Thing 3: Image Banks

Welcome to Thing 3 of Rudaí23: 23 Things for Information Skills

This is the first Thing from our Visual Communicator section of the course. You can chose to complete one of two options within this section to be eligible to apply for the Visual Communicator Badge. Option 1 and 2 both include Thing 3.

In this thing we will introduce you to some reliable sources for free images online. You can then use the sources we mention when completing the tasks that we assign in the other Things throughout the course and in particular the Visual Communicator modules.

Visual images help us to absorb information quicker and more effectively. It is no surprise then that communicating through online media and social websites has  become more and more visual in the last few years. Giphs, emoji, vlogging, and storytelling apps like Instagram and Snapchat are the current communication tools of choice for online communication.

Snappy soundbites with an eye-catching photo get more attention on Twitter. Nothing looks worse than an article shared on Facebook that has no image attached to it. If you want your message to reach a wide audience, you must include an image.

In Thing 3 we will direct you to some reliable, legal and free resources for finding the correct image for your story.

Finding a good image

When we begin to search online for an image,  our first stop is more often than not Google images. While this will most definitely bring you plenty of results, unless you ask it to, Google will not restrict your search to copyright free images.

To do this, after you’ve conducted your image search click on tools. A new toolbar will appear below the search bar. Click on usage rights and a list of options will appear based on the Creative Commons attributes. You can then restrict your search to images that have been labelled reuse.

Conducting an image search using the usage filters in Google

Finding the right image

This method is not the most effective way of finding a useful image however. Instead there are a number of websites that are dedicated to providing downloadable copyright free images. Where possible we always recommend that you still attribute the image source.

In Thing 3 we will feature two online libraries packed with excellent free images that you can use, even commercially, for no cost at all, Flickr and Pixabay. At the end of this post are links to other free image sites that you can explore in your own time .

Creative Commons 

Before we begin discussing image banks it is important to know a little bit about copyright and how it applies to images you wish to use from the internet.  Working in the information world, we all need to be aware of our legal responsibilities. The terms “Intellectual property”, “Copyright”, “Creative Commons” and“DRM” are terms that we need to understand in order to:

  • educate our clients about their rights and responsibilities regarding materials they access and/or borrow
  • share our own works in a manner which supports free and open movement of information
  • comply with any contractual or organisational obligations we may have

Creative Commons and Copyright 


From a library point of view, copyright and copyright restrictions impact everything we do; the content we make available (for example, journal and e-book licensing restrictions), Inter-Library Loans, (restrictions on sending PDFs), photocopying, use of our public access computers and the content we make and share to educate our patrons and ourselves. “Fair use” or “fair dealing” provisions that allowed for the use of copyrighted material for educational purposes or personal research have historically been of some value.

As copyright restrictions became more onerous, educators, librarians, technologists, legal scholars and others came together in 2001 to establish Creative Commons, a non-profit organisation, set up with the intention of facilitating sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. Creative Commons have created licences which enable a content creator to allow others to use their work in a number of defined ways including permitting them to alter, or build on, an original work to create something new without requiring explicit consent. There are a number of different licence types, each of these licences allows a different level of permission from the original content creator. It is important to note that Creative Commons licences do not eliminate copyright. They build on it, enabling a “some rights reserved” approach rather than the traditional “all rights reserved” which copyright applied. You can read the full details of each licence on the Creative Commons website.


 A summary of Creative Commons licensing types:


Attribution. This licence requires that the content creator is credited for their work, so if you use a photo in your blog, include the creator’s name and any link to their personal website or the website where their content is hosted. You should also specify if you have adapted the content in any way. Creative Commons provides some examples of what a good attribution looks like.
Attribution-ShareAlike requires that you attribute the author as above and that any content which you create is shared under the same licence so that others may subsequently use your work to generate their own new content.
Attribution-NoDerivs requires attribution and prohibits you from distributing the material if you modify it in any way.
Attribution-NonCommercial allows you to adapt and share the content as long as you attribute it and as long as you distribute it for non-commercial purposes.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike allows you to adapt and share the content as long as it is for non-commercial purposes and you must licence any adaptation under the same terms as the original licence.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs requires attribution of the creator, that the content may only be used for non-commercial purposes and that the content cannot be altered in any way. No cropping, no changing, no adding a logo or text or anything else.\

The Creative Commons attributes icons.

