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The Film Preservation Guide: The Basics for Archives, Libraries, and Museums

February 11 2009

The Film Preservation Guide: The Basics for Archives, Libraries, and MuseumsThe Film Preservation Guide: The Basics for Archives, Libraries, and Museums describes methods for handling, duplicating, making available, and storing film that are practical for nonprofit and public organizations with limited resources. It traces the path of film through the preservation process and includes case studies, illustrations, charts, glossary, bibliography, vendor lists, and index.

The Film Preservation Guide was honored by the Society of American Archivists with its 2005 Preservation Publication Award.

America’s film heritage is as diverse as America itself. For more than one hundred years Americans with movie cameras—professional and amateur alike—have traveled the country documenting traditions, telling stories, and recording events of the day. They have captured peoples and places not filmed by the mainstream media.

Documentaries, newsreels, avant-garde and independent works, home movies, industrial films, political ads, scientific footage, anthropological records, travelogues, and fictional narratives—these works stand as the collective memory of the first century witnessed by the moving image. By saving and sharing these works, we can illuminate our common heritage with the power and immediacy unique to film.

For many years the value of these varied film types was not widely recognized. We associated filmmaking with Hollywood sound features and knew little about nontheatrical films held by museums, libraries, and archives. These one-of-a-kind works often lay untouched in the stacks or were simply too fragile to be shown to the public.

Now, thanks to preservation work over the past two decades, these films are beginning to be seen. A more inclusive picture of national filmmaking is emerging to enrich our understanding of cultural history.

Visit The Film Preservation Guide: The Basics for Archives, Libraries, and Museums Download Page

You can download full publication in PDF format.

National Film Preservation Foundation
870 Market Street, Suite 1113
San Francisco, CA 94102


As mentioned in the preface, this publication was created through an interactive process that started with workshops. “Keep it simple!” was the mantra of these discussions.

Accordingly, The Film Preservation Guide attempts to cover a range of motion picture technical issues in relatively jargon-free language accessible to collection professionals without prior film preservation experience. Generally technical terms are defined the first time they are used and in the glossary as well. Whenever possible, technical information is summarized in charts or diagrams and presented so that it is easier to apply in decision making. Most chapters end with case studies providing examples from the field.

The arrangement of the chapters follows the path of film through the preservation process, from the first viewing by the subject specialist to the presentation of access copies to the public. The discussion focuses on collection activities that are distinct to film. Archives, libraries, and museums already have established practices for core functions such as cataloging; in these areas, the guide briefly highlights topics and issues particular to the moving image.

Motion pictures have been with us for more than a century—in a myriad of formats, venues, and uses. This guide does not attempt to address these many permutations. Instead it strives to describe motion picture preservation in terms of the materials and equipment most widely found in archives, libraries, and museums. It is intended as an introduction to the fundamentals of film preservation.

There are exceptions to almost every generalization. In seeking to provide a short, practical overview, most specialized techniques and formats are omitted. For more about these, see the selected bibliography.


The National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) is the independent, nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to save America’s film heritage. Growing from a national planning effort led by the Library of Congress, the NFPF began operations in 1997, thanks to donations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, The Film Foundation, and others in the entertainment community.

The foundation works directly with archives to rescue endangered films that will not survive without public support.

The NFPF raises money, gives grants, and organizes cooperative projects that enable archives, libraries, museums, historical societies, and universities to work together to save American films not preserved by commercial interests. Since opening its doors, the NFPF has helped preserve more than 630 films and collections and assisted archives in 34 states and the District of Columbia.

The NFPF is a public charity incorporated in the District of Columbia and affiliated with the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. It depends entirely on private contributions to support operations.

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Last Updated ( February 11 2009 )
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