Frequently Asked Questions
PRINTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS DIVISION
1. What is the Prints and Photographs Division?
2. Are all of Prints and Photographs Division holdings on computer?
3. Does the Prints and Photographs Division have a catalog it
can send out?
4. Is it possible to get copies of images in the Prints and Photographs
5. Is everything in Prints and Photographs Division collections
in the public domain?
6. What kind of help will I receive if I come to the Prints and
Photographs Reading Room? Should I make an appointment?
7. What if I cannot come to the Library of Congress to do research
and cannot find what I need through reference aids or Internet?
8. Does the Prints and Photographs Division provide information
on the monetary value of photographs and prints?
9. How can I give photographs or prints to the Prints and Photographs
10. Is the Prints and Photographs Division a good source for
images of recent news events?
11. Is the Prints and Photographs Division a good place to get
reproductions of paintings and art posters?
12. How do the holdings of the Prints and Photographs Division
compare to those of the National Archives Still Picture Branch?
1. What is the Prints and Photographs Division?
The Prints and Photographs Division acquires, cares for, and makes
available collections of original photographs, prints, drawings, posters,
and architectural records. The collections, today numbering over thirteen
million items, are a great national resource for Congress, scholars,
the media, and the general public. The collections are international
in scope, although U.S. history is a particular strength of the holdings.
Material in the collections date from the fifteenth century (fine prints)
to the twentieth century. For an overview of Prints and Photographs Division
holdings, see the Prints and Photographs Illustrated
2. Are records of all of Prints and Photographs
Division holdings on computer?
No. The Prints and Photographs Division has been in an existence for
nearly a century. Over that time, various manual access systems were
developed to assist researchers in locating images of various types.
Also, some collections came with their own manual access systems. These
systems include vertical "browsing" files, card catalogs, and book publications.
Most cataloging is now done on computer and is available in the Prints
and Photographs Online Catalog (catalog.html), which provides access
to a rich cross-section of our holdings. The catalog covers about half
of our total holdings and many of the records describe groups of images,
rather than individual items. Some of the previously existing manual
access systems are being converted to computer.
3. Does the Prints and Photographs Division have
a catalog it can send out?
No. As noted above (#2), not all of the Prints & Photographs Division's
large holdings are listed in a single catalog; many images are made available
only through vertical files in the Prints and Photographs Division reading
room. The Prints and Photographs Division does offer reference aids on
popularly requested topics, some of which include illustrations and reproduction
numbers needed to order photographic copies from the Library of Congress
Duplication Services. For a list of online reference aids, see "Guides,
Reference Aids and Finding Aids." For a bibliography of books
drawing heavily on Prints and Photographs Division Collections, see Reference
Aid #30 - "Publications Relating to
Collections Held by the Prints and Photographs Division."
4. Is it possible to get copies of images?
Yes, it is generally possible to get copies of one sort or another:
- Xeroxes: In many cases, material may be xeroxed
by researchers, but all material must first be reviewed by reference
staff, as some images are too fragile to go on a xerox machine.
- Computer printouts: Images that have been digitized
can be printed at laser printers in the reading room.
- Camera copying in the Reading Room: Hand-held
camera copying is permitted as a service to patrons who wish
to make reference copies of material that is not allowed on the xerox
machines and to people who are making slides for academic classes.
No artificial light, flash, tripod, or copy stand may be used when
doing such photography, and if the original item is housed in a plastic
sleeve, the sleeve must remain on the item while photographing.
- Quality photographic copies: Photographs of most
images may be ordered from the Library
of Congress Duplication Services. The Duplication Services
offers a range of services, including printing from photographic negatives
and from digital files (a range of sizes is available), and copying
of digital files. The Duplication Services generally estimates
that it will take 3 to 6 weeks to produce and send reproductions, once
an order and payment have been received. You must know an item's reproduction
number or its specific call number to place an order. Further information
on prices, payments, and services is available from the Library's Duplication Services (telephone: 202-707-5640.)
5. Is everything in the Prints and Photographs
Division collections in the public domain?
No. While many images are unrestricted, many are not. Patrons need
to be aware of the several kinds of rights which might apply: copyright,
donor restrictions, privacy rights, publicity rights, licensing and trademarks.
The Library generally does not own rights to material in its collections.
Therefore, it does not charge permission fees for use of such material
and cannot give or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute
material in its collections. It is the patron's obligation to determine
and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions (such as donor restrictions,
privacy rights, publicity rights, licensing and trademarks) when publishing
or otherwise distributing materials found in the Division's collections.
The Division's staff will attempt to inform patrons about such restrictions
when information is readily available through the Division's records.
However, these records are not always complete. The U.S.
