Digital Image Databases: Archives, Libraries and Museums

William Henry Fox Talbot's 1840s photograph "A Scene in a Library"
William Henry Fox Talbot, A Scene in a Library, c. 1844, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Retreived from Image in the public domain CC0.

Authoritative Online Image Resources

When including images in your academic work, it is preferable to use images accompanied by authoritative metadata to both provide context and to make the images easier to cite. Listed below is a selection of digital image resources from museum, archive, and library collections. These types of image collections provide trustworthy metadata, in-depth information, and high quality images. Most of these collections are available for educational use, but please note image rights vary from site to site.

Artefacts Canada - Humanities
Artefacts Canada: Humanities contains close to 4 million object records and 800,000 images from hundreds of museums across Canada. It includes objects from disciplines such as archaeology, decorative arts, fine arts, ethnology, and history. To search for records with images select the "only records with images" option. For terms of use, visit the institution's website that contributed the digital content you intend to use.

Calisphere provides free access to over 400,000 photographs, documents, letters, artwork, diaries, oral histories, films, advertisements, and musical recordings. The collections have been digitized and contributed to by all ten campuses of the University of California and other libraries, archives, and museums throughout the state. See Calisphere Terms of Use and Copyright.

Digital Public Library of America
The Digital Public Library of America is a discovery tool that acts a both a portal and a platform for “transformative use” of digital content contributed by libraries, archives, and museums. Image rights and terms of use vary by contributors. See DPLA Terms of Service.

Europeana is a multilingual cultural heritage portal with images contributed by European libraries, museums, archives, and multi-media collections. Rights are clearly indicated and vary by contributor. Check out Europeana Terms and Policies.

Getty Search Gateway
The Getty Search Gateway allows users to search across several of the Getty repositories, including collections databases, library catalogs, collection inventories, and archival finding aids. The Gateway is designed to help researchers, scholars, and educators discover the variety of resources available across the Getty's holdings, which include collections from four programs: the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, and the Getty Research Institute. Users can use the tool to browse the collections broadly, by type of resource (i.e., paintings, books, archives), or to search directly for assets related to very specific subjects: historical periods, artists, object types, etc. For details see Terms of Use/Copyright.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Collection
The Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) contains records and digital images representing a rich cross-section of still pictures held by the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division and, in some cases, other units of the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress offers broad public access to these materials as a contribution to education and scholarship. See Prints & Photographs Division "Rights and Restrictions Information" page for terms of use.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection spans over 5,000 years of art from around the world. You can filter your search by creator, object type, geographical location, date, and museum department. You can also search for public domain works only. See Terms and conditions for details.

New York Public Library Digital Collections
Covering a wide range of historical eras, geography, and media, the NYPL Digital Collections includes 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. For terms of use visit NYPL Using Images, Data and More.

VADS (Visual Arts Data Service) is an online resource for art and design that offers a portfolio of visual art collections comprising over 100,000 images that are freely available and copyright cleared for use in learning, teaching, and research in the UK. VADS also offers a series of learning and teaching resources based around their image collections, written by subject specialist authors and lecturers. Check out VADS Terms: Common Access Agreement for Individuals.

Washington University Libraries Digital Collections
This site features materials such as photographs, maps, newspapers, posters, reports, and other media from the University of Washington Libraries, University of Washington Faculty and Departments, and organizations that have participated in partner projects with the UW Libraries. The collections emphasize rare and unique materials. See UW Libraries Digital Collections Ordering and Use Terms.

Wellcome Library is the world's major resources for the study of medical history.  The Library's digital collections cover a wide variety of topics, including asylums, food, sex and sexual health, genetics, public health and war. Published books, pamphlets, archives, posters, photographs, and film and sound recordings are completely free to view. Digitised materials are released under a variety of Creative Commons non-commercial, attribution and Public Domain licenses. See the section Using the Library's Digital Content for more details.

World Digital Library
The World Digital Library (WDL) is a project of the U.S. Library of Congress, carried out with the support of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), and in cooperation with libraries, archives, museums, educational institutions, and international organizations from around the world. This project makes available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from all countries and cultures. See World Digital Library Legal Notices for terms of use.

WorldImages provides access to the California State University IMAGE Project and contains approximately 100,000 images, is global in coverage, and includes all areas of visual imagery. You are free to use these images for non-profit educational purposes, but you must give credit to the copyright holders who retain rights to the images. These works are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.


Content last updated: January 14, 2020