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August 9, 2005

Library of Congress Receives $40,000 Grant from Mellon Foundation for Photo Conservation Study

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $40,000 grant to the Library of Congress Preservation Directorate to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the Library’s photograph collections, create and evaluate a database structure to use as an assessment tool related to the conservation of those collections, and recommend actions to address the needs identified in the survey.

A comprehensive survey of the Library’s approximately 14 million photographs will allow photo conservators to plan and conduct photo preservation activities more effectively and efficiently than has been possible in the past because of limited staff and resources and will provide a model that can be used to survey other photograph collections in large research institutions. The project is expected to take 15 months.

"The Library’s Preservation Directorate historically has provided useful models of textual conservation for research libraries in the United States and around the world. We are grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for enabling us to undertake a new and much needed overall assessment of the preservation needs of our very large photograph collections," said Associate Librarian for Library Services Deanna Marcum.

A 2003 photograph survey project conducted at Harvard University and also funded by the Mellon Foundation informed the Library’s project proposal. Photograph conservator Paul Messier, one of the principal investigators of the Harvard survey, has agreed to participate in the Library’s project. Jan Merrill-Oldham, director of the Weissman Preservation Center at Harvard University Libraries, has expressed her interest in collaborating on this project so that the Harvard survey methodology can be tested in another institutional setting. It is hoped that the Library’s project can add to and improve the Harvard model for use by custodians of other large photograph collections.

Several recent initiatives have converged at the Library to make this an opportune time to undertake an overall assessment of the particular needs of its photograph collections. In the past three years the Conservation Division has begun two projects supported by Congress: one involves the stabilization treatment and rehousing of large collections and another is devoted to the preparation of collections for transfer to a new storage facility. These projects have demonstrated the need to conduct an overall survey of photograph collections at the Library of Congress.

The photograph collections at the Library of Congress contain both fine art photography and visual documentation of politics, society and daily life in the United States as well as around the world. Photographs have been part of the Library’s collections since the early 1850s. Today the Prints and Photographs Division holds approximately 12.5 million photographs, ranging from the earliest days of photography in 1839 to contemporary color art works.

Transfers from the Copyright Office (incorporated as a part of the Library of Congress in 1870) and from various federal agencies over the years form the core 19th century holdings of the Prints and Photographs Division. Since the early 20th century, the division has also actively acquired collections by photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Mathew Brady, Clarence White, Gertrude Kasebier, F. Holland Day and Toni Frissell. The division also holds documentary collections, including the pictorial archives of early American architecture, the National Child Labor Committee (photographs taken by Lewis Hine), the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information. Very large archives have been received from Look magazine, the studio of designers Charles and Ray Eames, the New York World-Telegram and Sun newspaper and U.S. News & World Report .

The Prints and Photographs Division continues to acquire photography; recent significant acquisitions include the Minichiello Collection (including contemporary color photography) and documentary photographs of the events of 9/11.

Five other custodial divisions in the Library also hold photographs that will be included in the survey—the Manuscript; Rare Book and Special Collections; Music; and Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound divisions; and the American Folklife Center.

The Library of Congress has been a leader in the field of preservation for many years. In 1971 it was the first library in the United States to establish a conservation department staffed by professional conservators. Currently the Library’s Conservation Division is one of the largest in the nation with more than 30 professional conservators, including four photograph conservators. The division has an extensive history of contributions to publications in the preservation field and has served as an internship site for many conservation graduate students. More information about the Library’s preservation activities can be found on its Web site at www.loc.gov/preserv.

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PR 05-158
08/09/05
ISSN 0731-3527

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