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Creative Outreach Toolkit

Tools and resources to create and host a collections-based creative project or outreach event.

Searching Print Collections For Creative Inspiration

Print Collections at McGill

Archives and Special Collections hold physical materials that are informative as well as inspiring, ranging from medieval manuscripts to children's literature to cookbooks, just to name a few of the strengths in McGill's Rare Books and Special Collections. You can search for materials for inspiration in print holdings by keyword searching in our Library Catalogue.

Tip: Consider selecting "Archival Catalogue" under the blue drop-down search box to conduct your search in the McGill Archival Catalogue, which includes the Canadian Architecture Collection, McGill University Archives, Osler Library of the History of Medicine, Rare Books and Special Collections, and Marvin Duchow Music Library.

Another useful idea is to peruse the subject area pages of our Special Collections, which provide more information on the unique holdings in Special Collections and also provides contact information for the curators of each collection who can provide you with more useful information.

Print Collections Beyond McGill

To look in the print collections beyond McGill, conduct a general internet search for the institution you are interested in - such as a local college or university in your area - with the words "special collections". You can then use their website to learn more about the rare and unique materials held locally to you!


Open Access Images

Open Access Images

Guide to finding images in library special and archival collections at McGill and online through open-access image repositories. Open-access images can be freely used for academic, web, and creative purposes. Open-access images are either in the Public Domain or covered by a Creative Commons License. In Canada, works enter the public domain 50 years after its creator's death. This varies from country to country, so double check local and relevant copyright laws when using images.


Copyright and Open Access 

Not all images digitized and available online are free for re-use. Remember to consult Canadian copyright laws and international regulations when using images from other locations. Please consult the terms of use for each database you consult, and for information regarding Canadian copyright law, see the following guide:

McGill Digital Collections

Internet Archive

McGill has digitized over 19,000 titles which are openly available on the Internet Archive. These texts are all keyword searchable thanks to OCR, but a better approach to locate images is to search the metadata fields.


Searching for the keywords "Plates" or "Illustrations" is the best approach to narrowing results to items with images. You can then filter results by date range.

Items are organized into the following collections:

  • Osler Library of the History of Medicine 
    • Digitized selections from the Osler Library of the history of medicine including titles on the history of medicine, monographs, journals.
  • McGill Student Publications 
    • This collection includes McGill Student publications dating from 1875 to 2001. The chief long-standing student newspaper at McGill, The McGill Daily, was founded in 1911. It had been preceded by the McGill (University) Gazette, the McGill Fortnightly, the McGill Outlook and the (McGill) Martlet.
  • McGill Library's Chapbook Collections 
    • The collection contains over nine hundred British and American chapbooks published in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many are illustrated with woodcuts, some hand coloured. Selections are pulled from the Sheila R. Bourke Collection of Children's Literature, the Children's Books Collection, and the McGill Library Rare Books and Special Collection.  You can browse the accompanying digital exhibition here: McGill Library's Chapbook Collection
  • Rare Books and Special Collections 
    • Selections from across the library's special collections. The humanities and social sciences and in particular art and architecture, Canadiana, history, literature, the history of ideas (philosophy and religion), travel and exploration, and the history of the book form the core of the collection.

Image-rich Digital collections at McGill 

  • The Feather Book of Dionisio Minaggio
  • Taylor White's Paper Museum 
    • What is there: Collection of 18th-century paintings of Birds, Mammals and Fish.
    • How to Use: All items in the Public Domain, credit the holding collection if reused.
  • W.H. Pugsley Collection of Early Maps of Canada
    • Contains over 6,000 historical maps, dating from 1556 to the 1940s.
    • How to use: Search or browse the collection, double check reuse permissions on selected items.
  • Osler Library Prints Collection
    • Documents related to the history of medicine, spanning several centuries, countries, and artistic media. Ranging from the seventeenth to the twentieth century, the collection consists predominantly of prints, though it also includes some photographs, drawings, posters, and cartoons.
    • How to use: Search or browse the collection, double check reuse permissions on selected items.
  • Horæ: McGill Library Collection of Books of Hours 
    • Collection of Books of Hours, richly illustrated manuscript prayer books intended for the laity. Contains illuminated miniatures, borders, and initials. 
    • How to use: Search or browse the collection, double check reuse permissions on selected items.
  • Canadian War Poster Collection
    • Includes some 250 Canadian posters from the two World Wars. 
    • How to Use: The search facility enables you to search by World War, by Category, by Artist, or by keyword. The results of your search are displayed as thumbnail images. Click on a thumbnail to obtain a larger image and a full description. Each description includes the following information: the poster ID number and title or lead text; the date, artist, and publisher, when known; size, and appropriate notes.

Public Domain Databases

  • Creative Commons Search Portal
    • What is there: Global search and agglomeration of search portals for content Licensed with Creative Commons licenses 
    • How to use: Open to all. Keyword search across multiple databases.
  • Flickr Commons
    • What is there: Community of individual and institutional collections of images, all identified with relevant CC licenses. 
    • How to use: Creators can license their works to others; select the "Any License" to filter search content.
  • HathiTrust 
    • What is there: Collaboration of academic and research libraries preserving 17+ million digitized items, including items from the McGill Collections.
    • How to use: McGill library users can access PDF copies of HathiTrust Titles.
  • Openverse
    • What is there: An extensive library of Creative Commons images available for free reuse. An open-source collaboration between WordPress and Creative Commons.
    • How to use: CC does not control results, so you should always double-check that the work is actually under a CC license. 
  • Public domain review
    • What is there: Curated images and illustrations from the public domain. Source collections include: Biodiversity Heritage Library, Europeana, Flickr Commons, Internet Archive, Wikimedia Commons. The Review also contains collections of audio and video in the public domain.
    • How to use: Most of the content is in the public domain or under an open license worldwide. Because of variations in local law, this is not always the case, particularly relating to film and audio content. Check local laws before reuse.
  • Wikimedia Commons
    • What is there: Open-source image repository, all images identified with a Creative Commons license.
    • How to use: Search the database and you can then filter by license type : no restrictions, use with attribution, use with attribution and same license.

Library and Museum Collections

  • Europeana
    • What is there: Search, save and share art, books, films and music from thousands of cultural institutions. Discover artworks, books, music, and videos on art, newspapers, archaeology, fashion, science, sport, and much more.
    • How to use it: There are three search conditions for reuse to filter your search. See the FAQs for guidance.
  • Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online
    • What is there: Includes photographs, fine and popular prints and drawings, posters, and architectural and engineering drawings. While international in scope, the collections are particularly rich in materials produced in, or documenting the history of, the United States and the lives, interests and achievements of the American people.
    • How to use it: Whenever possible, LOC provides information about copyright holders and any other restrictions in the catalogue records. Patrons must determine the appropriate use of an item, based on their research and available information.
  • New York Public Library 
    • What is there: Explore 924,114 items digitized from the NYPL collections. 
    • How to use it: When searching, select the "Search only public domain items" option to filter your results to items with no known U.S. copyright restrictions. On the Browse page, you can easily turn this filter on and off with the “Show Only Public Domain” button in the upper left corner of the page. Note, copyright in the United States expires 70 years after the death of the author if it has not been subsequently renewed.
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
    • What is there: Explore more than 490,000 works from the museum collections and the research and conversations they inspire. Also includes open access datasets available through the Met's API.
    • How to use: Images free for reuse are labelled OA-Open Access in the lower left corner of the image.
  • Rijksmuseum
    • What is there: Collections include photographs, fine and popular prints and drawings, posters, and architectural and engineering drawings.
    • How to use it: Account creation is required, and images can be downloaded or shared depending on permissions.
  • Smithsonian Open Access 
    • What is there: This includes images and data from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo.
    • How to use it: A single, user-friendly, unified search platform that returns open-access resources for free creative re-use.
  • Wellcome Collection
    • What is there: Images taken from the Wellcome library and museum collections, including paintings, illustrations, photos and paintings.

    • How to use it: Filter your search results by license type, excluding any that are 'in copyright'. Verify what license applies and download and use images accordingly.

Contact a Librarian

Jacquelyn Sundberg, Outreach Librarian
@Wellsinton on Ravelry

Kristen Howard, Liaison Librarian

@theclosestknit on Ravelry

McGill LibraryQuestions? Ask us!
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