit and share photos online. The entire process is streamlined and easy to learn how to do. There are numerous reasons why photo sharing could be used. Storing photos online is a form of backup, and keeps photos safe should an emergency such as computer failure or natural disaster destroy other digital or hard copies. Photos can be grouped and tagged, which are easy ways to organize large collections. Sharing photos is also a very social activity which connects people, making the entire process useful and fun.

Personally, I have been using photobucket since 2005. Photo sharing was very new, and I had never heard of flickr. I signed up for photobucket after a friend recommended I use it to upload all of my travel photos. As I was living abroad at the time, I created a travel blog to share my adventures and photos with friends and family back home. I used a function within photobucket to create slideshows of labelled photos, which I then inserted into the travel journal pages on my blog. I have also noticed how photobucket has evolved over the past four years: now photos may be easily edited, tagged, commented on, and shared over numerous platforms, all of which were not present or as easy to figure out back in 2005.

Other than posting to my travel blog, I have never had much use for online photo sharing. I naturally am not a photographer, and rarely photograph objects, people or events, other than when I travel. While I am on facebook, I only post photographs from concerts I have attended in order to personally archive and remember those events, and I often untag photos that others have posted of me. I am concerned about privacy, as well as about how I may be perceived in a professional environment, should employers see photos of me online. A library should also be concerned with the image their photos reflect, as libraries are professional institutions and must uphold a professional appearance.

Despite this reluctance, I have decided it might finally be time for me to use photo sharing for more than blogging. Before viewing the Common Craft video regarding photo sharing, I had never thought of photo sharing as a back up tool. I think that in the future I will consider opening an extra account in order to back up all my photos online and ensure their enduring safety. I will likely choose flickr over my current photobucket account because flickr does not contain ads (which are annoyingly obvious on photobucket), and has a minimalist interface, making it pleasing to look at. I think photobucket is cluttered, which makes it more complicated to use than flickr, which appears quite simple to use.

Both sites offer similar functions such as the tagging, editing, commenting and the ability to embed and share photos over a variety of platforms such as facebook, email or blogs. Flickr has also just announced a partnership with twitter, and now new content can be automatically tweeted. The sky is the limit for the new phase of photo sharing!
The only downside with flickr is that it is a Yahoo company, and to sign up I would need to create a Yahoo ID and email. At this point, I don't want to sign up for a yahoo email account. I also explored Picasa, a Google product. I use numerous Google services, and already had a Picasa account because it automatically uploads all the photos I put on my blogs. I uploaded a couple on my own, and felt the process was very simple. The Picasa interface is also simple like flickr, and doesn't contain any ads. However, it doesn't have all the added functions of the other two photo sharing sites. While photos could still be tagged and commented on, I thought only way to 'share' a photo was through email, but discovered how to embed a photo after three tries. Embedding that photo was not very intuitive, and there was no easy way (besides changing html code) to centre or realign it (so I delete it). Plus there was no way to make a slideshow, a function I appreciate. Picasa also is not as popular as flickr, but there is still an active community on Picasa and the 'explore' tab allows you to view and comment on other's photos. I think Picasa is not as impressive as flickr, but has a cleaner interface as compared with photobucket.

Regardless of the lack of my personal use of photo sharing, I have realized libraries can use it in a variety of ways. Some suggested uses of photo sharing in libraries that I like and think would be beneficial include:
  • Posting screen shots of presentations (guest speakers or conferences for example).
  • Posting instructional photos or sets on a variety of research processes, services or library use.
  • Storing photos, which could then be displayed on a library website through a widget or other form of embedding.
  • Posting answers or screenshots to reference questions and queries (which may be found online, or in the library) for distance patrons who do not have email addresses or who prefer to view the answer online in a visual format.
  • Creating a photo tour of the library (for example, the University of Winnipeg Library Tour), local tour, or collection of local attractions or sites.
  • Sharing images of events (like programming and author visits).
  • Using photos to promote new books, groups, events or the library in general.
  • Encouraging patrons to tag, and comment on photos to increase involvement (perhaps in the form of a poll).
  • Displaying virtual exhibits.
  • Posting photos as part of historical archives (like the Library of Congress).
  • Searching other library collections for examples of best practices.
  • Joining groups to network and share ideas with other libraries.
I also think some of these ideas may also be accomplished by using tools such as screencasts, video sharing or perhaps in conjunction with a tool such as SlideShare, which allows for viewing, uploading and embedding of powerpoint presentations.

There are many concerns regarding photosharing, including identity theft and the safety of children and teens. Recently it was widely reported that an American family's photo, which was posted online, was spotted as a store front advertisement in the Czech Republic. This is perhaps a whimsical example of "online photo sharing gone wrong", but the consequence can be more severe, and thus require awareness. Online safety regarding children and young people would certainly be a concern and consideration for public libraries, although similar issues of privacy could occur in academic or special library settings. A library must take into consideration the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP), and might consider having patrons sign wavers if photographs of people (especially children) are to be displayed.

Another issue is copyright. When posting photos online, should they be licensed or copyright protected? Who owns the rights to posted photos? Who controls how they are used by third parties? As an alternative to full copyright licensing, Flickr provides users the option of licensing their photos under a Creative Commons licensing scheme, which has numerous options and levels. Flickr also gives the option to distort photos that a third party may right click and download, and firefox users may enable a hack to prevent photos from being downloaded at all. This may be one solution, and libraries should critically think about how they would like to protect their photos.

When deciding how to use photo sharing, a library must critically think about safety and security issues. Libraries should not be scared off by these concerns, as the numerous positive uses for photo sharing make it a tool worth considering in order to further improve services for patrons.

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  1. Hmmm...makes me think I should use my Flickr account more actively. Right now it just has my knitting photos, since the knitting cite I'm on doesn't link with facebook. I've been thinking since my archive course that I need to take better precautions with my digital photos...silly medium, so easily lost or destroyed.


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