Smithsonian makes nearly 3 million images available online and free to use

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The Smithsonian Institution released nearly 3 million images for public use Tuesday of 2-D and 3-D items from its vast collections.

Users of the Smithsonian Open Access initiative can download, edit and share any of these images for any purpose, according to a Tuesday statement from the Smithsonian Institution. Previously, users could request some information or images for educational or personal use. 

The online repository includes images, in addition to datasets and more, from the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, research centers, libraries, the National Zoo and more. The information includes art in addition to items and information across sciences, histories, cultures, technologies and designs.

“Open access is a milestone for the Smithsonian in our efforts to reach, educate and inspire audiences,” Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III said in the Tuesday statement. “Through this initiative, we are empowering people across the globe to reimagine and repurpose our collections in creative new ways.”

The Smithsonian said it plans to “add items on an ongoing basis,” making over 3 million images available by late 2020.

“Open access exemplifies the Smithsonian’s core mission: the ‘increase and diffusion’ of knowledge our institution has fostered for nearly 175 years,”  John Davis, interim director of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, said Tuesday. “With Smithsonian Open Access, we’re inviting people everywhere to make that knowledge their own––to share and build on our digital collections for everything from creative works, to education and scholarly research, to bold innovations we have yet to imagine.”

Some of the images available to the public include portraits of Pocahontas, Harriet Tubman and George Washington; Amelia Earhart’s airplane and flight suit; Muhammad Ali’s boxing headgear; and 3D models of a triceratops and woolly mammoths, USA Today reported.

Effie Kapsalis, the Smithsonian’s senior digital program officer, addressed concerns that users could potentially edit the images in a hateful way or use them for misinformation, telling USA Today that “bad actors” could change the content “with or without the Smithsonian’s permission.”

Sharing the images allows users to do “good things with these treasured resources,” she continued.


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