Skip Navigation Links  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
Prints and Photographs Reading Room (Prints and Photographs Division)
  Home >> Reference Information
Find in

Information for Researchers

Jump to: Service in the Reading Room | Service from a Distance | Obtaining Copies
Credits and Permissions | Address and Hours


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 14 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."

Service in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room

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.
  • 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 available.

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 must first complete an online application and submit proof of identity and address. This is done in Room 140 of the Madison Building, which is conveniently located near the entrance to the building.
  • In general, children are not allowed to conduct research or accompany adults as they conduct research in the Division.
  • Although a cloakroom room is available in Madison Building Room 103, 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 visual materials.
  • 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.

Service from a Distance

Catalogs and Electronic Access

  • There is no comprehensive published catalog describing the Prints & Photographs Division's holdings of more than 14 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 Room.
  • 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 images 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:

Limited service is available by email, fax, 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 and FAX 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 our Contact Information page for further information.
  • The Division's collections are archival in nature and are made available chiefly for original research. The staff cannot conduct 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 fifteen 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.

Obtaining Copies

  • Photocopy machines are available in the Division's Reading Room, but many images are too old or fragile to go on a photocopy machine . Researchers can purchase photocopy cards from a machine in the P&P reading room. The staff does not provide receipts for costs incurred in making photocopies.
  • 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: 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.
  • Other vendors also sell quality copies of selected images. [View list of vendors]

Credits and Permissions

  • 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.

Address and Hours

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:

Telephone: (202) 707-6394 Reference Staff; (202) 707-6647 FAX (Note: Letters and faxes answered in order of receipt.)
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: Oct. 2012.


Top of Page Top of Page
  Home >> Reference Information
Find in
  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
  November 9, 2012
Legal | External Link Disclaimer

Contact Us:  
Ask a Librarian