About Digital Collections

Digital Collections contains 705,562 items and counting. While that's a small fraction of the New York Public Library's overall holdings, the aim of Digital Collections is to provide context for the materials we have digitized and to inspire people to use and reuse the media and data on offer here to advance knowledge and create new works.

Spanning a wide range of historical eras, geography, and media, NYPL Digital Collections offers drawings, illuminated manuscripts, maps, photographs, posters, prints, rare illustrated books, videos, audio, and more. Encompassing the subject strengths of the vast collections of The Library, these materials represent the applied sciences, fine and decorative arts, history, performing arts, and social sciences.

You can search if you have something in mind, or you can start browsing directly in a number of ways:

For a more extensive user guide and primer to Digital Collections, please see our blog post, "NYPL Digital Collections Platform: An Introduction."

What does "Digital Collections" mean?

What we mean by "Digital Collections" is reformatted and digital surrogates of materials held among the physical holdings of the New York Public Library, across all of its divisions. This includes digital images of visual materials, texts, streaming video and more.

It's important to note, however, that "Digital Collections" is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the full holdings of the library, most of which are not yet digitized. Even in the cases where we've got great coverage, just a fraction of NYPL's collections are represented here.

That's why, wherever possible, we link items in our Digital Collections platform to further resources where you may be able to find out more about the objects and, importantly, find more intersections with other relevant materials.

Some of the places we link to:

Meanwhile, we're also hard at work extracting data from historical sources and materials, and we've incorporated contextual links to those data extraction experiments wherever possible. Some of those include:

Where Did Digital Collections Come From?

In March 2005, the New York Public Library debuted a site called Digital Gallery, which featured 275,000 images from the library's collections. Since then, the Library has added hundreds of thousands of images to the repository, along with metadata records providing context for the materials.

Over time, however, we reconsidered the purpose of a site showcasing digitized materials to aid in research and spur creative reuse, and we increasingly felt that the concept of a passive "gallery" was insufficient to encompass all that we wanted to accomplish. So in the summer of 2013, the NYPL Technology Digital Repository Team paired up with NYPL Labs to create a sustainable, modern replacement to the decade-old Digital Gallery, and thus Digital Collections was born!

How Does Digital Collections Work?

NYPL uses Fedora Commons software for our repository, while our bibliographic, technical, and rights metadata is managed by a custom Ruby on Rails app we call, appropriately enough, the Metadata Management System. Our Digital Collections platform itself is also a Rails application, but uses a lot of JavaScript (including libraries like the Internet Archive's BookReader).

For more info, email digitalcollections@nypl.org

Who built Digital Collections?

Digital Collections was made possible by leadership support from The Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust. Other major funding has been provided by The Atlantic Philanthropies, with additional support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Time Warner Inc., the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation, The Polonsky Foundation, The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, Mr. and Mrs. Alberto Vitale, The Prospect Hill Foundation, and the Toshiba International Foundation.

NYPL teams that contributed to and built Digital Collections:

For a slightly different narrative take on this, see Technology is People: A human-focused journey through the technology behind New York Public Library's Digital Collections, by NYPL developer Ashley Blewer.

Who Can I Contact About Digital Collections?

If you have any comments or suggestions, please email digitalcollections@nypl.org (though please keep in mind, we have a very small staff dedicated to a number of projects including this one, and we may not be able to get back to you immediately).

Using Images, Data, and More

See below for more information about ways in which you can use and reuse our digital materials, as well as the data describing and derived from those materials.

Downloading Images

Navigate to the Download Options section under each item for the download options for each item. Simply click on your preferred file size and check your browser’s download folder for the image.

You can also access image and data download links in bulk with the Digital Collections Metadata API.

See below for more information about the various image sizes available, including the expanded options for public domain materials. The next section provides guidance on use of these images.

Using Images

The New York Public Library is actively reviewing and labeling materials in our Digital Collections with statements that indicate how you may reuse the images, and what sort of permission, if any, you need to do so. See below for more information.

What does “no known U.S. copyright restrictions" mean?

That label means exactly that: We believe that the items marked as such have no known U.S. copyright restrictions. You do not need NYPL’s permission to reuse these materials. However, the items still may be subject to rights of privacy, rights of publicity, and other restrictions depending on the format of the materials and what the items depict. It is your responsibility to make sure that you respect these rights.

Though it’s not required, if you can please credit us as the source using the following statement, "From The New York Public Library," and provide a link back to the item on our Digital Collections site. Doing so helps us track how our collection is used and helps justify freely releasing even more content in the future.

Looking for lots of images you can reuse freely? You can browse just the items that have no known U.S. copyright restrictions. When searching, select the “Search only public domain items” option to filter your results to items with no known U.S. copyright restrictions. In the Browse page, you can easily turn this filter on and off with the “Show Only Public Domain” button in the upper left corner of the page.

What does “Copyright Held or Managed by The New York Public Library” mean?

The New York Public Library holds or manages the copyright for a small number collections on this site. If you need information about reusing these items, please contact Permissions and Reproductions.

What about the rest?

Not all items in our Digital Collections have been formally reviewed for copyright status on our site quite yet, and for unmarked materials we can't grant or deny permission to use the materials.

