It is good news that the Smithsonian is making its archives of millions of images freely available — this is information ought to be in the public domain. Before you start drooling at the prospect of piles of free scientific art that you can use, the implementation is a bit rough. Sure, you can search for images of “spider” in the Smithsonian collection, but you’ll get back is a hodge-podge of imagery, most of which isn’t exactly polished, and the searches are difficult to refine. I mostly got photos of spider wasps, and black and white snapshots of broken, fixed specimens from the museum archives. General terms like “skull” give you a flood of miscellaneous imagery, some of which is neat or historically interesting; try to narrow it down to, for instance, “Neanderthal skull” and you get…nothing.It’s a work in progress, I guess.
It’s an excellent start, though. Just be warned that there isn’t much in the way of curation behind it and a lot of the images look like quick photos to go into a catalog of things that are buried deep in cabinets in the bowels of the museum.