The Library of Congress, during its evolution as the depository for knowledge on several academic and cultural subjects, amassed a sizable collection of photographs and other visual material. These materials have since been catalogued and categorized for ease use. Additionally, digital resources exist for the convenient access of some materials.
Where should I start looking for photos in the Library of Congress?
The best place to begin is The Prints and Photographs Online at loc.gov/pictures. The Library of Congress has worked to digitize many of its photos for public viewing. Other non-digitized works are catalogue for easy reference and retrieval. The Prints and Photographs Online Catalogue maintains an easy search function as well as featured collections on the first page.
How do I search the Prints and Photographs Online Catalogue?
The simple search function is all that is needed to find photo materials at the Library of Congress
To start, go to loc.gov/pictures
- Enter the keyword in the “search all” box, or the purposes of this example, the South Andean beasts of burden, “alpaca”
- You will see either results noting the date, size and classification. You may also sort the results by the availability of the original photograph or print, from images available only at the LoC, images available everywhere and items that have not been digitized.
- Clicking on the first time “Four alpacas by a wall, Peru” will bring up detailed information which in this case, tells us the picture in question is a Peruvian postcard created in 1939 belonging to a miscellaneous collection.
- There are other options on the page to obtain additional copies and access to the original document.
How do I obtain copies of LoC material?
The Library of Congress does not own the rights to most of the materials in the library. The LoC advisees that individuals seeking to use materials from the collection to abides by standards of “fair use” and to take note of any and all information in the catalogue record.
How do I gain access to original photos or prints?
The LoC requires individuals to check if the item they want to access is digitized. Without a compelling reason, the Library will deny access to the original if a digital copy exists. This is a cautionary measure to prevent unnecessary damage to the original works. If there is not a digital copy, one must check the call number which will indicate if there are copies or other records of the original, such as microfilm. Lastly, if no surrogate, copy or digitized form exists, one must fill out a call slip, in person, at the Prints and Photographs Reading Room. The staff will either retrieve the material or schedule an appointment for the retrieval of the original item.