AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
WITHIN THE CONFINES OF SPECIAL COLLECTIONS in libraries, an established practice of preservation for film and video collections is largely non-existent. By comparison, the scale of resources needed to achieve meaningful programmatic efforts to preserve them is far greater than the resources libraries have assembled for traditional paper-based preservation. Management of moving image collections requires specialized knowledge and expertise. Consequently, while a mature system of preservation technology and methodology exists in libraries today to achieve the systematic preservation of books and paper-based materials, preservation programs generally have excluded the same provisions to sustain the useable life of moving image materials. With this in mind, this article seeks to articulate the current landscape of film and video preservation in libraries and examine the barriers that have hindered the development of full-fledged preservation programs for them. It is unclear whether traditional library preservation constructs can effectively inform the development of techniques and methodologies appropriate to film and video preservation. Nevertheless, it is perhaps more important, at this point in time, to stimulate and encourage fruitful discussion that will lead to such development.
A SLEEPING GIANT IN LIBRARIES
The motion picture industry, film archives, and other cultural repositories with moving image materials have been concerned and active in moving image preservation for many years. Even before 1950, it was clear that the cellulose nitrate film used for motion pictures was extremely unstable, and many films were transferred to a cellulose acetate film base to save their content. When that medium proved to be unstable as well, more transfers were conducted using polyester film. The Library of Congress, Museum of Modern Art, the George Eastman House, Universal Studios, and many other institutions and film archives have long been conscious of the fragility of film, aware of its importance as a record of human culture, and active in their efforts to preserve film collections. Analog video formats, including television broadcasting, present serious preservation problems as well as film and are held in many cultural repositories. In fact, libraries--the focus of this article--often have larger video collections than motion picture film. Here, too, efforts to preserve these materials have been ongoing for decades, albeit with a dissimilar approach to preservation than generally practiced within libraries.
The history and evolution of these efforts are recorded in the literature of the moving image profession alongside, although largely outside, the literature of the library community. The evolution of motion picture film restoration has occurred almost in tandem with a similar history of book and paper preservation in libraries. Until recently, though, there has been little crossover between these two groups about the means of preservation, even though both share common concerns about the disappearance of their valued film collections. No doubt, interesting parallels abound between the histories of the preservation efforts within these two groups, and it is likely that there are valuable opportunities to work collaboratively to rescue this medium that has so captured popular attention and so influenced cultures worldwide. Though preservation in libraries has focused more on the written word over the years, our culture has embraced moving image technology, and the importance of film and video in recording our history must be recognized. Truly, one cannot discount Ralph Sargent's statement in the documentary Keepers of the Frame (Gitsch and McLaughlin, 1999) that "there is no more thorough a document of who we are than the motion picture." Yet, collectively speaking, the unfortunate truth is that film and video materials held in most libraries nationwide have languished with limited, if any, resources dedicated to their preservation.
While the resources currently devoted to moving image preservation in libraries are clearly inadequate, it is important to dispel any idea that the field of moving image preservation is in an embryonic stage. Even though it is in its nascency in libraries, it has captured the attention of many film archivists for some time. Mann (2001) reports that
[i]n the decades spanning 1967 to 1977, moving image preservation gained a national platform for the first time. This platform was made possible through the creation of the American Film Institute (AFI).... In the first decade of its existence, the AFI played a major role in determining how moving image preservation would operate in the United States for the remainder of the twentieth century. The AFI did not accomplish this monumental task in a vacuum; changing values and priorities in the larger culture industry helped to stimulate a national moving image consciousness. (p.4)
Within the culture industry, however, libraries have been slow to address the preservation of these complex, machine-dependent formats of film and video, and it is the purpose of this article to examine the circumstances of their befuddlement and to elucidate constructively the problems inherent in fully taking on moving image preservation vis-a-vis the longstanding focus already in place in libraries to preserve book collections. This examination seeks to articulate the current landscape of preservation of moving images in libraries and archives and identify the major impediments these repositories face in developing preservation programs similar to those that exist for books and paper-based collections. When exposed and understood, these patterns of neglect and their underlying causes, in comparison to other preservation efforts, may signal a viable course of action to redress the woefully inadequate attention paid to these valuable cultural materials and permit a more promising future for these special collections.
THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE
There are practical reasons why libraries have not achieved methods of preservation for film and video collections that are comparable to those achieved in the book and paper area. One major obstacle has been the lack of an infrastructure to manage ongoing preservation efforts for these media. Banks (2000) recognized that, "[t]he imperative of frequent active intervention" for moving image collections "place managerial and economic demands on libraries and archives that are quite without precedent, and whose dimensions are only beginning to be realized" (p. 324). More recently, Gracy and Cloonan (in press) acknowledge the same in a forthcoming publication meant to serve as a "sort of moving image …