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5.2 The special problems of cataloguing moving images in an archive

Harriet W Harrison

From Four Tasks of Film Archives - Records of the International Film Symposium (Tokyo 1990)

This is about cataloging in film archives. We start first by defining the word catalog and then talk about the differences, between cataloging traditional library material, and cataloging film and video (i.e. moving image) materials, followed with some information about the work of the FIAF Cataloguing Committee. Next we will talk in a more practical way about the various aspects of cataloguing works and then we will finish with a short paragraph about the use of computers in cataloging activities.

Film archives help to preserve the heritage of moving image materials and in making this heritage available for future generations to study and enjoy. Within the mix of tasks required to enable us to carry out our mission, the task of cataloging is central, for the archive's catalog is the key which unlocks the collections of an archive and makes them available to staff and users alike.

What is a catalog?

The catalog is an information tool which:

1) lists the assets or holdings of an archive,
2) describes these materials in more or less detail, and,
3) provides answers to questions about the materials.

The work of cataloging itself is the complex task of gathering, organizing and arranging data (information) to create "shorthand surrogates" for documents. The "shorthand surrogates' must contain enough information both to identify the documents they represent and to relate them to other documents which have some characteristic or characteristics in common. Access to the "surrogates" or catalog records is dependent upon the arrangement of the records and upon the types, of indexes made, either manually or in a machine environment. Thus, cataloging work also includes the creation of information systems upon which the entire organization and operation of an archive depends.

The differences between cataloging books and cataloging moving image materials

Catalogs are particularly important for the work of film archives, owing to the physical characteristics of film and video materials. Unlike books, the materials we collect are fragile, easily damaged through even normal use, and prone, to physical deterioration. In quantity, our materials are often bulky. heavy, not easily handled nor particularly portable. Researchers cannot browse through them as they can through books glancing at title pages, indexes and tables of contents to find out whether or not a particular item is wanted or may be useful. Indeed, both film and video materials often lack these handy identifying sources of information. Moreover, special equipment (such as projectors, editing tables or VCRs) are required for even casual viewing.

Besides physical characteristics, the work of creating film and video documents is more complex than that typical of the creation of printed documents involving not just writers, but instead large numbers of persons or groups who bear only partial responsibility for their creation. In addition, patterns of production and distribution differ markedly from those which typify the book market, where hundreds of identical copies may be produced and marketed at a single time. Since our materials may be copied, edited, or changed quite easily, the copies or parts of copies we hold in our archives normally differ from one another in ways which serve to complicate the task of organizing and describing (ie. cataloging) them.

All this has meant that the rules and techniques designed by librarians and archivists over centuries of experience in cataloging written and printed documents, are not adequate for archivists of moving image materials. Whereas book librarians normally choose to arrange their records around the names of authors, utilising these names as the central organizing point for catalog records, film archivists, whose holdings are normally of complex authorship, prefer to organise their records around the titles of works. Specifically, film archivists have chosen to organize their cataloging records around the concept of 'original title.' The practice is in response to the problems created by the fact that copies of moving image documents frequently differ from one another, and is commonly referred to as cataloging the "work". International standards for cataloging books, on the other hand, permit a simpler practice of transcribing information as it is found on the title page of the document being described. This practice is known as cataloging the "item". These differences have broad implications for the ways in which we organize our materials and arrange our work activities.

The work of the FIAF Cataloguing Commission

Since its establishment in 1968, the FIAF Cataloguing Commission has taken as its central responsibility, the task of studying the differences between film archives and libraries, of understanding the implications of these differences for cataloging work, and of creating both rules and systems of practices which can guide film archives in their work. Our first publication, Film Cataloging, was a manual which sought to provide a set of general guidelines for organizing materials in archives and creating catalogs. My first assignment on the Commission was to edit this work and prepare it for publication.

Once the manual, Film Cataloging, was completed, our next task became the preparation of a rules code, based in part on the already published rules codes of the International Federation of Library Associations, but designed specifically to meet the needs of film archives. The work took our Commission nearly ten years to complete, for the review processes were extensive. Also, we have only eight members, all of whom must work first for our own archives, and can only work for FIAF during free time. meeting together no more than once each year. The new FIAF Cataloging Rules for Film Archives will be published this year by K.G. Saur in Munich.

Aspects of cataloging work

Next, we will turn to the practical aspects of cataloging work, and I will show you a few examples of films which illustrate cataloging problems and demonstrate how the work of the Commission recommends solving them.

Beginning steps - The first step in handling collections received by an archive is to find out what the materials are. Ideally, this should be accomplished through a careful examination of the item including a complete viewing of it, done on a machine which permits stopping without causing damage to single frame or image for the purpose of making notes the copying information. This viewing should then be coupled with research into secondary documents such as scripts, scenarios, cameramen's work sheets, publicity materials, stills, published catalogs or filmographies, etc.

In practice, the amounts of material received by archives at any one time are often so large that shortcuts must be found which permit an initial identification and organization of materials without requiring extensive expenditures of research or viewing time. The use of a 'multiple pass' approach in which brief preliminary records may first be created by technicians;, followed later, and at a somewhat more deliberate pace, by careful research and analysis performed by professional staff, has often proved to be a useful way of resolving this problem.

