Ask A Librarian

Who Uses the Photo Collection?

Posted by Admin.
August 29th, 2022

Written by Lemley Mullett

As part of my job as photographs manager, I field research questions and fulfill orders for high resolution copies of photographs in our collection. The most common request is from authors and publishers securing photographs for their books, but the WVRHC actually serves a much broader audience. Here are a few categories of requests that I receive on a monthly basis!


Sepia toned photo of a house with a covered porch and a barn style roof sitting a top a hill.
“Home located at corner of Hoffman Avenue and Morgan Street, Morgantown, W. Va.”

This photo was previously listed on the site as standing at Putnam Street and Highland Avenue, but this was incorrect information as the two roads do not intersect. A patron— the current owner and resident of this home— contacted us with the correction after discovering the photo online.

The patron also generously provided a photo of the house as it stands today (2022). You can see the clothesline, on the left, is still in use!

A different angle of that same house, in color. The bottom level is a cream and the top shingles are painted burgundy. There are flowers and plants planted in the back yard.

Ghost hunters

A surprising number of ghost hunters and storytellers purchase copies in the course of their research, whether to spruce up their podcast thumbnails or to publish in newspaper articles. I’ve also had ghost hunters once purchase a photo to give their psychic a source to pore over in search of clues. The belief that photographs can “capture one’s soul” remains popular in occult study circles!

Black and white image of a man in a suit and hat standing in front of a building with a large steeple and a clock in the tower.
“West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, Lewis County, W. Va.”

Miniature Model Makers

Some of my favorite photo requests come from folks in the miniatures hobby. Attention to detail can be paramount in recreating props and machinery, and some hobbyists will go to great lengths to get accurate references— and what better to use as a reference than an actual photo?

Trains are a popular subject in this category, as their makeup is quite complicated.

a close up picture of a train engine in black and white
“Shay No. 4, Cass Scenic Railroad”


As mentioned, the largest percentage of photo requests come from authors and researchers hoping to illustrate their papers and books with photographs. That doesn’t mean their requests are always cut-and-dry, though; some authors need assistance finding appropriate photos for their subject matter, leading to a treasure hunt on my part for good images.

One author recently asked me to help them locate the origin of this photo:

A grainy photo of a nondescript dirt road in front of several buildings

…as they had taken a phone pic of it a few years prior but lost the information about where it came from. I was able to locate it as being part of this photograph:

The same street in a more clear photo, you can see hills and trees in the background and a partial view of a large sign on the right of the image reading "STA-"
“Street Scene in Weston, W. Va.”

…which the patron promptly purchased!

These examples are not exhaustive, but they represent the variety of requests the WVRHC fields when it comes to photographs. The breadth of populations we serve keeps every day interesting!