The Boston Public Library has some 23.7 million items in its collection. Most are books, but there are also manuscripts, maps, musical scores, prints, postcards, and photographs. The photographic holdings are extensive. That’s appropriate, since the library’s motto, “Omnium Lux Civium,” means “The Light of All People,” and photography means “writing with light.”
In honor of Wikipedia’s 20th anniversary, which was Jan. 15, the BPL has uploaded 8,000 photographs from its collection to Wikimedia Commons. The commons is Wikipedia’s site for free-use images and other media resources.
To view the images go to commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Media_contributed_by_Boston_Public_Library
The Boston-based Digital Public Library of America is overseeing a larger program, of which the BPL upload is a part, for easier online access to archival sources in US libraries and museums.
As one might expect, many of the photos relate to Greater Boston: the Paul Revere House, a selection of Cambridge churches, the Arboretum. Fittingly, a large number document the construction of what is now the McKim Building, the older of the two buildings that make up the Copley Square main library.
A batch of photos record Boston baseball from the early years of the 20th century.
The upload includes hundreds of pictures taken by Jamaica Plain photographer Leon H. Abdalian (1884-1967). They range from weddings and social gatherings to architectural studies to a particularly graceful image of a cherry tree in blossom by the Arborway.
There are even some famous images, including scores of plates from Eadweard Muybridge’s “Animal Locomotion” studies.
The collection isn’t limited to local subjects. It includes carte-de-visite photographs of Civil War soldiers, 19th-century portraits of Native Americans, images from a scrapbook devoted to Belgian cities (yes, Belgian), and numerous view of Stratford-upon-Avon.
Still, it’s photos from close to home — a car crash in Dedham; views of the chockablock interior of Bob’s Spa (or “Spy,” as a cataloguer recorded it), in Jamaica Plain; or a rather noble-looking tanker truck, owned by Mello Fuel Company. Abdalian took both the Bob’s photos and the one of the truck. Clearly, he got around. Imagine how much further he could have gotten with the Web to work with.
The BPL says that it plans further Wikimedia Commons uploads this year, featuring maps, manuscripts, illustrations, and more photographs.
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.