Skip Navigation Links  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
Prints and Photographs Reading Room (Prints and Photographs Division)
  Home >> Resource Lists>> Catalog and Finding Aid Systems
Find in

Catalog and Finding Aid Systems: Representative Examples

Questions still working on:

- Experimented with sub-categories; how effective?

When archivists and librarians need to create online information systems, they often look for examples at institutions similar to their own repository. It can also be helpful to compare approaches to describing pictorial materials by looking at a variety of online systems. This resource list cites representative systems based on bibliographic catalog records or archival finding aids. The categories highlight only one feature of each system to help you find systems that rely on a particular encoding scheme, level of description, type of material, or type of online database.

Looking at the various approaches can also help you improve practices appropriate for your own institution. For many additional examples of catalogs, see the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division reference aid called "Picture Catalogs Online." For an extensive list of archives and collaborative projects that implemented the Encoded Archival Description (EAD) standard, see EAD Sites Annotated at the EAD Roundtable's Web site.

Disclaimer icon The Library of Congress does not maintain most of these sites. Users should direct concerns about these links to their respective site administrators or webmasters.

Table of Contents


Integrated with other media

  • American Antiquarian Society, Online Catalog. Thousands of records for historical prints, photographs, and ephemera are described in the same catalog used for books and other non-visual media. Limiting a search to the department name "Graphic Arts" provides access to only the pictorial materials.
  • Library of Congress, Online Catalog. More than 100,000 records for pictorial materials are among the 12 million records representing books, electronic resources, manuscripts, maps, movies, sound recordings, and other media. In addition to item-level records (chiefly published pictures), there are group and collection-level summaries that link to inventory-level records for large collections with negatives available only in Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
  • Smithsonian Institution Research Information System. (SIRIS) Has 230,000 descriptions of personal papers, manuscripts, photographs, oral histories, sound recordings, films, and organizational records from nine repositories. Over 100,000 scanned images are available online. The catalogs for books and art inventories are separate databases within SIRIS.

Separate catalog for pictures

  • Harvard University Library. Visual Information Access (VIA). "A union catalog of visual resources at Harvard, focusing on artistic and cultural materials. VIA includes catalog records for objects or images owned, held or licensed by Harvard." "An overarching access menu, (MetaLib, SFX, cross catalog searching), allows users to search across all union catalogs at Harvard and receive an integrated set of results." Follows a local metadata scheme based on national standards.
  • Canada Library and Archives. Follows Rules for Archival Description.
    • Photographs. 400,000 descriptions for photographs, with 10,000 digital images. Uses Rules for Archival Description, "Graphic Materials" chapter, and local database system.
    • Documentary Art. 160,000 entries, with 5,000 digital images. Descriptions are written mainly in the language of the creator-donor, with most descriptions in English.

Multiple levels of description

  • Series and item

National Archives and Records Service. Archives Research Catalog. Covers 3,000 still picture series, including digital image reproductions of more than 50,000 pictorial items. Follows ISAD (G) and local database schema.

  • Collection, series, folder, item

New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, On-line Catalog. "All materials are described in a hierarchical manner. This means that there can be multiple records for individual collections (collection records, series records, folder records and/or item records)." Includes digital images.

  • Different levels of description in different catalogs

    Minnesota Historical Society.

  • PALS (a statewide OPAC). Holds records for collections and groups of photographs.
  • Visual Resources Database. Holds records for 184,500 photographs, posters, art, and fine art photographs. 115,000 records have a corresponding digital image.

Single level of description

  • Collection-level

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Southern Historical Collection records include photographs mixed with other materials. Uses Archives, Personal Papers, and Manuscripts and MARC.

  • Item-level, pictorial only
University of Michigan, Bentley Library. ImageBank. More than 4,000 records for individual pictures accompanied by digital images. To provide context for each image, the records link to the archival finding aid for the collection that contains the picture.
  • Item-level, multi-media

University of Washington Libraries. American Indians of the Pacific Northwest Digital Collection. Ca. 2,500 photos and text pages with digital images. Includes a metadata dictionary for graphic materials, using the Dublin Core.

Degree of cataloging

  • Full, item-level

Denver Public Library. Western History / Genealogy Dept. Search the Collections. Of the libraries' 600,000 photos, ca. 100,000 have online descriptions with digital images.

  • Minimal, item-level

State Historical Society of Nebraska, Prairie Settlement: Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters. Ca. 3,000 glass negatives from collection of photos by Solomon Butcher.

  • Inventory, item-level

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Photochrom Prints. Ca. 5,000 views of places published by the Photoglob company. No subject headings and most description is from a boilerplate template. Relies on presence of digital images and keyword access to provide access.

