Researching the Photograph Collection

Staff of the Rare Books and Manuscripts division recently finished re-processing its Photograph Collection and updated guide. The 93 box collection includes images from all 92 counties and is organized alphabetically by location or subject. The Photograph Collection was originally located in the old Manuscripts Reading Room. The natural light and fluctuating temperatures in the room were harmful to the photographs necessitating its move to the library’s temperature and climate controlled vault.
Picture Collection - Mss Boxes aerial view - with caption_edit

Since most of the library’s photographs are not cataloged, researching them can be a little tricky. The general Photograph Collection contains the bulk of the library’s photographs, but we also have specific photograph collections that include a name and call number. Most of these smaller photograph collections include a finding aid (or guide) that provides more specific information. Rare Books and Manuscripts finding aids are all located on the library’s Finding Aid Index page. Staff and patrons still rely on the Photograph Index cards for locating specific information about a particular image.

Picture Index_edit

The Photograph Index cards contain information about individual images found in both the library’s picture collections and in our printed material (i.e. books, pamphlets, etc.). The cards contain information that helps librarians retrieve the item. For images identified in the Photograph Index, the card will contain a location (Benton County) or subject term (Churches). The Photograph Collection also includes many portraits, which are organized by the subject term Portraits and then alphabetically by the individual’s last name. For images located in printed material, the card will contain the call number, title, and page number for the image.

Picture Index - card file example

Moving forward, ISL plans to digitize portions of the Photograph Collection, as well as some specific photograph collections, to upload into Indiana Memory. During the processing of the Photograph Collection, staff identified certain aspects of the collection to be digitized in the future. Stay tuned for updates regarding when these collections are available through Indiana Memory.

This blog post was written by Brent Abercrombie, Rare Books & Manuscripts Librarian, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at (317)232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian” at