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 [email protected] 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
[email protected]

Joyce Agee
Associate Director of Development, Libraries Administration
Office of the Dean
[email protected]