This blog entry is my contribution to The Film Preservation Blogathon (which runs from Feb 14th – 21st, 2010) co-hosted by Self-Styled Siren and Ferdy on Films. The main purpose of this event is to help raise awareness and donations to fund the efforts of The National Film Preservation Foundation, an independent, nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America’s film heritage. They work directly with archives to rescue endangered films that will not survive without public support. To donate to the Foundation, please click here.
The NFPF will give away 4 DVD sets as thank-you gifts to blogathon donors chosen in a random drawing: Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934 and Treasures IV: American Avant Garde Film, 1947-1986.
As a librarian, I have great admiration for preservationists. As a film buff, I have even greater admiration for film preservationists, who unfortunately tend to be under-appreciated outside of the field. Preservation is a bit like washing dishes after a feast – nobody wants to think about it when we’re having so much fun cooking and eating. The chef gets all the glory. The waitstaff and the bartender get the the tips. The guests have all the fun. The preservationist, or the dishwasher in this analogy, is hidden away in the back, getting his hands dirty… Someone has to deal with the mess.
Preservation of information should be an important issue in librarianship, but there is a tendency to avoid it. Let’s just leave it to the specialists, we like to think. But, so much information to preserve, so few specialists. It obviously requires a collective effort to achieve any kind of success. So, what can academic libraries do? Specifically, what can academic libraries do about the preservation of moving images?
While it is rare for academic libraries to have large film collections, most have video collections of various sizes, and now there are moving images collections in digitized forms. It’s a misconception, and a deeply rooted misconception, that libraries are only about the written words. It’s a challenge to educate our users that a library is a source of information, and information comes in many forms, including moving images. As technologies advance, more efficient way to deliver information will continually be introduced. Information that is more than just written words, information that has a combination of written words, moving images and sound will continue to grow. It’s our responsibility to preserve those information as well. We have to prepare for the future and shouldn’t limit our concept of moving images preservation to just those on film.
I see two main obstacles academic libraries face in moving images preservation. Traditional film or video preservation requires specialized technical expertise that librarians do not have. There are only a handful of academic programs in the U.S. to train film preservationists. Courses on how to preserve books and paper is available in some library science programs, but the most basic of moving images preservation is generally not available to library science students. Compared to books, film usually represents only a tiny fraction of a typical academic library’s collections. Information essential to faculty and students in an academic institution has predominately been in book forms. There is a overwhelming number of books that are deteriorating and need preserving. Therefore the preservation of books has priority over the preservation of other formats in academic libraries, at least for now. Secondly, film/video preservation is heavily machine dependent, and those machines are expensive. With limited resources, it’s not difficult to understand academic libraries’ reluctance to invest in moving images preservation.
In order to overcome those obstacles we need support from national associations such as the American Library Association (ALA) and forward-thinking directors of library science programs. Education is always the key to raising awareness. If more library science programs would incorporate courses on preservation (which includes moving images preservation) into their curriculum, it would provide all future librarians with the basic skills, and more importantly the mindset to recognize the importance of preservation. Secondly, it might even inspire some of the prospective librarians to consider a career in film preservation. And to educate those of us already in the profession, I would encourage film preservationists to conduct workshops/training session at any number of library conferences. It’s important to gain exposure in the library community in order to raise awareness.
As for the high cost of preservation, it would make sense for academic libraries to solve the problem collectively. Libraries regularly have partnerships with each other to save costs on a multitude of projects. It’s just that moving images preservation is never high enough a priority for most libraries to form those formal partnerships. So it comes back to educating us in the library profession to realize the importance of preserving information and take action before it’s too late.
A selection of graduate Film Preservation programs: