Do you have a few hours to spare?

Thousands of historical images of New Zealand, from butterfly drawings to a depiction of "a cannibal of olden times", have been released to the public by the British Library.

The library has released over a million images taken from 65,000 books to the public and now needs its help with the finer details.

"We may know which book, volume and page an image was drawn from, but we know nothing about a given image," said the British Library's Ben O'Steen, on the library's blog.


Aside from making educated guesses, any more detail was welcome, he said.

The images were scanned from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th century books by Microsoft, given back to the library and released on Flickr, a photo-sharing website.

Mr O'Steen said the images cover a startling mix of subjects.

"There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of."

People can add information to Flickr photo pool but this year the library plans to start a crowdsourcing website to make it easier for the public to get involved.

Greytown history buff Adele Pentony-Graham said she had not yet seen the images but would definitely be taking a look.

She regularly uses online resources for research into history and genealogy.

"I live on the computer."

Mrs Pentony-Graham said these types of digitisation projects were important, especially if there were images from New Zealand on there.

"It will be important for anybody who has got roots in England."

The Wairarapa Archive also has thousands of images, she said, and can be searched online.

"History is absolutely fascinating. It's surprising what you can find."

Mrs Graham said she didn't know a thing about NZ history until she became interested in 1996.

"I hated history in school, I have changed."

The British Library is one of the world's largest libraries, holding millions of items. This release just scratches the surface.