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AAS terms of use

The American Antiquarian Society.

Sounds like something out of the far distant past, doesn’t it?

zoaveBut it is, instead, an historical library with a forward-thinking view of access to information that makes it — pure and simple — a treasure.

This Worcester, Massaschusetts, institution describes itself as a “National Research Library of American History, Literature, and Culture through 1876.”1

Its website goes on to say it’s

both a learned society and a major independent research library. The AAS library today houses the largest and most accessible collection of books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, periodicals, music, and graphic arts material printed through 1876 in what is now the United States, as well as manuscripts and a substantial collection of secondary texts, bibliographies, and digital resources and reference works related to all aspects of American history and culture before the twentieth century.2

Which, of course, makes it just about perfect for American genealogists.

The library is open to all researchers, free of charge.

You don’t need an appointment.

And its holdings are stunning. Some four million items including:

Books & Pamphlets: “U.S., Canadian, and Caribbean imprints published through 1876 and book history material through 1900, some Americana published elsewhere, plus 20th & 21st century secondary sources supporting the study of early America.”

Children’s Literature: “A comprehensive collection of American picture books, school texts, religious tracts, and novels for children and youth (particularly strong in the color picture books issued by the New York publisher McLoughlin Brothers from the 1850s into the early 20th century).”

Graphic Arts: “American prints, drawings, broadsides, ephemera, maps, photographs, and sheet music, plus the Society’s collections of objects including portraits, furniture, ceramics, etc.”

Manuscripts: “Manuscripts from New England include handwritten diaries, letters, and other family papers, as well as business, institutional, and town records; the American Antiquarian Society’s own records; and manuscripts relating to book history for the entire nation.”

Newspapers & Periodicals: “Serial publications (newspapers, magazines, journals, etc.) from every state in the U.S. plus Canada and the West Indies/Caribbean before 1877 (later for most western states where printing began later).”

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Except, of course, that most of us don’t live in Worcester, Massachusetts.

A fact the American Antiquarian Society knows perfectly well.

And a major reason (along with the fragile nature of many of its holdings) for its digitization efforts: huge numbers of its holdings are readily available in digital format online.

From digital prints of images of men in the United States in the first half of the 19th century (Men in the Young Republic) to digital photographs of the Ridgway dinner service called the “Beauties of America”, the online collections of AAS are stunning.

It isn’t overstatement to refer to the AAS library as a treasure.

And, for those of us making use of the wonderful resources of this treasure through the American Antiquarian Society’s website, its terms of use couldn’t be simpler.

Terms of use, remember, are “the limits somebody who owns something you want to see or copy or use puts on whether or not he’ll let you see or copy or use it.”3

And here’s what the American Antiquarian Society says:

The Society makes available, without charge, all of our existing medium resolution (up to 72 dpi) digital images that are in the public domain to be used for any purpose under the terms of a Creative Commons License. No permission is required.

You may freely download and use any of these images for your own research, for teaching and presentations, or for non-commercial projects. There is no fee for this service; the Society’s preferred credit line for all uses is:

“Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society”4


Everything — all of the digital holdings — covered by the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 license. The terms of that license are very liberal:

You are free to:
Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material
for any purpose, even commercially.
The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the license terms.
Under the following terms:
Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
ShareAlike — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.5

Terms of use don’t get a whole lot better than that.

If the item you want to use isn’t already digitized, the AAS will try to make a digital copy for you for a very reasonable fee — as little as $15 for a non-commercial user from existing photography or $25 if a new image is needed.

The AAS is doing its best to make information free — and freely accessible. Its terms of use make this treasure a truly accessible treasure.


Image A pictorial key of uniformed Civil War regiments, courtesy American Antiquarian Society (cropped).

  1. American Antiquarian Society, homepage ( : accessed 23 June 2015).
  2. Ibid., “About.”
  3. Judy G. Russell, “A terms of use intro,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Apr 2012 ( : accessed 17 Jul 2012).
  4. Obtaining Digital Images – A step-by-step guide,” American Antiquarian Society ( : accessed 23 June 2015).
  5. “Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0),” Creative Commons ( : accessed 23 June 2015).
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