Information for Researchers
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in the Reading Room | Service
from a Distance | Obtaining
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The Prints & Photographs Reading Room provides
public access to the collections and services
of the Prints & Photographs Division (P&P)
and is open to patrons conducting research
utilizing the Division's collections. Unique
in their scope and richness, the Prints & Photographs
collections today number more than 15 million
images. These include photographs, fine
and popular prints and drawings, posters,
and architectural and engineering drawings.
While international in scope, the collections
are particularly rich in materials produced
in, or documenting the history of, the
United States and the lives, interests
and achievements of the American people.
See also our "Top Tips for Successful Research in the Prints and Photographs Division". Our 4-minute video, Using the Prints and Photographs Reading Room will also help give you the lay of the land.
Full use of the collections can only be made with the help of Division
staff who provide assistance in understanding the Division's many
different cataloging/finding systems and who oversee the safe use
of the wide variety of materials which are served.
- Reference librarians are
on duty in the reading room to
assist patrons. The reading room is located in the Library of Congress Madison Building, Room 337. [view map of the Madison Building third floor]
- Patrons involved in complex
research are urged to contact us through Ask a Librarian or call the
Reading Room and discuss their
search before making a visit.
- Arrangements must be made when patrons expect to view more
than 15 original items from the Division's collections of posters,
drawings, master photographs, and fine prints (this does not
include documentary photographs, the bulk of the Division's holdings);
when requesting unprocessed material;
when requesting fragile material requiring supervised handling or special preparation, such as many architectural
drawings; for visits by a class or study group; or when the
number of images required by a project will far exceed average
use (e.g., searching thousands of images for digital publication).
- Tours and orientations are
Registration Is Required & Special Rules Are in Force
- Patrons must obtain a Library
of Congress Reader Identification Card before using the
P&P Reading Room. To obtain the card, patrons complete an online application and submit proof of identity
and address. A portion of the registration process can be done online in advance. The process can be completed in Madison Building Room 133 (Newspaper & Current Periodicals Reading Room) or Jefferson Building Room 139 [see campus map; bird's eye view photo; and map of Madison Building first floor].
- In general, children are not allowed
to conduct research or accompany adults as they conduct
research in the Division.
- Although cloakrooms are available
in the Madison and Jefferson buildings, researchers may prefer
to use the lockers located in
the P&P Reading
Room. There are limits on the types of items researchers can bring into the room; items that cannot be brought in can be placed in lockers. There is no fee for using the lockers.
- Patrons must agree to follow special
rules for the safe handling of
- As a preservation measure, the Library serves "surrogates" (e.g.,
digital, microfilm, or photographic copy images) in lieu of original
images when such ready reference copies exist.
Catalogs and Electronic Access
- There is no comprehensive published catalog describing the
Prints & Photographs Division's holdings of more than 15 million
items. Many materials are cataloged in groups, with no itemized
listing, and others are not listed in a catalog, but rather are
made available through "browsing" files in the Reading
- The Prints and Photographs
Online Catalog provides access through group or item records to descriptions that cover about 95% of the division's holdings as well as to some images found in other units of the Library of Congress. Many of the catalog records are accompanied by digital images--more than 1.25 million digital images as of 2011. New records and digital
are added continuously. Access to the
online catalog, as well as to illustrated
guides, reference aids, and other information
about the Division's collections and
services is available through
the Reading Room's Home Page on World
Wide Web. The address is: http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/.
Limited service is available by
email, mail and telephone
- Inquiries about collections
and services may be submitted
via the Ask
A Librarian service,
which provides an online form
for sending reference staff questions.
An initial response is sent within
five business days and inquiries
generally are answered fully within
seven business days after receipt.
Requests made by mail are answered in order of receipt
within two weeks of receipt. The
reference staff working in the
Reading Room answer telephone
calls when they are not busy with
in-person researchers. Therefore,
telephone service is limited to
only those questions that can
be easily handled by phone. See
Information page for
Division's collections are archival
in nature and are
made available chiefly for
original research. The staff cannot
lengthy searches, make editorial
selection of images, produce
long lists of images, undertake
extensive research projects,
or conduct appraisals. Requests
for specific images credited
to the Library of Congress
can be handled when limited to ten
or fewer items in the calendar
year. Researchers requiring
additional services may wish
to hire a freelance
researcher in the Washington,
D.C., area to work on their behalf.
- Photocopy machines are available in the Division's Reading Room, but many images are too old or fragile to go on a photocopy machine. See the Library’s Copying and Printing Services page for more details.
- Basic hand-held camera copying that does not require lights or other equipment or special handling of the images is allowed as an alternative to placing items on a photocopy machine.
- Digitized images appearing in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog and on the web site can be downloaded. Some images display only as small thumbnail images when searching outside the Library of Congress because of rights considerations; larger versions of such images display when searching in Library of Congress reading rooms:
- Researchers using a Library of Congress wireless connection will be able to download directly to their laptop or other device after accepting the terms for connecting, which include acknowledging that it is the researcher's responsibility to assess the rights to use an image and to obtain any necessary permissions (see Credits and Permissions, below).
- Researchers can also use public reading room workstations to download, as by using that equipment, they have likewise acknowledged responsibility for assessing rights and obtaining any necessary permissions to use an image. P&P's public workstations accept USB flash drives. It is not possible to download to CDs at the public workstations.
- Scanning equipment is not allowed because of handling concerns and the light they emit. Digital cameras are allowed (see the "Basic camera copying" document).
- Copies of images may be obtained from the Library's Duplication Services, which is a separate part of the Library (telephone 202-707-5640; email: [email protected]). In general, orders must be accompanied by reproduction numbers or call numbers that are used to identify the material being ordered. It takes from 3 to 6 weeks to get copies.
- The Library does not grant or deny permission concerning the
use of images. While many images are unrestricted, it is not
true that all images in the Prints & Photographs Division are
in the public domain. Patrons need to be aware of the several
kinds of rights which might apply:
copyright, donor restrictions, privacy rights, publicity rights,
licensing and trademarks.
- When material photographed from the Library's collections is
reproduced in a publication, the Library requests that the reproduction number (negative, transparency, or digital identification number) be published with credit to the Library,
such as: "Library of Congress, LC-USZ62- 13459."
See Reference Information for a list of documents relating to service and copying policies, as well as answers to frequently asked questions.
Location: James Madison Memorial Building, Room
337, First St. and Independence Ave., S.E.
Metro Station: Capitol South [blue/orange lines],
1st and C Streets, S.E.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(Closed on federal holidays)
Note: No materials are pulled after 4:00 pm.
Email: Use Ask a Librarian service: http://www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/ask-print.html
Telephone: (202) 707-6394 Reference Staff
Mailing address: Prints and Photographs Division,
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540-4730 [requires screening off-site prior to arrival on Capitol Hill, which can add at least 3 to 5 days to the delivery time]
Last revised: August 2019.