I work in a large, far-flung regional public library system, but if there is one thing that almost every employee knows about me is that I hate clip-art. I hate it with the heat of a dying star. I hate it with the intensity of a black hole. It brings back my old stress eye twitch, and I have to speak only in odd numbers because I can’t even. So, you can see, I’m not a fan. But pictures are a huge part of any marketing message, so here’s how you can skip the clipart tab (or the random Bing Images search that is replacing it in Office) and find some better images for use in your materials.

Last month, I introduced the idea of starting to unify your libraries look and feel. I encouraged you to start unifying your look by deciding on some colors, types, and logos you will use. This month, it’s all about pictures.

From my point of view, nothing beats photography. It gives a realistic and descriptive picture that you can use in a variety of formats. It doesn’t take a lot digital imagery know-how to crop an image down to size or to play with the colors a little bit. And for those of us who can’t afford to keep a graphic artist on staff or on retainer (read: almost everyone), photography is a good alternative.

But, as all librarians know, just because something is on the Internet, that doesn’t make it free to use. So here are some of my favorite sources for pictures that are free or attribution-only so that you can start finding the images of your dreams:

  • search.creativecommons.org: A searchable portal that allows you to find images via Flickr, Google Images, and more that have been marked for commercial use and modification. For most libraries, to be on the safe side, you should leave the checkbox for commercial use checked. Marketing is broadly considered to be a commercial activity even if it’s for a nonprofit. Better safe than sorry. A lot of the images you can find through here (especially on Flickr) will be available and require attribution. Be sure to follow the guidelines listed under each image so you can give proper credit.
  • MorgueFile: A website devoted to providing free to use photographs in searchable index.
  • Wikimedia sites: Fair use images available via the Wikimedia Foundation
  • Pixabay: Royalty-free images in a searchable database. Displays images from partner stock photo websites that you can purchase. However, they have plenty of free options to choose from.
  • Death to Stock Photo: This site will e-mail you a monthly pack of free-to-use photos that are high quality and something a little different. While you can only peruse their archives if you sign-up for their premium services, you can add yourself to their mailing list and start to create your own personal library of photos to use.girl_sun
  • Unsplash: Similar to Death to Stock Photo, except you can search the archives. They also e-mail out monthly packs of a dozen photos or so. Sign up and keep adding to your stockpile.
  • Create your own. Nothing is more personal than creating your own bank of images to use. We have an intern from the local university whose fall project was to create a photo morgue of internal and external shots of all of our branches so we don’t have to scramble on someone’s iPhone the next time we need pictures done. Good cameras for library use start around $250-$300, so consider adding one to your staff collection. And then once you have photos, keep them somewhere all together and label them so you know what you have. Before long, you may have a local image for every occasion.

There are lots of free photography websites on the Internet and lots of blog posts that will point you to their favorites. The important thing is to use images that fit with your libraries mood and message. If you don’t like it as a consumer, nobody else will, so use high quality images that work, not just any old picture. With these resources, you should be in good shape to start your next image hunt instead of just going to Google and hoping you find something that works.