The following is an article featured in the March-April 2014 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM, now available for download here. You can also view the archives of the Library’s former publication from 1993 to 2011.
Athena Angelos, image researcher for many Library of Congress publications, discusses the process of visual reference work.
How did you prepare for a career in image research?
I’ve always loved photography and looking for things. If you’ve lost a pearl in a white shag carpet, you should call me. When I was about 10 years old, my father let me start using his WWII-era Leica camera, which he purchased from the PX. I went on to get a bachelor of science degree in fine art at the University of Wisconsin with an emphasis on photography. When I returned to Washington, D.C., after college a friend put me in touch with a book packager who needed someone to “look for old photos at the Library of Congress.” I had never heard of picture research but this sounded more appealing than the house-painting I was doing at the time.
Looking back on my career, I have to mention that my success in the field and my enjoyment of the work has been dependent on the assistance I have received from many talented Library of Congress reference librarians, curators, catalogers and other specialists.
You have researched images for a number of Library of Congress publications. Can you tell us about those projects?
I was very fortunate that my first client, a book packager, had contracts with the Library of Congress Publishing Office for four multi-volume series of books. This provided me with about three years of work and was an excellent training period to learn about the Library’s vast array of materials and how to access them. The four series covered Colonial America, The American West, The U.S. Presidents and the Civil War. Over the years, I’ve conducted image research for many other Library publications such as “The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference,” “The Library of Congress Illustrated Timeline of the Civil War,” “The Library of Congress World War II Companion,” “World War II 365 Days,” and many calendars such as those in the “Women Who Dare” Series. My most recent project was image research for “Football Nation: Four Hundred Years of America’s Game.”
Can you tell us about your research process for “Football Nation”?
The process of working on “Football Nation” with author Susan Reyburn of the Library’s Publishing Office was dynamic and fun. We laughed a lot—quietly, of course–in the various reading rooms. Working from Susan’s book outline and several lengthy lists of “must-have” images and topics, together we set about to discover anything and everything relating to football in the Library’s collections. This resulted in a preliminary visual file containing no less than 4,000 images, which we later edited down to 390. As with all Library of Congress publishing projects, we tried to include as many “never before seen” materials from as many different divisions and collections as possible. We also like to use a diverse range of formats: photos, drawings, cartoons, books, maps, sheet music, etc. I’m very pleased with the book and grateful to have had another rich research adventure, in such good company.
How have developments in image technology changed the field of photographic research?
The remarkable developments in technology have changed how all research is done. Image research has evolved from fifth-generation photocopies—snail-mailed—to digital images snapped on a camera and sent immediately to smart phones. This ongoing evolution in the technology, along with researching such a variety of subjects for different clients and purposes has kept me interested and engaged in image research.