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Kismet – Making Connections through Pictures

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Recently I had one of those days when Prints & Photographs Division collections intersected with my personal life.  I came home to an exclamation from my daughter, who was trolling the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog for a school assignment: “Mom, the Office of War Information photographed my high school during World War II!”

Mrs. Rustan combing her young son's hair. Rustan brothers' farm, Dickens, Iowa
Mrs. Rustan combing her young son’s hair, Rustan brothers’ farm, Dickens, Iowa. Photo by Russell Lee, 1936 Dec.

The Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection has long spurred these kinds of personal discoveries, because the photographers captured so many aspects of everyday American life during the 1930s and 1940s.  The photographers took many compelling photos showing the impact of the Depression and World War II.   In the process, the photographers also documented life in the classroom and out on the street, activities in  kitchens and living rooms and, yes, even bathrooms, as well as how people shopped and what a night out on the town might consist of in communities across the United States.

Seeing the pictures on the Web through the online catalog and our Flickr account has helped people make even more connections to their family and local histories.  In one memorable instance, Flickr members recognized first the town, then the street corner, and finally the shop shown in a photo that we originally only knew was probably taken “somewhere in Massachusetts.”  When the daughter of the owner weighed in, we all got a fuller appreciation of the Sylvia Sweets Tea Room and its role in the community of Brockton, Massachusetts. [View the picture and comments in Flickr]

Sylvia Sweets Tea Room, corner of School and Main streets, Brockton, Mass.
Sylvia Sweets Tea Room, corner of School and Main streets, Brockton, Mass. Photo by Jack Delano, 1940 or 1941.

Although you may not find a long lost relative or your alma mater in our collections, pictures do help make connections to other people and to many aspects of experience on the local, national, and global level.  And in viewing them, you may help us find out something we didn’t know about the people, places, events, and objects depicted.

Prints & Photographs Division staff will be at the National Book Festival this weekend, where one of the themes in the Library of Congress Pavilion will be making just these kinds of connections: using library tools to research your own history.  If you have a chance to stop by, we’d love to see you!

Library tent at the FSA (Farm Security Administration) mobile camp for migratory farm workers. Odell, Oregon.
Library tent at the FSA (Farm Security Administration) mobile camp for migratory farm workers. Odell, Oregon. Photo by Russell Lee, 1941 Sept.


Learn more (or help us learn more!):

  • For more examples of connections and corrections people have made through Flickr, see our Flickr “Thank You” set.
  • If you have more information about a picture you see in PPOC, feel free to send us a note through Ask a Librarian


  1. Used your site for historical research on the nitrate plant built in 1918 located at Muscle Schoals AL. Photo’s and documents were above the best.

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