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Digital Special Collections of the American Museum of Natural History’s Research Library provides access to our rich collections of digitized archival photographic images, art and memorabilia images and Rare Book Collection illustrations.

Image Collection

What began as a pilot project of 1,000 images is a long term effort to create comprehensive access to the rich and varied collections of photographs, rare book illustrations, art and memorabilia held in the Library. Images are being scanned and cataloged by teams of staff, interns, and volunteers and new images are added as they become available.

Digital Special Collections allows the Library to curate and describe items through format, provenance, photographer or subject such as exhibition or expedition. Online access provides a wide range of virtual visitors to see these images and helps to preserve the originals via reduced handling.

We have cataloged the images using the data available to us from each item’s original accession into the Museum Library, additional information from Museum departments, research conducted at the Library, and numerous related resources. Images are described using accepted standards such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings and the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names, as well as local Museum vocabularies. Data is entered into modified Dublin Core fields in an Omeka database. To maintain historical integrity, we retain legacy information about the images through data fields such as original caption, but include modern terms to ensure discovery through newly generated titles. For full documentation of metadata specifications, cataloging procedures, data definitions, and standards used, please refer to our Image Database Cataloging Procedures & Style Guide.


The goal of our digitization procedure is to create high quality surrogates that remain true to their physical negatives or prints and need minimal manipulation in post. Our digitization strategy addresses our large collection of black and white negatives (film and glass plate) as well as color transparencies and slides. Original negatives are scanned, whenever possible, to create archival masters from which access derivatives are created. If a negative is unavailable, its photographic print is scanned instead.

A flatbed scanner is used for digitizing all formats including both reflective and transmissive items. Once scanned, images go through a systematic workflow from review to processing to final export onto the storage server and ingest into the database.

For a detailed explanation of our methods and scanning standards, please view the Image Digitization: Workflow and Documentation for this project.