At a preliminary level, FIAF recommends the gathering of information (data elements) which can be ascertained without actually having to view an item on a machine. The basic elements which way be obtained in this way are;

1 title (from label, leader etc.)
2 generation (eg.. original negative, duplicate negative, masterpositive, viewing copy)
3 number or items held
4 length (estimated)
5 width or gauge
6 color status
7 sound status,
8 source and date of acquisition
9 archival location

For archive location, FIAF recommends the use of continuous numbers; to be used for categories which may be chosen upon the basis of storage requirements for different formats and sizes of materials. If this is not done and location is instead tied to the number of a shelf in a particular storage area, serious problems arise when collections, must be moved.

Cataloging -- Once preliminary identification and accessioning has been achieved, materials may be chosen and priorities set for cataloging. Cataloging may be done on a range of options from very full to quite basic, again depending upon: 1) the aims and goals of the archive, 2) the needs of users, 3) the relative importance of the materials being described, and 4) the cataloging resources available to the archive. Information gathered at this stage should be verified through a careful examination (viewing) of the moving image document being cataloged, coupled with secondary research to verify or expand the information found on the document. The information gathered by the cataloguer may be stored in separate files or may be added to the previously created preliminary record, updating and expanding it as necessary. In the latter case, each record in the file should specify whether it is a preliminary or a verified catalog record.

The types of data recorded on catalog records may be divided into four categories:

1 - bibliographies
2 - physical
3 - archival control
4 - subject

Bibliographic information consists of facts about the work and its creation, eg. title(s), names of persons and groups who are responsible for its creation coupled with the functions performed by each, and date, and locations of production/distribution. At a very minimum FIAF recommends the recording of the following types of bibliographic data:

- original title
- country of origin
- director
- production company
- year of production and/or release
- language conditions

Let us look at the first film example. It is a video copy of an early silent film from the Library of Congress. Example I shows a sample preliminary cataloging record and on II, a sample full-level cataloging record for this film, formatted according to the FIAF Cataloging Rules.

Example I:

Archival positive: 2 reels of 2 (ca. 1900 ft.) ; 35 mm. N., b&w, si. /USW NPA 4732-4733

Source of acquisition: Received 1968-11-27 as a gift from the American Film Institute who acquired the film from Joseph Franklin.

Example II

JIMMY / by T.H. Ince and R.V. Spencer. US: Domino Motion Picture Corporation, [producer, distributor], 1914. Copyright US: no registration.

Viewing print: 2 reels of 2 (1853 ft.); 35mm,: S., b&w, si. /USW FEA 3761-3762.

Duplicate negative: 2 reels of 2 (1853 ft.); 35 mm. S., b&w, si. / USW FPA 1755-1756.

Archival positive. 2 reels of 2 (703 ft. inc.); 35 mm. : N., b&w, si, / USW NFA 4732-4733.

NCN057623: Domino Jimmy; deteriorated portions cut from both reels, 1976- 08 &1984-05.

Summary: Jimmy, a newsboy is the sole support of his mother and crippled sister, Mary. His mother reads of the arrival of in the city of Dr Lobel, a noted European surgeon, and his offer to treat a number of patients at a free clinic. She and Jimmy see this as a chance in a lifetime to have Mary cured. Mary is taken to the hospital and while Jimmy is holding her place in the line of waiting patients , the surgeon announces that he will not have time to treat more patients as he has to leave at once to catch the steamship to return to Europe. Jimmy, deeply disappointed, pleads with the surgeon. Dr Lobel telephones the officials of the steamship and persuades them to hold the vessel for a half hour. After the operation, the doctor rushes to the pier in time to see the vessel steaming down the bay, but the captain of a tugboat near at hand loads the party into his boat and succeeds in overtaking the steamship.

Reviewed in.. Moving Picture World, v.22, p.404

Source of acquisition. Nitrate received: 1968-11-27 as a gift from the American Film Institute who acquired film from Joseph Franklin; safety copies made by the American Film Institute at Movielab and given to the Library: 1970-02-27.

Access points

Subjects. 1. Newspaper carriers - Drama. 2. Crippled children - Drama. 3. Surgeons - Drama. 4. Operations, Surgical - Drama. 5. Clinics - Drama. 6. Ocean Liners - drama. 7. Tugboats - Drama.

Genres. 1. Medical films and programs. 2. Drama

Added. I. Ince, Thomas H., direction, production. II. Spencer, R.V., direction, production III. Domino Motion Picture Corporation IV Domino Jimmy. V. API/Franklin, Joseph collection (Library of Congress)

Physical information consists of facts about the item as an object, its various properties and technical characteristics and conditions. At a minimum, FIAF recommends the recording of the following types of physical data:

- number of items comprising the work/number of items held
- length (in feet or meters)
- gauge or width
- color status
- sound status
- film base
- degree of completeness
- any serious, defects

Archival control information consists of facts about when, how, and from whom an item was acquired. Essential elements are:

- date of acquisition
- source of acquisition
- method of acquisition (eg... gift, deposit, purchase, exchange, etc.)

