PrefaceFor nearly two centuries the Library of Congress has served as the national library of the United States. In this role it has become custodian of the record of the American people and an unparalleled repository of world history, knowledge, and achievement.
Prominent among the Library's holdings are its pictorial collections. Unique in their scope and richness, these collections today number over 15 million works. These range from watercolor views, portraits, and master prints and photographs, to architectural renderings and working drawings, and mass- produced propaganda posters, news photographs, and printed ephemera. For historians, these visual documents are keys to an understanding of the people, events, and achievements that have shaped American and modern European history and the histories of such regions as Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.
Preserved in the context of a research library, these collections are made available each year to tens of thousands of researchers in the reading room of the Prints and Photographs Division, through telephone inquiries, and by means of written correspondence. They also reach millions more through publications, exhibitions, films, and electronic dissemination.
This vital national legacy has been built through the combined efforts of the Congress, an international community of creators and benefactors, and the people of the United States. The Library traces the establishment of its collections to the acquisition by the Congress of Thomas Jefferson's library in 1815. Since Jefferson's time there have been numerous occasions when individuals and organizations have helped advance the Library's efforts to assemble and preserve a comprehensive visual record of the past. (A chronology of the defining moments in the development of the collections is given at the back of this guide.) The collections featured in this illustrated guide are a testament to the success of this public-private cooperative endeavor.
As the twentieth century draws to a close, these pictorial collections continue to gain in importance. The Library's strong commitment to the preservation and the accessibility of its collections ensures that they will continue to serve as the raw material from which the American people, and researchers and creators the world over, may fashion an understanding of their past.
Stephen E. Ostrow, Former Chief