The Prelinger Collection at the Library of Congress


The Library of Congress has acquired the film collection held until now by Prelinger Archives. The acquisition and movement of materials is currently in progress (August 2002).

This FAQ is intended to answer basic questions about the acquisition. It's written by Rick Prelinger, reflects only his and Prelinger Archives' perspectives and opinions, and is not a statement by or on behalf of the Library of Congress.

What is the background of this acquisition?

Organized in late 1982, Prelinger Archives has grown to include approximately 48,000 completed films and over 30,000 cans of unedited footage. In the 1990s, Rick began searching for a permanent home for the collection, acting out of his conviction that cultural assets were ultimately better off residing in public archives than in private or for-profit collections. He also felt that a small company such as Prelinger Archives wasn't fully able to mobilize the resources necessary to properly care for, catalog and preserve a large and continually growing collection (currently over 140,000 cans and reels of film). Discussions began with the Library of Congress and culminated in a handshake agreement in February 2002, followed by a written agreement in August 2002.

On Monday, August 12, contract movers for the Library began moving the films from Prelinger's main storage facility, located in New York's historic wholesale meat market district, where the archives have been held since 1985. Material held in Kansas City was moved one week later, and a small amount of film remaining in California, New Jersey, and New York will be moved in the autumn. Paper records, indexes and an updated database of much of the collection will also be given to the Library at that time.

Where are the actual films being held?

The film collection is presently stored in a contract facility along with certain other Library collections. Within several years, it will be moved to the Library's new storage and preservation facility, currently under construction in Culpeper, Virginia, where initial processing and conservation work will occur.

How is the Prelinger collection currently accessible, and how will this be changing?

At this time, there are several access alternatives:

First and easiest, online access to 1120 (soon to be 1500) key titles through the Internet Archive. The films are available for downloading in high-quality digital video (MPEG-2) and in several other formats compatible both with Macintosh and PC machines, and also available as streaming video files in two formats, suitable either for high-speed or dialup connections. Permission is NOT required to download or reuse materials from the Internet Archive, and no payment is required.

For those wishing to license higher-quality footage for production use, material is available through our exclusive representative: Archive Films by Getty Images. They offer rapid access to everything available from our collection, can research the collection for specific topics and deliver highest-quality material very quickly in all formats. They warrant that footage is clear for use and supply written license agreements. They charge license fees for use of footage and require that the physical materials they lend be returned when the production is finished.

Most key moving image items in the Prelinger collection have been mastered in Digital Betacam or Betacam SP formats, and will be made available to the public without charge through the Internet Archive. Other titles, including those that are not held by the Internet Archive or in videotape form by Getty Images, will be temporarily unavailable until the film collection is processed at the Library's new Culpeper facility and opened for research. The Library will require that the permission of Prelinger Archives be obtained before materials held by the Library can be duplicated. This restriction lasts for twelve years from the Library's acquisition of the Prelinger collection, and is intended to generate income for Prelinger Archives as compensation for the acquisition. It is important to note, however, that almost all films in which anyone has expressed interest over the past 20 years will be available without charge through the Internet Archive. After the end of the 12-year restriction, all films not under copyright protection will be freely available, subject to the Library's access and duplication policies.

Additional information on access to the collection can be found here.

If it is not feasible either to license footage from Getty Images or to download it for free from the Internet Archive, we suggest that you seek assistance from another person, an educational institution or a friendly business that has access to a high-speed Internet connection.

If you need technical support regarding the Internet Archive, you may address questions and issues to Archive Support or consult the archives of the moviearchive mailing list.

What will Rick be doing now that the film collection has gone to the Library?

Rick will continue to work with the Internet Archive to develop online moving image libraries, and work on an all-archival feature film for release in late 2003-early 2004. He'll also be working with Archive Films/Getty Images to catalog material available for sale and market stock footage from the collection.

Are there contacts for additional information on this event? Press contacts are listed below in the official press release. Also, you may wish to check the Prelinger Archives website for more recent information as it becomes available.

What is the text of the official press release announcing the acquisition?

August 19, 2002

Press contacts:
Craig D'Ooge, Library of Congress (202) 707-9189
Rick Prelinger, Prelinger Archives (415) 750-0445
Public contact: (202) 707-8572

Prelinger Collection Largest Collection of Ephemeral Films

The Library of Congress announced today its acquisition of the Prelinger Collection, containing more than 48,000 historical "ephemeral" motion pictures, from its owner, Prelinger Archives of San Francisco.

The Prelinger Collection brings together a wide variety of American ephemeral motion pictures -- advertising, educational, industrial, amateur, and documentary films depicting everyday life, culture, and industry in America throughout the 20th century. Although images from the collection have been used in thousands of films, television programs and other productions throughout the last 20 years, the films themselves have not generally been available to researchers and the general public.

"This comprehensive collection provides a unique window into the world of 20th century American ideas and lifestyles," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "The picture it gives is quite distinct from that found in Hollywood feature films and newsreels. These are the films that children watched in the classroom, that workers viewed in their union halls, that advertisers presented in corporate boardrooms, and that homemakers saw at women's club meetings."

"The Library's acquisition of our collection will ensure its long-term preservation and render it accessible to future generations. I'm thrilled that this cultural and social resource is becoming part of the world's greatest treasury of recorded human knowledge," said Rick Prelinger, president of Prelinger Archives.

Because of the size of the Prelinger Collection (more than 140,000 individual cans of film) and the numerous complexities involved in its processing, it will take several years before the Library will be in a position to provide access to these films -- after the completion of a new motion picture storage and preservation facility in Culpeper, Va.

However, Prelinger Archives will continue to offer access to the collection through two primary channels. Those wishing to access films for research, pleasure or reuse may view and download 1,500 key titles without charge through the Internet Archive, while those in search of stock footage for production may acquire it through Prelinger's authorized representative, Archive Films by Getty Images. Detailed information regarding access to the Prelinger Collection may be found here.

The Library of Congress contains the largest collections of film and television in the world, from the earliest surviving copyrighted motion picture to the latest feature releases. Many of the films in the Prelinger Collection, however, were never submitted for copyright or were produced during the decades when film prints were not acquired by the Library as part of the copyright registration process. This was due to safety concerns about the storage of film prints produced on the highly flammable film nitrate stock used by the motion picture industry prior to 1951.

Ephemeral films vividly document the look and feel of times past and are unparalleled records of cultural and social history. The Prelinger Collection contains significant holdings in many areas, including hundreds of films on social guidance and etiquette; thousands of industrial films picturing automobile design and manufacturing, communications, technology, and engineering; over 250 hours of amateur films and home movies shot by ordinary Americans to document their lives, their homes, and their travels; films on vanished cultural and social landscapes; films on art, literature, science and every other field of education; and many thousands of films produced by regional production companies in all parts of the United States.

Approximately 40% of the collection consists of unique master materials, and a significant portion of the remainder is not held by any other archives. Two titles in the collection, Master Hands (1936) and The House in the Middle (1954), were recently named by the Librarian of Congress to the National Film Registry of culturally and historically significant films.

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PR 02-106
ISSN 0731-3527




August 26, 2002