The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (P&P) houses some 14 million items, making it one of the largest resources in the world for exploring history visually. More than 1 million of these images are now accessible on the Internet through the Library's Prints and Photographs Online Catalog at www.loc.gov/rr/print/catalog.html. Below are frequently asked questions about the online images. Prints and Photographs Division staff members supplied answers to these questions.
Where can I access and view all the digitized images?
The digitized images cited in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog can be accessed at www.loc.gov/rr/print/catalog.html. Researchers can search by keyword, browse lists of place names and subjects, or browse visually by picking a collection and choosing "sample images." The "preview all images" feature, which is available for many of the fully digitized collections, also makes visual skimming fun.
What subject areas are visually documented?
The images available in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog document the history and culture of people, places and events in the United States and the world. The following are but a few of the many topics:
Explore the Great Depression and the World War II home front in the 170,000 photographs taken for the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information.
Visit more than 35,000 structures throughout the United States in 500,000 images representing sites from barns, bridges and cranberry bogs to skyscrapers and national monuments in the Historic American Buildings Survey, Historic American Engineering Record and Historic American Landscapes Survey collections.
Travel back in time to experience Civil War military life; the Wright brothers' first flight; child labor scenes photographed by Lewis Hine; small-town America, the Middle East and Russia around 1900; and Ansel Adams' views of the Japanese-American internment at Manzanar during World War II.
Colorful posters for theatrical performances, World War I and the Spanish Civil War are also popular as are the baseball cards, Japanese fine prints and original cartoon drawings.
Who uses the online images?
Last year more than 1.5 million users conducted 8.1 million searches on the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
People from all walks of life use the images for a variety of purposes, from personal to professional. People seek images for family genealogies, homework assignments and doctoral dissertations. Authors and Web site creators look for images to illustrate their works. Publishers feature images in their books and calendars. People involved in architectural restoration or documentary filmmaking consult the images to re-create accurately various aspects of the past.
How can I obtain copies of images?
Digitized images appearing in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog can be downloaded. Some images will display only as small, thumbnail-size pictures when searching on computers located outside the Library of Congress. Larger jpeg and tiff versions of such images will display when searching on computers inside the Library of Congress; these can be downloaded for fair use purposes at public reading room workstations.
Higher resolution images may require use of a zip disk (100 or 250 MB) formatted for use in IBM-compatible machines or a USB flash drive, as the size of many images exceeds the space available on diskettes. It is not possible to download to CDs at the public workstations.
Copies of most images listed in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog can be purchased from the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service (www.loc.gov/preserv/pds/photo.html).
Other vendors also sell quality copies of selected unrestricted images. For more information go to www.loc.gov/rr/print/reproduce.html.
Do I need permission to use the images in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog? Is there a charge?
As a publicly supported institution the Library generally does not own rights to material in its collections. Therefore, it does not charge permission fees for use of such material and does not give or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute material in its collections. While many images are unrestricted, others may be restricted by copyright or other kinds of rights. It is the researcher's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the Library's collections.
The nature of historical archival collections means that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine. Whenever possible, the Library provides information about copyright owners and other restrictions in the catalog records, other texts that accompany collections, or in online "restrictions statements." The Library provides such information as a service to aid patrons in determining the appropriate use of an item, but that determination ultimately rests with the researcher.
For further information on copyright and other restrictions that apply to publication and other forms of distribution of images, go to www.loc.gov/rr/print/195_copr.html.
How long did it take the Library to scan 1 million items?
It took more than a decade for the Library of Congress to build an online collection of 1 million images.
The Library began digitizing pictures in 1993, when the Prints and Photographs Division contracted with an outside firm to scan 150,000 frames of 35 mm film that had been created in the 1980s to produce videodiscs of 10 large collections. The Library of Congress was one of the first libraries to use electronic technology (videodiscs of images viewed on TV screens) to reproduce visual collections in a compact format connected to a computer catalog in the Prints and Photographs reading room. This local image-based catalog grew steadily, and in 1998 the Library released the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog on the Web.
How did you decide which images to scan first?
The Prints and Photographs Division initially selected collections that were difficult to make accessible to patrons in their original formats. These included glass and film negatives, large posters and fragile original drawings. As digital resolutions grew sharper, We scanned the most popular collections and continues to scan many unprinted negative collections. In addition to user demand and preservation needs, the division also considers the copyright status in selecting collections to be digitized.
Is the Library going to scan every print and photo that it holds?
No, the Prints and Photographs Division does not expect to scan all 14 million images in its collections any time soon. However, the division would like to scan another million of the frequently used images in the next five to 10 years, depending on receiving the requisite funding.
Helena Zinkham, head of technical services in the Library's Prints and Photographs Division, contributed to this article.