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New Doors Open for the HABS/HAER/HALS Collection

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Thanks to a recent initiative by Library of Congress and National Park Service staff, the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog has grown by nearly 400,000 records. Through a bit of technical wizardry, there is now a record for each digital image in one of our cornerstone collections: the Historic American Buildings Survey/ Historic American Engineering Record / Historic American Landscapes Survey. (HABS/HAER/HALS for short!)  You can now search for a subject such as “lighthouses,” and images from multiple surveys can appear next to each other.

Before we explain this leap forward, it might help to share a little background. As the only ongoing project from the New Deal initiatives of the 1930s, HABS/HAER/HALS contains around 40,000 surveys of historic houses, bridges, parkways, steel mills, monuments, gardens, and other sites and structures. Field teams conduct these surveys for the National Park Service, which sends the documentation to the Library of Congress to provide access and preservation.

At this writing, the surveys offer nearly 400,000 digital items: color and black-and-white photographs, measured drawings, and data pages. Until the recent changes, those digital items were nested inside each survey record in the catalog. Now, each digital item has its own individual record, exposing it to searches as never before. The HABS/HAER/HALS images can now also be viewed with all the visual browsing tools in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog –galleries, slide shows, and more.

To see how things have changed, take a look at the search results for Kenworthy Hall, a 19th century plantation home in Alabama, designed by Richard Upjohn and built in the years leading up to the Civil War.

The first result is the survey record, which gathers all the contents of the survey in one place. A search for Kenworthy Hall last week would have netted this result only, requiring the researcher to open the survey record to locate digital images. Today, the same search yields 116 additional images directly, one for each photograph and measured drawing.

Kenworthy Hall, Marion, Perry County, AL (sheet 13 of 17).
Kenworthy Hall, Marion, Perry County, AL (sheet 13 of 17).

The ability to browse the digital images from the survey record still exists as well. Within the survey record, the 116 items are gathered into their respective categories on the left hand side: photos, drawings, and various data pages.

More highlights to be found in each survey record:

  • Data pages, photo captions, and supplemental material are available as compact PDF files for download or printing
  • More subject headings, which help locate similar items. Examples: Greek Revival architectural elements and gable roofs.
  • Latitude and longitude coordinates
  • All of the names of people connected to the structure, or to the field team who created the survey materials

Even better—you’ll come across HABS/HAER/HALS images more easily, whatever topic you’re pursuing among the Library’s collections. A search for “sod houses” can show how that works.

Whether HABS/HAER/HALS is an old friend or a new one, it’s a good day to visit the collection and explore!

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