Over the course of the century in which the Prints & Photographs Division has existed, a variety of methods have been developed to provide access to its diverse holdings.
Among the oldest—and still used—forms of access to the collections is through file cabinets containing a mixture of original and copy images that provide direct access to materials. Reading room files that may prove most useful for women's history topics are listed here:
Materials that cannot be accessed directly in reading room files are kept in storage areas and can be located by consulting catalogs, indexes, and finding aids. Some images are described in groups, based on their related provenance, subject matter, or format; other images are cataloged individually. Major tools include the following (for links to the online tools, see the "For Further Information" section of this page):
Unless otherwise noted, references to the "online catalog" in this guide refer to PPOC and links qualified by "(catalog record)", "(summary and search)" and "(search results)" take you to PPOC displays.
Catalog records for groups of images sometimes lead researchers to finding aids—either printed lists, card indexes or, occasionally, electronic finding aids—that provide greater detail about the contents of the group.
Prints & Photographs Division staff have prepared a variety of reference aids that are intended to assist users in navigating the division's collections and finding tools and, in some cases, to offer a selection of images on frequently requested topics.
Given the growing availability of digital collections, researchers are often able to conduct their research on their own and without visiting the reading room. But the majority of the holdings have not been digitized; access to them is through tools such as those mentioned above. Researchers are encouraged to consult with reference staff regarding their topics and the best means for pursuing them.
Research help is available by telephone and the Library's Ask a Librarian service, as well as on site in the reading room. Staff will be able to explain the relationships among collections and tools for accessing them and are familiar with where good coverage of various subjects have been located previously. Reference staff and curators specialize in different areas of the collections and can frequently offer background information on particular collections in their areas, as well as leads on fruitful avenues for research. If you have a question, please do not hesitate to ask.