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Use of the Prints & Photographs Reading Room by Children

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 20540-4730

Children as Researchers

The Library of Congress does not, in general, allow children under the age of 16 to use the Library's collections. Public notice of this policy is given on the Library's web site (

Anyone over the age of fifteen with appropriate photo-identification may apply for a Reader Identification card; a written introduction is not required. High school students who are fifteen or younger will be allowed to use the Library if they meet all three of the following conditions:

  • They have exhausted all local school, public, and university library resources and have identified specific materials available only at the Library of Congress. This can be determined by consulting a local librarian, and searching the Library of Congress Web Site and Catalog (
  • They have a letter from their principal describing in detail their project and the specific materials they need to use. However, having a principal's letter does not guarantee the student access to the Library.
  • They are interviewed by a reference librarian, who makes the final determination as to whether or not the student's project requires use of the Library's collections.

In virtually all cases, high school projects can be completed using local libraries or interlibrary loan; the Library of Congress encourages high school students to use these resources in their research.

Students with the above cited letter from their principal will be interviewed by a reference librarian who will determine if the student needs to use the collections, and, if so, how he/she can be best served. If the librarian decides that use of the Reading Room is warranted, he/she will complete a form entitled "High School Student Reading Room Authorization" (form 1657). The student will take the form to the Reader Registration Center where he/she will receive a User Card which is valid only for the dates the librarian noted on the form. The student will then return to P&P to do his/her research.

The information on the LC web site does not address the question of research by children younger than high school age. P&P will treat such children the same as does those of high school age.

Children Accompanying Adult Researchers

The Library does not have a uniform policy on whether children may accompany adult researchers as they conduct their research, allowing practices to vary from reading room to reading room according to the needs of the given reading room.

The Prints & Photographs Reading Room is the only Reading Room in the Library which houses original materials in file cabinets on the reading room floor. Patrons entering the room have direct access to all material in the room, including the many originals stored in the file cabinets. This immediate access is a great boon to researchers but does require the Division to be especially mindful of the preservation and security needs of the material in these files. Our experience has shown that it is not reasonable to expect children to use P&P collections with the necessary care. Even a napping child can awaken quickly and inadvertently damage material in his/her reach. In addition to these concerns about the preservation of our collections, we are also concerned about the children's safety, as our furnishings are not designed for their use. In general, therefore, children will not be allowed to accompany adults as they actually conduct their research in this Division.

We understand that this may impose hardships on some parents, and we restrict access by children only as a measure of protecting our valuable original collections. Children are welcome to the visit the Library's public facilities (such as the cafeteria or slide show) while their parents are using this reading room, or wait quietly in the Reading Room entry.

Prepared by: Prints and Photographs Division, last revised April, 2008.

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  April 24, 2008
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