Ok, they were previously 0% findable. Still, by adding the MoMA Film Department Special Collections inventory to the MoMA web site, film researchers can now discover over 100 primary-source collections on film-related figures and topics. The processed (and partially-processed) collections include papers on individuals (filmmakers, distributors, animators, actors), studios (Biograph, Edison, Kalem), and groups (Film and Photo League). One can also find distribution and equipment catalogs (where could you get silent films in 1918?), popular publications (press books, scrapbooks, fan magazines, posters, postcards, sheet music).
A personal favorite is the papers of Iris Barry, MoMA’s first film curator. She doggedly collected film before even the industry thought it had a history. She also almost single-handedly established the Film Library in 1935, which became the Department of Film. Under department auspices the program continues today as the Circulating Film and Video Library. The service loans historic motion pictures to institutions, similar to a traditional library. When the Film Library was founded, exposing audiences to early and contemporary film was a new idea, anticipating video rental stores and webstreaming by over half a century.
So how about access? By setting up appointments with MoMA’s Film Study Center, a part of the Museum devoted to in-depth research on the film collection—qualified film students can even view films themselves. Appointments to consult special collections must be confirmed one month in advance. A few of the collections (D. W. Griffith, Merritt Crawford, Biograph Company) are available at the Library on microfilm, where we can set you up in a week or less.
And while you’re at it, the Library’s collection of published sources draws film scholars from around the world. Rare early industry magazines are especially popular—Moving Picture World is a classic, as they say in movieland.
Jennifer Tobias, Librarian, Reader Services, The Museum of Modern Art