Contributing to OpenClipArt: a call from Donna Benjamin

The Ada Initiative aims to increase the participation of women in open technology and culture or "open stuff" as Skud once put it so succinctly.

One of the best, least well known projects of this kind is Open Clipart.

Openclipart's roots lie in a project initiated by a couple of Inkscape Developers. In 2004 Jon Phillips and Bryce Harrington thought it would be a good idea to find a place to collect the artwork of the flags of the world being created by Inkscape users as they learned to play with the software. The project grew and so did the scope, as is inevitably the case with these things, to embrace all kinds of clip art.

For those not familiar with the concept of clip art, the Oxford English Dictionary offers this definition:

1. Pre-printed illustrations, usually published in book format, which are designed to be cut out and used in artwork. {first used 1971}

2. Computing. Ready-to-use digital graphic images for copying and insertion into electronic documents or artwork, provided as part of word-processing software, drawing packages, etc., or available on disk or from the Internet. {first used 1995}

All images on openclipart.org are released into the public domain by their contributors. Stored in Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format, they can be resized without losing image quality, but it's also possible to generate images in a range of sizes in Portable Network Graphics (PNG) format. These are both open image file formats.

So what's so open about openclipart.org? The FAQ states "The usage of the name is to convey connection to Open Source software and culture. Also, the word conveys the concept of the project lowering barriers for participation for submission of artwork, development on the project, use of the site and use of the clip art stored."

Anyone can create an account and upload their artwork, so long as they are willing to release it into the public domain. And because it's public domain, it can be used freely by anyone, for any purpose.

But who does use Open Clipart? To the best of my knowledge there's no real data on the types of people who contribute their work to openclipart.org. I suspect it would be safe to say we could do with a whole lot more women participating in the project. They can participate by getting involved in the project as librarians, helping to curate collections, moderate material unsuitable for education or the workplace by marking it NSFW (not safe for work) or even getting involved with the ongoing maintenance and development of the website itself.

You don't need to be able to draw – just operate a graphics application such as Inkscape. There's quite a lot of great public domain art that could be added to the collection if it only it were scanned and converted to SVG.

Again, the FAQ best answers the question of how to help and get involved.

The best way to help is to create and submit new clipart.

But if you're interested in helping the project more broadly, there's
several areas you can get involved with:

  • Join the Open Clip Art Library Release Team, and help in preparing the clipart package releases and announcing the releases throughout the open source community.
  • Update pages in the Open Clip Art Library website. Post news items, review/revise existing pages, add new tools, etc.
  • Help existing clipart package creators with organizing their files, conducting releases, and other general maintenance work.
  • Seek out new clipart that we can use under Public Domain terms.
  • Mention Open Clip Art Library to applications you think could benefit from having access to a rich source of clipart.
  • Strive to increase publicity for Open Clip Art Library through registration in search engines, linking to us from your website, addition of the Open Clip Art Library URL to appropriate websites, and other creative marketing ideas.

This is a good example of a project that could do with more women being involved. As far as I'm aware, I'm the only woman on the librarian team. Some time back, I raised an issue that some of the material on the site was inappropriate, and it was getting us black listed by school internet filters. That's a shame, because the vast majority of content on openclipart.org would be hugely valuable to students and teachers.

Open Clipart is a fantastic project. I urge women into graphics to get involved and share their artwork. Women who are into the web should get involved and help drive the site itself forward, as well as the Aiki Framework on which it is built. Women who are into culture and curating might want to consider becoming a librarian, helping make the site more useful to others. And women of all sorts should use the collection and share it with others. Let's just make it ours through sheer force of participation.