Thesaurus integrated with catalog

  • Indiana University Digital Library, Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection. Terms from the Thesaurus for Graphic Materials are part of the catalog to allow easy access to searching by terms (e.g., automobiles) as well as broader terms (vehicles) and any narrower terms (station wagons). Thesaurus cross references automatically retrieve preferred terms, so that a search for 'cars' retrieves 'automobiles.'

Union catalogs

  • Many kinds of description

RLG Cultural Materials Includes a variety of records and digital images for 225,000 works and 622 groups contributed by more than 30 archives, libraries, and museums. " In general RLG can take whatever you have. Of course we would like to receive the most complete descriptive record possible, since this gives the best result when we map your data to the RLG Cultural Materials data model." The recommendations for effective data and images are listed in "Contributing to RLG Cultural Materials."

  • Collection-level descriptions in MARC

OCLC, Archives file, via the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. The OCLC 'mixed materials' file for archival materials has almost 300,000 records. A search for "photographs" in 2003 yielded almost 25,000 hits. (Additional photographs are in the OCLC Visual Materials file.)

  • Item-level and group-level descriptions in Dublin Core

Picture Australia Ca. 630,000 records and images. The National Archives and many libraries among 25 agencies that contribute still picture records with digital images. "Contributing to PictureAustralia" explains how metadata from each institution is mapped to the Dublin Core.

  • Links to separate databases at multiple institutions-

British Columbia Archival Information Network, British Columbia Photographs Online. Lists databases at 12 archives, libraries, and museums and 20 online gallery presentations.

  • Subject-based themes and special presentations for each collection

Library of Congress, American Memory and Global Gateway. Includes more than 100 collections from more than 25 institutions. All items have digital images. Each collection has a home page to explain its scope, provide general and special indexes, bibliographies, links to related sites, or presentations of selected images.


Finding Aids

Individual collection examples

  • Size of collection: small

Utah Historical Society. M.C. Gigi Photograph Collection (2 folders of photographs)

  • Size of collection: large

Duke University. Guide to the William Gedney Photographs and Writings (49,870 items)

  • Photographs interspersed with other media (HTML)

Getty Research Institute. Josef Stendl Furniture Designs.

  • Photographs interspersed, but highlighted in a folder-item list in an appendix (EAD)

Library of Virginia. Records of Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. Available via Virginia Heritage

  • Multilevel description  (EAD)

Public Record Office (UK) Online Catalogue (PROCAT).   Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. Series E1, includes photographs

  • Multilevel description: series, with file list (local database system)

Simon Fraser University. Archives and Records Management Department fonds

Type of collection

  • Album with multiple photographers

Louisiana State University. Library. Special Collections. Civil War Photograph Album.

  • Collection assembled by archives, with provenance noted (HTML)

Smithsonian Institution. Archives of American Art. Photographs of Artists - Collection One.

  • Corporate records, all photos (pdf file)

Heard Museum. Library and Archives.  Fred Harvey Company Photographs.

  • Family papers, with a photo series (HTML)

Montana State University. Library. Special Collections Hart Family Papers.

  • Government records; photos as a subseries (EAD - verify!)

Wisconsin State Historical Society. Wisconsin. Office of Transportation Safety: Safety Scrapbooks, 1936-1958.

  • Institutional records; photos in parallel series to text materials (HTML)

Georgia Tech. Inventory of the Georgia Tech Alumni Association Slide Collection.

Many collections in a single search system

  • Single institution

City of Vancouver Archives. Has a search system for all records (including public and private records to the file-level and photographs to the item-level). Searching for all photographs or digitized photographs is also possible.

Johns Hopkins Medical Institution, Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives. Visual Holdings. Uses a Web site search tool to access inventories of photographs.

  • Many departments at one institution

Yale University Library, Finding Aid Database. More than 500 finding aids (most encoded with EAD) mention photographs.

  • Multiple repositories

Historic Pittsburgh. Offers separate access to pictorial images (ca. 5,000 from 23 collections at 3 cultural heritage institutions), maps, finding aids, text, with many special search features. Hosted by the University of Pittsburgh, Digital Research Library.

Kentuckiana Digital Library, Archival Finding Aids Collection. Searches 4,600 finding aids for documents, including photographs, from 15 contributors. Digital images are embedded within the finding aids.

Online Archive of California Over 120,000 images (including photographs); 50,000 pages of documents, letters, and oral histories; and 8,000 guides to collections are available.

Compiled by Helena Zinkham, Technical Services Section, Prints & Photographs Division, July 2004.

Top of Page Top of Page
  Home >> Resource Lists>> Catalog and Finding Aid Systems
Find in
  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
  October 22, 2010
Legal | External Link Disclaimer

Contact Us:  
Ask a Librarian