Copyright Office provides various circulars with information about
the duration of copyright, conducting copyright searches, and "fair use." For
further information, see Reference Aid #195, "Copyright
and Other Restrictions Which Apply to Publication and Other Forms of
Distribution of Images: Sources for Information and the Rights
and Restrictions Information page."
6. What kind of help will I receive if I come to
the Prints and Photographs Reading Room? Should I make an appointment?
Full use of the collections requires 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 varied types of material
that are served. Two reference librarians are on duty in the Reading
Room to assist patrons. However, for the best service, patrons are urged
to use the reading room during times which are usually the least busy
-- the early hours of the day (8:30-10:30), the months of November, December,
January and February, and the early parts of the week. Patrons involved
in complex research are urged to call the Reading Room and discuss their
search before making a visit. Again, the early hours of the day and the
early days of the week are the best times to call. Arrangements need
not be made in advance except:
- 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)
- for classes or other study groups
- when the number of images required by a project will far exceed average
use (e.g. searching thousands of images for digital publication).
- when requesting materials from uncataloged collections, off-site
storage, or when requesting to view materials such as original architectural
drawings that have been designated "serve by appointment," because
of their fragility.
7. What if I cannot come to the Library to do research
and cannot find what I need through the online catalog or reference
Prints and Photographs Division staff can provide a limited amount
of research service by mail and telephone. Staff will research requests
received by mail for specific images in the collections when limited
to fifteen or fewer items in the calendar year. Accurate information
is essential. The following procedures are suggested:
- Refer to books in your local bookstores and libraries that illustrate
the subject of interest,
- Ascertain that the Library of Congress is the source of the picture
that you want by checking the credits and acknowledgments in the publication,
- Enclose a xerox of the picture that you want,
- Fully cite the publication from which you xeroxed the picture, giving
the author, title, date of publication, page, and caption,
- Describe the picture as specifically as possible, including the subject,
date, original medium, and artist, photographer, and/or collection
Requests made by mail or FAX are answered in order of receipt. The
average response time is about four weeks. Generally, responses will
consist of xeroxes or descriptions of images, reproduction order forms,
and reproduction price lists. The staff cannot conduct lengthy searches,
make editorial selection of images, create extensive lists of images,
nor undertake other extensive research projects. When these services
are required, a list
of freelance picture searchers in the Washington,
D.C., area can be supplied.
8. Does the Prints and Photographs Division provide
information on the monetary value of photographs and prints?
No. The Prints and Photographs Division cannot appraise or evaluate
images in personal or other public collections. It is best to contact appraisers or
dealers for such services. Various published indexes to sales auctions
may supply some information on sales trends. New York Public Library
staff have prepared a finding
guide for art auction catalogs. The Prints and Photographs Division
does not have a systematic collection of such catalogs.
9. How can I give photographs, prints, or drawings
to the Prints and Photographs Division?
The Library of Congress appreciates your offer of works on paper to
the Prints and Photographs Division. A letter describing the material,
including the creator, medium, format, quatity, dates, condition and
history, should be sent to:
Prints & Photographs Division
Library of Congress
Washington, D.C. 20540-4730
Please be assured that the staff will carefully review the work in
light of the Library's existing collections, resources, and acquisitions
10. Is the Prints and Photographs Division a
good source for images of recent news events?
In general, the Prints and Photographs Division does not have images
of news events more recent than the mid-1980's. One exception is a special
acquisition effort to collect materials relating to the events of September
11. Is the Prints and Photographs Division a
good place to get reproductions of paintings and art posters?
No. The Prints and Photographs Division has only scattered reproductions
of paintings and other works of art, and those it does have are not usually
in color or of uniformly high quality. It is best to contact the owner
of the original painting or work of art for reproductions of such works,
or to consult a commercial supplier of art reproductions.
Although the Prints and Photographs Division does have a very strong
poster collection, the Duplication Services (the part of the Library
of Congress that handles reproduction orders) can only make photographic
reproductions of such works; it does not make facsimile posters.
12. How do the holdings of the Prints and Photographs
Division compare to those of the National Archives Still Picture
Generally, the National Archives is
the custodian for permanent records of U.S. government agencies, so it
holds images made by and for the U.S. government. With the exception
of the Farm Security Administration/Office
of War Information Collection and the Historic
American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, the
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division has only scattered
holdings of U.S. government images. Because the National Archives receives
the records of the U.S. military, for instance, the National Archives
Still Picture Branch has more systematic and better indexed holdings
for U.S. military units, vessels, and aircraft than does the Library
of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Additional sources of military
images are identified in Reference Aid #65, "Sources
of Military Images: Major Repositories."
Prepared by Prints and Photographs Division staff. Last revised, Sept.