About the Prints and Photographs Division: Background and History
Students from 6th Division public schools, Washington, D.C., looking at an exhibit of fine prints in the Library of Congress. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1899?
The Prints and Photographs Division (P&P), formally established in 1897 as the Department of Graphic Arts, was founded upon a rich reserve of prints, drawings, and photographs assembled in the 19th century through gift, purchase, and transfer from other government agencies. Its core of early American holdings, in fact, consisted of the original, copyrighted prints and photographs transferred from the U.S. District Courts and (later) the Copyright Office.
Early conceived as a department devoted to the fine arts, P&P has come to assume a leading role in the visual documentation of politics, society, and daily culture as well. Today its collections form the most comprehensive pictorial record of the history of the U.S., the lives, concerns, and achievements of its people, and of its place in the larger world.
Images in P&P support the vast range of scholarly resources in the Library, including the history of science, the arts and literature of all countries, as well as the geographically focused research collections in African and Latin American area studies and the cultures of Asia and the Middle East.
The division collects in the following five major areas:
- Architecture, Design, and Engineering
- Popular and Applied Graphic Arts
- Fine Prints
The division consists of three sections:
- Reference, which provides research guidance, manages the Reading Room, organizes social media and online aids, assists reseearchers in using the collections, and has specialists in the following: American architecture; graphic arts; American social history; images of place; technology and military history.
- Curatorial, which is concerned with collection development, exhibitions, publications, conservation, interpretation, and special events, with specialists for photography, architecture, graphic arts, and fine prints.
- Technical Services, which manages the physical preparation, organization, and description of the collections, preservation, and providing intellectual access through catalog records (both descriptive and subject cataloging) and finding aids--taking advantage of automation and digital imaging technologies.
Reading Room, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Photo by Prints and Photographs Division staff, 2009.
For more history of the division and information about collections, see:
- Kusznerz, Peggy Ann. "Picturing the Past: Photographs at the Library of Congress, 1865-1964." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, Department of Communications, 1992.(catalog record)
- Library of Congress. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs: An Illustrated Guide. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1995. Available online
- "Prints and Photographs Division and Collections," in Encyclopedia of the Library of Congress, edited by John Y. Cole and Jane Aiken. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2004. (catalog record; Call number: Z733.U6 E53 2004 Desk)
- Collection Guides & Overviews
Prepared by: Prints and Photographs Division staff, Dec. 2017.