Pictorial Finds Uncovered While Converting a Card Catalog

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.

Caption cards used to create new catalog records. Photo Lara Szypszak, July 2017.

Caption cards in card file used to create new catalog records. Photo Lara Szypszak, July 2017.

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.

George Armstrong Custer, reclining in buckskinhunting outfit with rifle, Grand Duke Alexis seated beside him holding puppy. Photo by Scholten, 1872. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a42626

George Armstrong Custer, reclining in buckskin hunting outfit with rifle, Grand Duke Alexis seated beside him holding puppy. Photo by Scholten, 1872. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a42626

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!

Frances Benjamin Johnston at picnic table in Yellowstone National Park. Photo, 1903. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a41657

Frances Benjamin Johnston at picnic table in Yellowstone National Park. Photo, 1903. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a41657

Tourists [F.B.J., front seated, with friends?] posed on camel. Photo, 1901. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a36292

Tourists [F.B.J., front seated, with friends?] posed on camel. Photo, 1901. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a36292

Other photographs, such as the ones below, simply tickled our fancy or left us in awe!

Animal locomotion. Sloth., Photo by Eadweard Muybridge, 1887. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a36572

Animal locomotion. Sloth. Photo by Eadweard Muybridge, 1887. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a36572

Three men walking on pack ice; Arctic Expedition, 1908-12. Photo copyrighted by Northern Ventures Ltd, 1913. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a33608

Three men walking on pack ice; Arctic Expedition, 1908-12. Photo copyrighted by Northern Ventures Ltd, 1913. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a33608

Witches cauldron and Devil's pulpit. Photo by Andrew Price, between 1880 and 1889. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a38337

Witches cauldron and Devil’s pulpit. Photo by Andrew Price, between 1880 and 1889. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a38337

Manhattan Bridge construction: cameraman on footpath. Photo by Bain News Service, 1909. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a35110

Manhattan Bridge construction: cameraman on footpath. Photo by Bain News Service, 1909. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a35110

Pan-Am Expo., Buffalo - On the Midway. Photo by C.D. Arnold, 1901. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a30687

Pan-Am Expo., Buffalo – On the Midway. Photo by C.D. Arnold, 1901. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a30687

As the project continues to progress, we are sure more pictorial gems will make their way to light.

Typing class at Business High School, Wash. D.C. Photo by Francis Benjamin Johnston, ca. 1900. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a40862

Typing class at Business High School, Wash. D.C. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, ca. 1900. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a40862

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8 Comments

  1. Frances Ewing
    July 27, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    You have misspelled Frances Benjamin Johnston’s name twice in the above photos. “Francis” is male. “Frances” is female.

  2. Janet
    July 27, 2017 at 11:13 pm

    Love this blog posting! I work in a public library and follow this blog.

  3. Janet
    July 27, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    Love this blog! I work in a public library and read all the postings.

    Thank you!

  4. Lara Szypszak
    July 28, 2017 at 8:32 am

    Thanks for pointing out the misspelling of Frances’s name—we were so taken with seeing her in action that we missed that detail. We corrected the spelling.

  5. SB
    July 28, 2017 at 9:58 am

    Are the sloth photos supposed to be upside down and backwards?

  6. Michelle
    July 28, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Thanks for this great article. But I do have a question. Why when I enter the title of the photo “street chasm after san francisco earthquake” in the search box at the top of this page does the photo not appear in the search results?

    Yet when I enter the same search term in the PPOC search box, I can find it.

    What is the difference between the two catalogs? And why so few subject headings in the MARC record?

    I’m just a local history librarian trying to figure all of this out!

    Thanks.

  7. Lara Szypszak
    July 28, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Thanks for pointing this out. We looked at the original album, and you’re exactly right, indeed we’ve got the sloth upside down! We’ll look to address this in the record.

  8. Lara Szypszak
    August 1, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Good eye! Due to the way our catalog records are created and updated, they first appear in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, and are then collected and transferred into the overall Library of Congress catalog. This process can take a bit of time, and the San Francisco photo may be in the in-between stages. The Library of Congress catalog, accessed on the Library of Congress homepage contains materials from throughout the Library, while the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog reflects the holdings of the Prints and Photographs Division.

    As this particular project is essentially the conversion of caption cards to brief records, the addition of subject headings is outside the scope of the work. We always hope to improve and expand our records as staff time and resources permit.

    Thanks for your comment!

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