Send this bot an emoji, and it sends back a related image from the New York Public Library archives

A stereoscopic view of cannonball piles at the Charleston Navy Yard in Massachusetts, triggered by the poo emoji.
A stereoscopic view of cannonball piles at the Charleston Navy Yard in Massachusetts, triggered by the poo emoji.
Image: Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collection
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Some Twitter bots are spammy and obnoxious, with eggs for profile images and misspelled suggestions of ways to get rich quick. But not all Twitter bots are bad. Some are downright brilliant. And some, like the New York Public Library’s new emoji bot, are simply delightful.

Tweet an emoji at the library bot, and it replies just about instantly with a related image from the New York Public Library’s digital archives. A crying cat face emoji, for instance, might turn up a photo of adorable kittens.

Other times, you might be treated to a slice of old New York, like the photo of this cheese shop, which used to be in Greenwich Village (it’s now a pizza place):

Some of the images are silly, while others are educational, like Isaac Newton’s telescope plans or a pictorial history of men’s shirt collars:

“We started a spreadsheet back in January, just collecting these emoji” and related images from the archives, says Lauren Lampasone, a digital producer at the library. Lampasone’s self-proclaimed obsession with Twitter gave the spreadsheet purpose and the bot was born.

“The goal is just to show the depth of our collections,” she says. The library’s digital collection contains nearly 700,000 files, all accessible to the public, including many in the public domain.

Lampasone worked with a colleague, Leonard Richardson, to get the bot up and tweeting. The bot can’t search through the archive itself, so each response must be coded by a human. There still isn’t support for the bot to respond to flag emojis, and not every emoji returns an image–the bot was stumped by the floppy disk and pager emoji, for example.

Lampasone is still combing her way through the massive collection and adding emoji-image relationships to the bot’s code. Her favorite pairing came out of a consultation with a map librarian, who helped her track down images featuring a common symbol on old maps that also happens to be an emoji: the wind-blowing face.

The bot’s inner workings can be found on GitHub, Lampasone said, where emoji and image archive fans can suggest images for currently neglected emoji such as the DVD, money with wings, and french fries.