Public Domain Image Repositories

In working on a self-publishing project I have been trying to figure out how to add art assets without either making a significant investment in either time or money. While these two limitations don’t leave a great deal of options for quality images, by taking advantage of the increasing number of public domain images available online through digital library projects, its possible to find interesting resources that are legal to use for free.

While there are a large and growing number of repositories which host public domain images either wholly or in part, I have listed here the first three which I have utilized.

The descriptively named Old Book Illustrations hosts images scanned from old books. This project is the result of two very dedicated individuals creating and hosting the entire repository. As far as I can tell, they are not associated with any large library or institution, or at least their site is not. The about page does not go into a great deal of detail about the administrators.

The New York Public Library plays host to a wealth of digital assets scanned from photographs, drawings, books, artwork, and others. While not everything here is in the public domain, they have very large collections that are. When searching for items one of the facet options is to limit results to only public domain images. Unlike the previous repository, the NYPL kindly provides easy citation export for reference.

Finally, the Ohio State University institutional repository, the Knowledge Bank, has a wide variety of digitized images, many of which fall under the public domain. Specifically I’ve been interested in a Joel E. Rubin collection of hand-painted glass slides that I had the particular pleasure of cleaning and restoring. These were originally created in the late 19th century and meant to be projected on a white backdrop. The OSU KB also provides a formatted citation in the item records for easy reference.

I look forward to sharing other public domain digital libraries as I discover them.