23    Aug 20090 comments

Library of Congress: Much more than photographs

The Library of Congress, in Washington DC, is a major resource for many research projects.

I subscribe to its frequent updates and receive many peeks at what's new online.

While the LOC's historical photos are excellent, there is certainly much more. But if photos are what you need, it's a great place to start. Click here and search by names, towns, occupations and other keywords.

1860 YoshiikuAnd it isn't only for American resources.

Are you researching a Japanese ancestor who may have been a famed artist? The Prints and Photographs Division offers more than 2,500 online digitized Japanese woodblock prints and drawings (late 17th-20th centuries) by such artists as Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi, Sadahide, and Yoshiiku. Although they've been online for some time, searching was a problem because of the lack of descriptions. Now all the images have Japanese and English titles and subjects, making searching and identification much easier.

According to the catalog description, the illustration (left) is an 1860 print by artist Ochiai, Yoshiiku (1833-1904). It shows a flute-playing Russian woman and an Englishman holding a rifle. It Includes Japanese translations of English words such as kome/raisu (rice), mugi/beruri (barley), cha/chi (tea).

As for the entire print and photo collection, it currently numbers more than 14 million images, including photographs, fine and popular prints and drawings, posters, and architectural and engineering drawings. While international in scope, the collections are particularly rich in materials produced in, or documenting the history of, the United States and the lives, interests and achievements of the American people. And, of course, since America is a nation of immigrants from around the world, there are global connections in its resources.

The LOC is also using technology to enlist the help of online participants. In January 2008, it launched a pilot project on Flickr, the popular photosharing Web site. The public was invited to tag and describe two sets of approximately 3,000 historic photos.

This project was welcomed in a big way. In the first 24 hours after the launch, 1.1 million views were recorded on the project and 3.6 million views a week later. In March 2008, LOC began loading an additional 50 photos each Friday. As of October 2008, LOC Flickr photos average a half-million views per month and since the project began, there have been 10 million-plus views. The LOC blog reported in May 2009 that viewers can find more than 1.2 million pictures in the digitized collections in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog at the Library of Congress website.

What else can a researcher find at the LOC? Acording to more than 20 updates I've already received just in August (and the month isn't over yet!), here are some of the subjects: Historic Newspapers, additions to "Chronicling America," longevity of digital documents, "100 years ago" features (tennis for young girls and other topics), lectures, staff appointments, the August 2009 Digital Preservation Newsletter and more. Other alerts feature videos and webcasts.

A "Chronicling America" alert offered a press conference video about a milestone in the partnership between LOC and the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize historic U.S. newspapers and make them available online to the public. The Chronicling America website is a free, national, searchable database of historic American newspaper pages published 1880-1922; it recently posted its millionth page.

Under the fascinating header, "Cataloging for Gold," there's a description of the LOC Junior Fellows internship program, where 47 college students have spent 10 weeks digging through various collections. The students presented their work found while researching, inventorying and cataloging collections to make them easier to use by the general public.

What did they find?

- An ad for a patent medicine that figured in an 1898 murder case.

A second-year master's candidate in Library Information Science at Syracuse University who worked with Copyright Office materials, described how Kutnow's Effervescent Powder figured in a murder case. A killer laced the nostrum with poison; today's display featured a newspaper ad for the medicine - that offered free samples!

- A first edition in Russian of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "The Possessed."

A junior majoring in History at Wesleyan University in the fall, used the Library's "Chronicling America" collection of U.S. newspapers to research U.S. angles on the Dreyfus Affair, an infamous French anti-Semitism case that drew the famous phrase "J'Accuse!" from writer and journalist Emile Zola.

- Small Brazilian books of populist poetry in Portuguese commemorating diverse topics.

Lest you think all these newly-exposed nuggets are still yellow with age, consider this: that collection of Brazilian folk poetry (literatura de cordel) continues to grow. Fellow Amy Jankowski, a master's candidate in Library Science at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, noted that one of the freshest items in it is an ode to pop singer Michael Jackson - written, and placed in the collections, since his death.

Go to the online catalog and do some experimenting. There's no telling what you might find. Have you found something unusual or useful for your own research? If so, tell us about it.

Search for your ancestors:

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