Historic Photographs Are Not Just For Viewing

Asahel Curtis photo of the University of Washington campus in 1912 / Source: UW Special Collections, Asahel Curtis Collection (CUR934)

We all enjoy looking at historic photographs. One of the best repositories for historic images in Puget Sound and the state is the University of Washington Special Collections. Starting January 20, 2012, that’s all we’ll be able to do, look at the photographs. According to the UW Special Collections website,

“As of January 20, 2012, due to the closure of the Classroom Support Services Photography lab, we will temporarily be unable to provide photographic prints or digital scans. We are actively exploring alternative services. Photocopy services are not affected by this change. We apologize for this inconvenience. Please email us at speccoll@uw.edu with questions. Thank you.”

We are all aware that tough economic times and budget cuts have affected and continue to affect all sectors—public, private and nonprofit. But for a major public educational institution with one of the best libraries and archives in the country to not provide photographic prints or digital scans for users is mind-boggling. Photographic prints and high resolution digital scans have not been offered free of charge in the past. There has always been a fee charged by the photo lab which is understandable because it costs money to run a photo lab, which is essentially a business. Researchers know the value of the materials and know they usually have to pay to access them for use in their projects and publications.

What is the point of building a collection of photographs and providing public access to them if all we can do is just look at the photographs? This will negatively affect a wide range of users including scholars, researchers, students, museums, historical societies, historians, preservation consultants, writers and developers among others. Moving forward, why would potential donors—individuals, organizations and corporations consider donating their materials to the UW if these materials cannot be reproduced?

The message posted on the Special Collections website says the photo lab is temporarily closed. How temporary is temporary? What efforts are being made to re-open the photo lab? Is there another business model that will work?

If you are scratching your heads over this decision and care about UW Special Collections, then we encourage you to contact the University, voice your views on the matter, and describe how you may be affected by this change. You may email your message to the following individuals:

Lizabeth (Betsy) Wilson
Dean of University Libraries, Libraries Administration
betsyw@u.washington.edu

Joyce Agee
Associate Director of Development, Libraries Administration
Office of the Dean
ageejoy@u.washington.edu

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8 Responses to “Historic Photographs Are Not Just For Viewing”


  1. 1 yavimaya January 13, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    I interned for the Seattle PI (when it was still around as a legit paper) for a year and half. During that time in 2007 we did a centennial piece on Seattle History and I got to go into the archives to find historical information. It was INCREDIBLE how many historical photos (in many cases from the early 1890’s) there are down there that haven’t even really been released to the public. Not through secrecy, but through a lack of organization. I think we should all be able to view these photos of our city – thank god at least for MOHAI

  2. 2 Paul Constantine January 13, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks to all who have expressed concern about the impact of the closure of the CSS Photo Lab on users of Special Collections. I am writing to let you know that as of January 20, 2012, Special Collections will be working with a new service provider for digital scans of our materials. While this digitization service will continue without interruption, I ask your patience as we work out new workflows and procedures.

    Thank you for sharing your concern and for your support of excellence in the UW Libraries. I hope that you will continue to make use of Special Collections.

    –Paul Constantine

  3. 3 Christina PIKA Burtner January 13, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Nancy Hines and Christina Burtner are the two photographers at CSS Photography who have been fulfilling all of Special Collection’s reproduction orders for the past 2 decades. They have worked in tandem with Special Collections on the Operations Level working with their clients everyone from REI to MOHAI to The Smithsonian to thousands of organizations, non-profits, corporations, individuals… offering them support and high-quality scans and prints with professional quality, reliability and promptness. Their last day is March 2, 2012.

    Classroom Support Services was subsidizing this crucial photo reproduction service for The Library. During these tough economic times and deep budget cuts, CSS was forced to realign their budget with their own Unit (Undergraduate Academic Affairs) which mission is supporting classrooms and the students. Since the Library was 95% of what CSS Photography was servicing, CSS decided that it made sense to transfer the equipment (reflective and transparency scanners, cameras, lighting, iMacs) AND space (darkroom with 3 enlarges and COLEX print processor, processing room, studio, digital lab) to the Library, and in turn, the Library would have to hire either Nancy or Christina to help to transition the Libraries into performing their owns reproduction services in-house. Which the Library declined.

    The decision from the Libraries is surprising. To seize this rare opportunity to generate BOTH revenues from Permission Fees AND Reproduction Fees, while acquiring valuable equipment, space and the experienced staff to run it does not come along every day. In fact it never comes along, and never will again.

    I truly wished the Libraries involved either Nancy or I directly in their discussions about the fate of the photo lab. We would have tried to help in any way humanly possible. I know that I would have worked half time so that the Library could even MAKE a profit on their services. As March 2nd quickly arrives, I hope that the Library can put the pieces together in a way that makes sense, sees what they’ve had working seamlessly for so many years and make it their own.

    On a personal note, it is my sincere hope that The Libraries finds a way to keep their unique, one-of-a-kind Special Collections accessible for reproduction. It’s a public collection really, it’s apart of UW and the NW heritage. It truly is worth keeping it intact. It is a vital resource that many people in the UW and around the world have relied and depended upon for content in their research, marketing efforts, exhibitions, commercial use and personal history. I enjoyed being apart of that history, hearing about client’s projects and seeing my efforts realized in printed books and magazines, exhibits on display in museums, on cards and calendars, and knowing that I was apart of something rare, exciting and wonderful.

  4. 4 Paul Constantine January 12, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    We in Special Collections and the rest of the University Libraries share your concern about the impending closure of Classroom Support Services’s photo lab. We are actively exploring alternatives and hope to be able to announce a comparable service very soon.

    I would like to clarify that while the Classroom Support Service Photography Lab has served as our reproduction services provider for many years, it is NOT part of the University Libraries but is rather a component of Classroom Support Services, a separate unit.

    Thank you for sharing your concern about this evolving situation and your interest in maintaining the excellence of the UW Libraries.

    ————————————————
    Paul Constantine
    Associate Dean of University Libraries
    Director of Special Collections
    University of Washington Libraries
    Box 352900
    Seattle, WA 98195

    pjc6@uw.edu

  5. 5 KML January 12, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I did notice recently, however, that UW Special Collections now allows ANY user to bring in their own camera and take pictures. I am not sure how long this has been true, but previously, as far as I know, one had to be a UW student to be allowed to take photos of materials at Special Collections. My suspicion now is that this change may have occurred, with the realization that photographic services were going to be cut. Does anyone know if this is the case?

  6. 6 djpainter January 12, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    Another spin-off of this closure that people often do not consider is that the development of historic surveys (which utilize historic photographs) is necessary – by law – to support the re-development of historic buildings and structures. These reports need to be of a high professional quality to meet regulations and to be defensible under environmental laws. An excuse that the archive was closed or the photographic service was not available due to lack of funding does not enter into the picture. Re-development is a positive economic driver, creating jobs in many sectors and investment in the built environment. An archive is not just a place where records are stored and photographic services are not just a nice-to-have, expendible service.

    It seems to me that this is a very logical service to be out-sourced, if the University cannot manage it in house. But closure is short-sighted on many levels.

  7. 7 dotty January 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    So we’re leaving it to the pirates? They are all over the web — photos from old books and photographic collections that have been rephotographed and put on line. (One hopes they didn’t actually steal the books from the libraries.) We need to be sure that the U.W. doesn’t prosecute — if they can’t do the service, then they have to let others do it. -DD


  1. 1 Digital Scans Continue to Be Available from UW Special Collections « Main2 Trackback on January 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm

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