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LGBT Film Archive Digitization Project

San Francisco Public Library
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Innovation Summary

When a local, internationally known Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) film festival sponsor donated its archive of 5,000 movie submissions in various formats to the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center, the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) recruited community partners to make this unique, culturally significant collection accessible to the public.

Problem Statement

With the goal of ensuring that their collection was archived appropriately and made available to the public, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival (Frameline) donated 5,000 volumes of unique film materials to the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library. While the materials hold significant documentation of the local, national and international LGBT community, with videos dating to the early 1950s, the size, scope, multiple formats, and condition of the donated collection presented a number of challenges. Physical space for storage of materials was an issue, but even greater were the concerns related to the deteriorating condition of some older films, the technical barriers of equipment needed to play the multiple, changing formats, and the sheer volume of items requiring organization and review. SFPL’s challenge was to develop a strategy for prioritization of materials, identifying and cataloging item bibliographic information, and most importantly, to create a system that could allow the public to access the wide range of materials.


SFPL addressed these challenges through creative partnerships, tapping into local community resources without additional operational costs: • SFPL engaged a film historian from the LGBT community to review and prioritize the materials for preservation based on condition or content. • SFPL partnered with the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), a local non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring social change, to tap their expertise in creating and managing film resources in many formats. Recognizing that many of the videos are extremely rare and the Library now owns the only extant copy, digitization was selected as the best way to both preserve the materials and make these videos widely available. BAVC initially digitized 14 tapes which were incorporated into a 5-week film series during June LGBT Pride Month 2011, along with two other public programs highlighting the film archive. BAVC created uncompressed archival files, which can be migrated or converted to other formats in the future. BAVC also provided mezzanine files for online viewing, and DVDs which the public can use for viewing in the Library. • In addition to the resources above, SFPL incorporated a technician intern into this project to organize the physical location of all the videos and compile them into the database for collection management and public access catalog integration.


In the first year of this project: • SFPL now owns archival digital files of 38 historically-significant LGBT movies dating as far back as 1951. Many films are from the 1970s and 1980s which illustrate the beginnings of LGBT visibility, important periods of the LGBT Rights movement, early feature films, and the impact of the AIDS epidemic. The collection ranges from local (San Francisco) to national and international (Brazil, Mexico, France, Japan). • A selection of videos are currently streaming on the SFPL website (Frameline @ the Library – see link below) from a new page created to highlight this collection and tell its history (Hormel Center’s Frameline Movie Archive Project – see link below). Each streaming video was viewed more than 280 times in the first year. • SFPL and the Friends of SFPL are working with members of the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex) community on a fundraising plan to expedite the cataloging and digitization of this collection. • Finding aids are in development to provide better access to the virtual community. • Patrons are grateful for the preservation of this valuable resource, including the local/regional LGBT community and researchers, as well as many others, such as - a patron from China looking for the world's only copy of his film which the Chinese government destroyed; a professor from Michigan looking for a movie he was desperate to show his class; a patron from Boston looking for the only copy of a movie about his close friend; and filmmakers who previously believed there was no remaining copy of their films. • Working with BAVC has led to an even greater working relationship. SFPL is now partnering with BAVC in the implementation of an IMLS grant for developing 21st Century Learning Labs in libraries and museums.