The Creative Commons movement has become so successful that “creative commons” has entered the English language as a way to refer to items licensed in this manner. Websites like Flickr and Opsound allow users to upload content with a Creative Commons licence so that others can then use this content to build new works. It is a useful search term to use when trying to source content for presentations or displays.

When you create your own work, be that a photograph, a blogpost, a graphic, or an audio or visual recording, you should also consider whether or not you wish to licence it under a Creative Commons licence. Creative Commons has a handy decision tool to help you select the licence that is most appropriate for your needs.  It is important to note however, that if you create content on a device that belongs to your employer, or in your place of employment then the copyright for that content belongs to your employer.


Public Domain content is content that has either passed out of copyright, or where copyright entitlements have been forfeited. So, for example Project Gutenberg makes available the works of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and others. Public Domain content can be used by anyone for any purpose. Some creators now choose to make their works Public Domain immediately, as a contribution to society.

Pixabay is a website which makes public domain images available for use for free. All contents are released under Creative Commons CC0, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist - even for commercial purposes.

When you search on Pixabay, the top row of results will be paid content from Shutterstock. these are featured on the site as advertising, to help with running costs of Pixabay. Ignore these and browse the images below it, which are all free. When you download images from Pixabay you are invited to contribute via PayPal, Bank transfer or Bitcoin but this is not compulsory, it just keeps the wheels greased for this great website.

Pixabay has some useful search functions that allow you to limit your search by size, colour, image format and orientation. Just click on ‘All images’ beside the search box and a drop-down menu with options will appear.

A visual of the options available when searching on Pixabay


Flickr is a photo-sharing website that allows users to upload and tag photos, browse others’ photos, and add comments and annotations. Flickr offers some images on a Creative Commons basis and it is to these collections you should look when trying to source an image you wish to reuse. Launched in 2004, Flickr provides the tools, but the value derives from the contributions of the user community—photos, comments, ratings, and organisation—and the connections that the site facilitates between individuals. Flickr also provides a range of privacy settings, giving users control over how their photos can be used. There are many photos on Flickr that are tagged as reusable and downloading these is quite easy. You will need to have access to a computer, as the mobile app is not capable of handling these functions.
Flickr's Creative Commons homepage. 

In order to use flickr you must set up an account. Once you have set up your account you can search for images, upload your own or create your own galleries of images.
There are two ways to source creative commons licensed images on flickr.

Method 1 : Search for an image using the search box; Click on Any License on the top-left corner of the results; a drop down menu will appear from which you can chose your preferred license.

Method 2: Go to Flickr’s Creative Commons site. Chose which  Creative Commons license you wish to use and click on see more; you can browse images or search using the search box.

Browsing Creative Commons images on Flickr.

To download an image from Flickr:  

  • Find the photo you wish to use and click the downward-pointing arrow to see image size options. A short list of image sizes available for download will appear. To see an even longer list, click “View all sizes.” The higher the resolution, the larger the image.
  • If you do not see many higher resolutions, the image may just be small, or the owner of the image has chosen not to share all sizes.
  • Click an image size, and then click the Download link. The download link will say something like “Download the Large 1024 size of this photo,” though the actual text depends on the selected image size. Choose a location to save your image. 
  • Select a folder, then click “Save” to download the image.

Here are some libraries that are on Flickr: 

The British Library
The National Library of Ireland
New York Public Library

Here are some suggestions of other uses for Flickr in your library: 

  • Upload photos of your library events and tag them with your library name to make them more discoverable 
  • Create a unique tag for your library and encourage your library patrons to use it when sharing photos of your library on flickr. 
  • Create a gallery of a special collection that you hold in your library. 

Cant find the image you want? Get your camera phone out and make your own. 



Your Task for Thing 3 is:

Explore one of the image bank sites we mention in this Thing. Try downloading an image from one of them and uploading it to your blog, or upload an image to your flickr account, or create a gallery in your flickr account.

Optional task: Write a blog post on your experience of  completing the above task. You will be asked to do this in order to apply for your visual communicator badge, so it might be useful to have a written account to refresh your memory.

This blogpost is not legal advice and should be treated only as a signpost towards some pertinent pieces of legislation regarding copyright. Please check the copyright and intellectual property legislation for your own jurisdiction in order to fully inform yourself on this topic.


Further Reading

Take a look at our Evernote Notebook for more sources of free images and extra reading about Flickr and copyright. If you're not sure what Evernote is we will be covering it later on in the course. You don't need an evernote account to view this content.

Thing 3 was written collaboratively by Michelle Breen,  Niamh O'Donovan and Caroline Rowan


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