The Library of Congress > American Memory
banner image
return to home page table of contents about the guide abbreviations search banner image

Prints and Photographs Division


Access to Images: Evolving Conventions




see caption below

Jeannette Poirier looking at photographs in file cabinet drawer at the Washington office of the Overseas Branch of the U.S. Office of War Information. 1945. Prints and Photographs Division.
bibliographic record

Over the course of the century in which the Prints and Photographs Division has existed, a variety of methods have been developed to provide access to its diverse holdings.

Reading Room Files

Among the oldest—and still used—forms of access to the collections is through file cabinets containing a mixture of original and copy images that provide direct access to materials. Reading room files that may prove most useful for women's history topics are listed here:

  • Biographical File: Pictures of people, especially posed portraits, as well as their families, homes, and activities, arranged by name;
  • Specific Subjects File: Photographs of objects, events, activities, and structures, arranged by topical headings. Images relating to women and girls can be found under such varied headings as “Women—Politics and suffrage,” “Sports—Rowing,” “Children—Playing adults” and “Cowgirls;”
  • Graphics File: Nonphotographic images, such as prints and drawings, arranged by topic groups, such as “Women's movements” or “Daily life.”

Catalogs, Indexes, and Finding Aids

see caption below

Three women work at the card index files at the headquarters of the National Women's Party in Washington, D.C. Ca. 1920. Prints and Photographs Division.
bibliographic record

Materials that cannot be accessed directly in reading room files are kept in storage areas and can be located by consulting catalogs, indexes, and finding aids. Some images are described in groups, based on their related provenance, subject matter, or format; other images are cataloged individually. Major tools include the following:

  • Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC): An ever-increasing proportion of the division's collections can be found through the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC), which provides access to descriptions of groups of materials and single items, sometimes with linked digitized images. You can access PPOC remotely, although some images will display only as “thumbnails” (small reference images) to those searching offsite. About 25 percent of the materials found in PPOC can also be found in the Library of Congress Online Catalog and that percentage is expected to grow, but at present the Library-wide catalog does not feature the quantity of digital images PPOC offers. A portion of the images and catalog records available in PPOC are also available in American Memory. Unless otherwise noted, references to the “online catalog” in this section refer to PPOC.
  • Divisional Card Catalog: The primary access tool for groups of images that are not reflected in the online catalog, this card catalog provides access by subject term (these have varied through time), by geographic heading, and, to a lesser extent, by name of image producer or copyright holder.
  • Card Indexes: Separate card catalogs list fine prints, posters, and other materials that have been cataloged individually, but access is often limited to a single entry under artist or publisher.
  • Finding Aids: Catalog records for groups of images sometimes lead researchers to finding aids—either printed lists, card indexes or, occasionally, electronic indexes—that provide greater detail about the contents of the group.

Reference Aids

Prints and Photographs Division staff have prepared a variety of reference aids that are intended to assist users in navigating the division's collections and finding tools and, in some cases, to offer a selection of images on frequently requested topics.

Consult Reference Staff

see caption below

Potomac Boat Club. 1919. George Grantham Bain Collection. Prints and Photographs Division.

full caption
| bibliographic record

A growing proportion of the Prints and Photographs Division's holdings are available online, enabling researchers to serve themselves. Nevertheless, the majority of the holdings have not been digitized; access to them is through finding aids such as those described above. The relationships among collections and tools for accessing them are intricate. Therefore, researchers are encouraged to consult with reference staff regarding their topics and the best means for pursuing them. Reference staff also specialize in different areas of the collections and can frequently offer background information on particular collections in their areas, as well as leads on fruitful avenues for research. If you have a question, do not hesitate to ask. The Prints and Photographs Division “Contact Information” page outlines various means for contacting staff.

red line
Home Table of Contents About the Guide Abbreviations Search
The Library of Congress> > American Memory