Digital Images of Yale’s Vast Cultural Collections Now Available for Free

Scholars, artists and other individuals around the world will enjoy free access to online images of millions of objects housed in Yale’s museums, archives, and libraries thanks to a new “Open Access” policy that the University announced today. Yale is the first Ivy League university to make its collections accessible in this fashion, and already more than 250,000 images are available through a newly developed collective catalog.

The goal of the new policy is to make high quality digital images of Yale’s vast cultural heritage collections in the public domain openly and freely available.

As works in these collections become digitized, the museums and libraries will make those images that are in the public domain freely accessible. In a departure from established convention, no license will be required for the transmission of the images and no limitations will be imposed on their use. The result is that scholars, artists, students, and citizens the world over will be able to use these collections for study, publication, teaching and inspiration.

The Yale treasures that are now accessible under the new policy are as wide-ranging as the collections themselves and include such diverse items as the war bonnet of Sioux chief “Red Cloud” from the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, a Mozart sonata in the composer’s own hand from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, a 15th-century Javanese gold kris handle from the Indo-Pacific collection of Yale University Art Gallery and a watercolor by William Blake from the collection of prints and drawings in the Yale Center for British Art.

This war bonnet of the Sioux chief Red Cloud is in the collections of the Peabody Museum. Image credit: Yale University

“The open access policy allows us to more fully harness the potential of digital and networked technologies in service to scholarship as well as to creative use and reuse of our rich cultural heritage. It frees us to concentrate on our core mission to create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge in digital form,” said Meg Bellinger, director of the Yale Office of Digital Assets and Infrastructure (ODAI), which developed and will support the implementation of the initiative.

The collections that are held within Yale’s museums, archives, and libraries are among the strongest in depth and breadth of any academic institution in the world. The collections of the Peabody Museum of Natural History encompass over 12 million specimens and objects in 11 curatorial divisions, from anthropology to vertebrate zoology. The Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art hold world-renowned art collections from antiquity to the present. The University is also home to the world’s seventh largest library system, with over 10 million volumes and countless manuscripts and documents in 18 libraries, including Sterling Memorial Library and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Increased access to high-quality content and new linked data technologies will revolutionize the way people search and relate to cultural objects, says Bellinger. The massive University-wide digitization effort will take many years to complete, but advantages will be immediate, she notes. While several art museums and institutional collections have formally stopped asserting proprietary rights on images of public domain works, Yale’s policy is pioneering for its breadth, embracing all of the cultural institutions within the University and asserting a university position on open access to its collections.

“That Yale has achieved the goal of making its collections available online to students, scholars, and the general public, in a free-and-open-access environment, is a splendid achievement that we hope will inspire other colleges and universities internationally to follow suit,” said Amy Meyers, director of the Yale Center for British Art. “The ability to publish images directly from our online catalogues without charge will encourage the increased use of our collections for scholarship, a benefit to which we look forward with the greatest excitement.”

“Sharing our artistic resources more fully across Yale and well beyond its campus is a top priority,” asserts Jock Reynolds, the Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Yale University Art Gallery. “Through this new university policy, scholars, artists, teachers, and students worldwide will now be able to more fully engage our collections for active learning and use in publications, classrooms, and creative projects without incurring any fees whatsoever, eliminating what has previously been for many a daunting financial hurdle.”
“High costs of reproduction rights have traditionally limited the ability of scholars, especially ones early in their careers, to publish richly illustrated books and articles in the history of art, architecture, and material and visual culture,” according to Mariët Westermann, vice president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “Yale’s new policy provides an important model to follow.”

The move brings a new dimension to Yale’s mission as an educational institution and as a responsible steward of the unique specimens, artifacts, artwork and documents that make up its collections. By freely disseminating the reproductions of material heritage in its care, Yale will serve researchers from every academic domain and discipline, who will be able to examine individual items online in detail and compare objects from different collections side by side.

“With this pioneering open access policy, Yale reminds us that with any great academic collection comes a great responsibility: to share our cultural heritage openly in order to advance scholarship not only on campus but around the world. Yale has set a new standard by which we should measure our colleges’ and universities’ commitment to scholarship,” noted Max Marmor, president of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, which encourages teaching, learning and scholarship in the history of art.

*Source: Yale University.

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