A Gold Mine For Film Research

Like anyone who’s spent much of his life in libraries and archives, hearing a young person claim that you can find “everything you need” to do research online is upsetting, to put it mildly. One can easily find simple information, and misinformation, but if you’ve devoted hours and days digging through vintage film publications or studio production files you know that acres of primary research materials don’t exist on the Internet.

Even if you’re lucky enough to have access to great collections like the ones held by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, or the New York Public Library in Manhattan, you’re limited to how many hours or days you can spend taking notes and making photocopies.

One dedicated film scholar and archivist is trying to change all that. David Pierce has initiated a privately-funded project called Media History Digital Library, which is described—

—as “A major conservation and access project for historical printed materials related to cinema, broadcasting and recorded sound.” Several major libraries and an individual described as “the owner of the largest private collection of such materials” are participating in the project.

The goal: widespread, free access to a world-class collection of periodicals. (And what’s more, the banishment of poorly-scanned microfilm, the bane of any researcher’s existence. Why suffer through a dim or blurry black & white copy of a magazine when modern scanning makes perfect, full-color copies available?)

As David explains in his mission statement, “No library has a complete set of the most important early film publication, Moving Picture World (1907-1927), which had a press run of only a few thousand copies. For many journals, including The Hollywood Reporter, only a single complete run is known to exist. These materials provide a wealth of information of regional and national interest—historical figures and events, on theaters, exhibition trends and practices, stage acts, local and network radio and television stations and programming.”

Intrigued? Take a look at some early sample pdf files, from the holdings of the Pacific Film Archive, at These include four years of Photoplay, one year of Motion Picture Classic and three months of Moving Picture World: great browsing, great reading, and a cornucopia of information.

The Media History Digital Library will also offer something even the finest library, with bound copies of these journals, couldn’t provide: word-search capability.

If you’d like to contribute to the project, or if you have runs of rare trade journals and periodicals you’d be willing to loan, contact David Pierce at

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May 2024