On 20 January this year, the Wellcome Library released a large cache of digitised images into the public domain via Wellcome Images (hereafter, ‘WI’).  Drawn from its celebrated collection, these 100, 000 historical images are free to download, copy and adapt (including for commercial purposes), thanks to a Creative Commons Attribution-only license (CC-BY 2.0) (all you need to do is make sure you attribute the Library).  Prompted by Dean Nicholas’ assessment, in History Today, that:

“At present the site is running a little slow (we hope this is just an early teething issue) and there isn’t much in the way of categorisation, meaning that browsing through the collection isn’t a great experience, but the sheer variety of images available more than makes up for these niggling concerns.”

I decided to undertake my own test-run, searching for Brandanii-related artefacts.  Here’s how I got on:

A simple ‘Bute’ word-search of the ‘historical’ images (the ones for sharing) only brought up 21 items (displayed as thumbnails), with fifteen images to a page.  While each image has a title underneath, more often than not this wasn’t particularly enlightening, so I was forced to click through to the full-screen version, which includes the catalogue information (description, date, size, which Wellcome Library collection it derives from, plus a reminder to credit the Library).  You’re also invited to comment on the image – I declined, but wonder: what are they doing with these mini-reviews and queries?  Anyhow, so far, so good – I found it pretty easy to navigate and it was fast enough on my work PC not to cause any frustration; now to curating my finds.

If you set up your own WI account, you are able to use its ‘My Lightboxes’ feature (top right of the screen), a research tool that allows you to collect and store groups of images (you are able to create twenty at any one time).  As with individual images, Lightboxes can be downloaded (in high-res), emailed and printed (assuming, again, that you are working with ‘historical’ images).  All of these functions worked well and pretty swiftly (excepting that the tick-box for sending images to my own email account, which didn’t work).  The ‘Search Tips’ – or ‘How do I?’ – page was clear and helpful.  Perhaps the only disappointment was its limited collection of Bute-related artefacts.  My search dug up various etchings of James Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (satirical and serious), but my favourite find was the clutch of photographs showing Mount Stuart House transformed into a Royal Naval hospital during World War I.  And, courtesy of the Wellcome Library, here they are:

  V0029750 Mount Stuart Royal Naval Hospital, operation 1914-1919 V0030789EBL Mount Stuart Royal Naval Hospital, deputy matron & staff WW1 V0030789ETL Mount Stuart Royal Naval Hospital, ward. 1914-1919