Main Library Cincinnati Library Catalog Department 1946

A picture is worth a thousand words. That’s so true in marketing.

The visual you choose to accompany your promotions can make all the difference. The quality of that image may determine whether a person engages with your content… or moves on.

Most libraries don’t have a budget to hire a photographer for every campaign or marketing initiative. They may not have a graphic designer to create illustrations. So, they rely on free stock photos and art to create promotional material that looks professional and modern.

But libraries must navigate the tricky legal maze of copyright issues associated with images, icons, and photos.

The basics of copyright laws

Unless you have a stock photo subscription, your library should use images in the Public Domain or images that are covered by Creative Commons.

Public Domain: If a photo of image is in the public domain, that means the creator has dedicated the work to the public domain by waiving all his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law. You can copy, change, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.

Creative Commons: Anyone can then use the work in any way and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, subject to other laws and the rights others may have in the work or how the work is used.

This post gives a thorough explanation of copyright issues surrounding stock photos in particular.

Finding the right image for your library promotions

Your library can purchase a stock photo subscription. But, if you are working with a limited budget, there are many websites where you can find high quality, free stock photos. That’s where this list comes in handy.

I based my list on a couple of factors.

  • Websites where finding a photo or illustration is easy.
  • Websites where you don’t need an account to download photos or images.
  • Websites that had photos and/or art of subjects that pertain to libraries, like books, reading, and diverse populations.

I have provided a brief explanation of the copyright licensing for these websites. But, to fully protect yourself and your library, read the license requirements for each site thoroughly before you download.

The complete list of ten free stock photo websites for libraries

Creative Commons: This site is dedicated contains the most diverse selection of shots I’ve seen on a free photo site to date, with more than 500 million photos available. You can search by license so you can be sure to get the photos that you can use in any situation with or without attribution, according to your preferences. You can also search by the sources, and by the way in which you wish to use the photos. Attribution is required for most photos.

Freepik: Freepik has a limited number of free photos for download. You can use them for commercial or personal projects and in digital or printed media. Attribution is required.

Gratisography: This site contains a limited number of free photos and vectors. They are bright and eye-catching, even whimsical. It’s divided into easy-to-understand search categories. You can use the photos for personal and commercial projects including advertising campaigns, websites, blogs, and social media. Attribution is required.

Negative Space: Another site under Creative Commons with full use of photos for commercial purposes. Their photos are organized into collections for easy searching. They have plenty of photos of books and readers.

Pexels: A great site containing lots of high-quality photos and videos. They’re all free to use on your website, blog or app, in print materials, on social media, and in ads. Attribution is not required. You can modify the photos and videos.

Pixabay: The site contains 2.3 million free images and royalty free stock photos as well as free illustrations, vectors, videos, and music. You can download and modify content for commercial or non-commercial use without attribution. You cannot use the content for any products for sale, like t-shirts or other library merchandise.

Reshot: You can use any of the 25,000 photos and icons from this website for social media, online ads, education, commercial, and editorial projects for free. No attribution is required. Photos are searchable by orientation.

Stockvault: This site offers more than 138,000 free photos. You can search by license, but there are plenty of free photos for libraries licensed as Creative Commons CCo, which means you can use the works for personal, education, and commercial purposes without attribution.

Vecteezy: This website contains free vectors, photos, and videos. There are premium pieces for purchase, but their selection of free art is great. I like the modern feel of the work on this site. You can search by orientation, image style, number of people or age of people in the photo, and the composition of the photo (head shots, full body, etc.). Attribution is required and there are limits to the ways in which you can use the art under the free license.

Unsplash: An amazing site with a huge selection of high-resolution photos. Their license allows you to download and use the photos for free for commercial and non-commercial purposes. No permission is needed, although attribution is appreciation.


You may also want to read these posts

Don’t Release All Your Library Promotions at the Same Time: Why a Staggered Approach Reaches More People!

The Quest for Perfection May Spoil Your Library Promotions! How To Walk the Line During the Revision Process and Still Create Authentic Messages

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