Subject information describes the intellectual or artistic content of a work. This is generally achieved through the writing of a summary (or abstract) which outlines the plot, subject, or nature of the work - including genres, themes, events depicted, their time periods, and locations. Access to content information may he provided through the use of hierarchically structured classification schemes, through relationally structured lists of standardized terms (i.e. thesauri), or, in a computer environment, through the use of various combinations and permutations of key-word searches.

Let us look now at another example, again an early silent film from the Library of Congress, Lawrence Mills which poses a somewhat different problem. Examples III and IV show preliminary and full level records for this film.



Viewing Print; 1 reel of 1 (ca. 75 ft..); 16mm : S., b&w, si. / USW FLA 1608.
Duplicate negative: 1 reel of I(ca. 75 ft.) ; 16 mm : S., b&w, si. / USW FRA 4805.
Archival positive. 1 reel of 1 (Ca. 75 ft.) ; 16 mm. - S., b&w, si. / USW FRA 4086.

Source of acquisition: All copies received 1959-03-23 from USDA lab, they replace 35 mm. nitrate original material which was received 1947-03-21 as a purchase from the George Kleine estate. Following copying, the nitrate was destroyed.


[LAWRENCE MILLS, Lawrence, Mass.] - US : Thomas A Edison. Inc. [producer, distributor, 1912?] - Copyright: US : registration unknown.

Viewing print: 1 reel of 1 (67 ft,) ; 16 mm. : S., b&w, si. / USW FLA 1608.
Duplicate negative: 1 reel of 1 (57 ft.) ; 16 mm. S., b&w, si. USW FRA 4085.
Archival positive; 1 reel of 1 (67 ft,) ; 16 mm,. S., b&w, Si, USW FPA 4086.

Title from leader; no inter-titles.

Production and distribution information from the corporate papers of the George Kleine Company in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.

Summary: A factual film, possibly of strike activities in Lawrence, Mass., during the textile strike of January - March 1912, led by the industrial workers of the world. A large crowd of people hurry away from a factory and across a bridge. A group of boys stand to one side of the bridge near the camera. As the crowd thickens, the people move more slowly, and a man can be seen passing out leaflets. The crowd thins again, and another man can be seen wearing a placard bearing the inscription 'Shepard's Pictures.' Filmed from a single camera position.

Source of acquisition. All copies received 1959-03-23 from USDA lab; they replace 35mm nitrate original materials which was received 1947-03-23 as purchase from the George Kleine estate. Following copying the nitrate was destroyed.

Access points

Subjects 1. Textile workers' Strike, Lawrence, Mass., 1912. 2. Strikes and lockouts - Textile Industry - Massachusetts - Lawrence. 3. Textile workers - Massachusetts, Lawrence. 4. Textile factories - Massachusetts, Lawrence.

Genre: 1. Actualities

Added Entries 1 Thomas A Edison, inc. II Kleine, (George) collection Library of Congress

Designing a cataloging system

Although manual systems for cataloging have existed in archives practically since the beginning of their existence, these days, when one thinks of cataloging systems one automatically thinks of computers. Today a wide range of alternative hardware and software configurations exist which may he adapted for use in film archives. The choice. of a system should be based upon a careful analysis of 1) the information needs and goals of the archive. and 2) the flexibility and capacity of the proposed system to supply these needs. Software/hardware factors which should be taken into account include: main memory capacity; limitations on file, record and field length; indexing and searching capabilities; system security; ease of use for input and update; system maintenance and support by supplier; capabilities for importing and exporting records and for supporting computer format standards, etc. The Cataloguing Commission has prepared a short paper to help archives who are planning to purchase and introduce computers into their cataloging work. (See Section VI: 6.1 for further detail).

To close let us look at our last film example. It is a compilation film made to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Directors Guild of America: Precious Images. Example V shows a preliminary cataloging record for this film, while Example VI shows a more complete. but still not full-level record.



Projection print. 1 reel of 1 (538 ft.) , 35 mm. S., col. and b&w, sd. / SE 17854

Source of acquisition: Received 1987-02-12; deposited by the Directors Guild of America.

Example VI: SAMPLE CATALOGING RECORD (not full-level)

PRECIOUS IMAGES/ produced and directed by Clark Workman; [function undetermined], Robert Wise, David Shepard; assistant editor John Santos ; production assistance Lois Anne Polan, Denise Marie Heffley, Victoria Stevenson. - US . Directors Guild of America, 1986. -- (C): US : Directors Guild of America, Inc. DCR 1986 PUB 188cp186: REG 3Oct89; PA455-223.

Projection print: 1 reel of 1 (538 ft.) ; 35mm. : S., col. and b&w, sd, / SE17854

Projection facilities: B/G/L Post, Calliope Films, Cinema Research, Consolidated Film Industries, Deluxe laboratories, Inc., Sound West, Inc., Todd AO.

Summary Short segments of approximately 200 feature films edited together to produce a collage of film memories in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Directors Guild of America.

Source of acquisition; Received: 1987-02-12; deposited by the Directors Guild of America.

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