Mug Shot Archives: Library Unearths Criminal History

Roger Christman, a senior archivist with the Library of Virginia, has taken an interest in preserving more than 40,000 images of Virginia prisoners taken between 1934 and 1961. These images on acetate negatives had been crammed in storage boxes where moisture and close proximity caused them to deteriorate. Christman holds out a small box that exudes a strong smell of vinegar, “a sure sign” of decay.

Since 2004, Christman has been carefully placing the negatives in individual sleeves and selecting the most endangered negatives for preservation. They’re sent to Northeast Documentation Conservation Center, a nonprofit that, for $19 apiece, makes new, long-lasting negatives and prints of each mug shot.