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 Francis 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 Francis Benjamin Johnston, ca. 1900. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a40862

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