Contact: Gary Fitzpatrick (202) 707-8542, Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940

December 6, 1993

Prints and Photographs Reading Room To Limit Patrons

In order to increase the security of its unique collections, to ensure safe handling of fragile items, and to improve reference service, the Prints and Photographs Division has announced that it will begin a pilot project to limit the number of patrons in its reading room. Beginning on or after Monday, January 3, 1994, use of the reading room will be limited, at any one time, to eight walk-in patrons and three patrons with appointments. The limit will not apply to congressional staff and Library of Congress staff.

Other special collections reading rooms have taken similar steps to ensure the safe handling of materials, an integral part of ensuring the physical security of unique Library collections. The Manuscript Division limits the number of items served to a patron at any one time; the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division requires researchers to make appointment to see films and video materials, and listeners are served by playback technicians, to ensure safe handling of fragile recordings.

The past decade has witnessed significant growth in the demand to use visual primary source materials at the Library of Congress; in the last four years alone there has been a steady increase in use of the collections (35%) and a dramatic increase in the number of items that are available to researchers (78%). At present, the Prints and Photographs Reading Room sometimes attracts as many as 30 patrons at one time. This demand seriously impairs the small reference staff's ability to provide proper observation of the reading room, instructions for the safe handling of the collections, and high-quality reference service.

Recent evidence of theft and of the mishandling of fragile and brittle original images has underscored the necessity of increasing security in the reading room and of providing patrons with complete instructions on the handling of materials that are served. Service to researchers is complicated by the wide variety of formats that are available, the many different cataloging/finding systems in use, the range of reproduction services offered, and increasingly complicated donor and/or copyright restrictions.

As is currently the practice, two reference librarians will be on duty to help patrons who have not made appointments. Another reference librarian will offer individual assistance to patrons who arrange for appointments in advance.

Appointments are strongly recommended for first-time users, for patrons undertaking complicated research, and for patrons who require the help of a specific reference specialist or curator. Appointments are required 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). Appointments must be arranged in advance for classes or other study groups, and special arrangements must be made when the number of images required by a project will far exceed average use.

Comments will be invited from the public after the pilot has been in place for three months. The new policy will be evaluated to determine the extent to which it addresses current concerns and its impact on researchers. To schedule an appointment, or to discuss an immediate concern or question regarding the pilot project, call or write Mary Ison, Head, Reference Section, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540-4280 (tel. 202-707-8867).

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PR 93-149
ISSN 0731-3527

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