The following is a joint post by Lara Szypszak and Julie Stoner, Reference Technicians, Prints and Photographs Division.
There are many ways to run across fantastic images in Prints and Photographs Division holdings, often in the course of carrying out day-to-day tasks.
When digital technology came along in the 1990s, the Prints and Photographs Division digitized its collection of some 90,000 copy negatives, which represented items researchers had purchased copies of over the course of many years. Expecting that images that researchers wanted to reproduce would be of interest to others, we scanned these as a collection of “best hits” of sorts. The digital images aided access and reproduction but, alas, there was no magic solution to converting into an online search tool the corresponding 90,000 caption cards that provide access in our reading room. Instead, the division used “digital display records” to put the images online, to make them searchable by their reproduction number, and to lead researchers back to the reading room card indexes that describe the images.
For several years now, staff have been working to improve access by keying in the old caption cards, such as the one above, to make searchable records. When we joined the reference staff in 2015, we began working on this retrospective conversion project. Below, you can see an example of a digital display record and the catalog record that we created to make the image more findable.
As we have gone through the individual images over the years, we have come across many photos that stood out for being of historical significance such as the image of General George Custer and Grand Duke Alexis below.
We also noticed Frances Benjamin Johnston popped up in the project; from picnicking to camel riding, she certainly got around, and didn’t mind being photographed, herself!
Other photographs, such as the ones below, simply tickled our fancy or left us in awe!
As the project continues to progress, we are sure more pictorial gems will make their way to light.
- Read more about more ways that the Prints and Photographs Division utilizes card catalogs in the blog post “Flipping through the Card Catalog.”
- In addition to photographs of Frances Benjamin Johnston, the division holds many photographic prints and negatives by her – have a look at a sampling and learn more about her career.
- Beyond the sloth, Eadward Muybridge recorded a wide array of humans and animals in motion. Read about his pioneering efforts in an earlier blog post and view a variety of the images.