In the meantime, you may want to look into a few resources that could help you determine on your own whether these are in fact in the public domain (and therefore free of copyright restrictions):

If materials are not in the public domain, it is your responsibility to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions when publishing or otherwise using the materials. You are solely responsible for determining whether your use of any digital object requires the permission of any other person or entity, or determining whether you can exercise your fair use rights. You can see more about fair use here:

Meanwhile, every day we review as many items as possible for public use and reuse. In many cases, it takes a lot of research to allow us to make confident statements that materials have no known U.S. copyright restrictions. At this time, we're not able to take requests about which items are at the top of our queue for review, but the materials we are reviewing will have updated item labels within a few hours of a determination being made.

If you need more information about reusing an item in our Digital Collections, please contact Permissions and Reproductions.

How much material is marked as public domain?

To date, there are 203,587 public domain items in our collections, and that number is growing every day (See also: How Often Are New Things Added to Your Public Domain collection?").

What's the difference between "public domain" and "No Known U.S. Copyright"?

Unless you’re a lawyer, there is no difference. And unless you’re outside of the United States, there is no difference.

We don't consistently use the term "public domain" largely because the term "public domain" means different things in different places around the world. As a U.S.-based library -- even one with an increasingly global reach -- we restrict the legal statements we make about our materials to the jurisdictions that cover where the Library operates.

But what does that really mean? In sum, it means that when we're labeling or describing the rights allowances or restrictions for a specific item in our collections, we use language like "No Known U.S. Copyright Restrictions." However, when we're speaking more generally -- on our websites, blog posts, and in other modes of communication with users -- we often refer to things like "public domain" and "unrestricted materials," which we use to mean the aggregate collection of items we can offer to the public without any copyright restrictions on subsequent use. We are providing this information to our users so they can make informed choices about how they can use these assets. In this sense, "No Known U.S. Copyright" is more accurate than an undefined term like public domain.

If you’ve read all the way through these paragraphs and still want to know more about this nitty-gritty, get in touch with us via digitalcollections@nypl.org, or check out the rights statements we include with each item in our collections via our Digital Collections Metadata API.

How Often Are New Things Added to Your Public Domain Collection?

Nearly every day! We're actively reviewing and labeling previously digitized materials in our Digital Collections in order to open up as much material as we can for unrestricted use and reuse. Meanwhile, much of the material we're digitizing in-house currently is in the public domain, and those are cleared before they go online.

Why isn't everything you have digitized in the Public Domain?

We digitize for a variety of reasons, and while unrestricted access is a top priority, it's not the only reason we add materials to our Digital Collections. On top of that, we're still going back through the materials digitized since the 1990s to see if things that were not previously marked as public domain might be able to be cleared for the broadest possible use and reuse.

Public Domain Update (January 6, 2016)

See http://publicdomain.nypl.org/ for all of the information and links related to the public domain update and high res release, and links to all of the projects demonstrating creative reuse of public domain materials.

In an effort to help you advance knowledge and inspire creativity using our collections, we've made it more obvious which materials can be used without restriction. We've also added a number of new ways for you to download those materials to do creative things with them, and created a slew of higher resolution derivatives wherever possible to give you deeper access to these amazing works of cultural heritage.

Bigger JPGs

First and foremost, we've released bigger derivatives of all the eligible images in our collections. That means we’re now offering the following JPG derivative sizes where possible:

Free TIFFs

Meanwhile, we’ve also included a link to the TIFF for items that have no U.S. Copyright restrictions whenever we have that asset available (See also: What's the difference between "public domain" and "No Known U.S. Copyright"?). This includes a link to the original, uncropped 8-bit TIFF file (including color bars) that represents the original dimensions and uncompressed image file that came off the camera in the NYPL Labs Digital Imaging Unit. These are very large files, generally greater than 200mb, so please be mindful if pulling a large number of these assets from our servers.

So, what’s now available on Digital Collections?

The following chart should give you a good idea of the kinds of options you’ll see available for different kinds of items on Digital Collections:

  In-Copyright, or Unlabeled No Copyright Restrictions
Standard derivative sizes (up to 760px) ✓ YES ✓ YES
Bigger JPGs (1600px, 2560px, original dimension) ✓ YES
TIFF files ✓ YES

Image Links in the API

Finally, we've also included links to these derivatives in the API response for each item so that it's a bit easier to work with these materials and data at scale. If you're interested for more info on working with bulk data about our collections, including the public domain portion, take a look at the section on Using Data.

Why aren't there big sizes for all of the items marked as public domain?

There are a few reasons why there might not yet be large images for some items marked as public domain -- but don't worry, we're working on it!

NYPL has been digitizing materials in earnest for more than a decade, and in some cases, even the archival version of the image isn't of a high enough resolution to make all of the larger derivatives through our automated processes. This is especially true of the oldest materials in our repository. Meanwhile, if an item was marked as public domain a long time ago, it's possible that it hasn't been caught by our asset derivative review process quite yet, though we're tackling this backlog as quickly as possible. Regardless, the TIFF at least should always be available for these. In rare cases, since we're actively reviewing and clearing new materials nearly every day, it's also possible that a rights statement might show up on the item page for some materials before they've had time to work their way through the processor, which can take up to a few days depending on the size of the backlog.

Using Data

All of NYPL's data published via the tools below is released under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

There are lots of ways to access and reuse the data we’ve gathered about our collections:

For more information about the projects above, see the individual project pages, or contact DigitalCollections@nypl.org.