BFI FAQ on library proposals

From the BFI website:

FAQs on a proposal for changes at the BFI Library

The BFI is at the centre of the biggest change in the UK film landscape for over ten years. We are seeing the start of a new era in which the BFI takes on activities currently carried out by the UK Film Council, becomes the strategic lead for film in the UK and provides a clear focus internationally. It is an opportunity that the BFI is addressing with energy and optimism, but it comes at a time when we also face a difficult economic environment and one where our Government grant is being significantly cut over the next four years.

We are meeting the challenge head on and have set ourselves on a path to transform our Board, to transform our executive and management capability, to adopt a dynamic approach to new partnerships and to invest in modernisation. We have announced a number of measures to help us adapt for the change coming and these were announced in December 2010. The announcement includes a proposal for the BFI Library at Stephen Street in London.

We still have work to do in examining the feasibility of the proposal for the Library and before we begin to consult on it publicly, but in the meantime here are a number of frequently asked questions that explain in more detail the rationale for changes and what those will mean for users.

What is happening to the BFI Library?

We are proposing to relocate the BFI Library and as much of the Book & periodical collection that exists there currently, from Stephen Street to BFI Southbank. This will have the benefit of allowing us to tie it closer to our public cultural programmes and to the Mediatheque there, and to provide greater access for free. BFI Southbank is open seven days a week and is a very popular destination for people to engage fully with film. We believe such a move will enable the Library to be used by more people.

Why is the BFI doing this?

One of the drivers for change at the BFI is our ambition to offer increased public access to BFI Collections and to engage with more people and a wide range of users. Also, we have long wanted to invest in the BFI Library to improve the user experience and to integrate it more closely with our public and cultural programmes. Relocating the Library to BFI Southbank has the benefit of making it more open to the public, in a building that is open seven days a week and for free.

What happens to the Collections of books, leaflets, periodicals and other items currently in the Library?

We aim to relocate as much as possible of the collection currently held in the BFI Library to the new site in BFI Southbank. At the moment, 80% of the Library collection (largely Books, Periodicals and Biographies) is held at Stephen Street. The remaining 20% of the Library collection and 100% of our ‘Special Collections’ (company and personal papers, scripts, posters, designs, stills, press books) are housed in our Conservation Centre in Berkhamsted, and always have been. These collections are held off-site as it is not economical to hold rarely-used materials in high cost central London real estate, and we also need to care for them in appropriate environmental conditions.

Is the collection being split between sites and thus become difficult to access?

No. The collection of books and periodicals at the Library at Stephen Street is the most comprehensive of its kind in the world and it grows in size and depth every year. Storage space has been an ongoing issue for a long time. Under the new proposals, we aim to use modern storage solutions to enable us to keep as much of the actively used collection as possible with the Library when it relocates to BFI Southbank. But we also estimate that we will be able to move some collections to Berkhamsted without diminishing the service we offer to Library users when it relocates to BFI Southbank.

What about the other collections of film and TV material, scripts and private papers of filmmakers – will I have to go to Berkhamsted to view those?

No. Currently, anyone wishing to view the Special Collections (company and personal papers, scripts, posters, designs, stills, press books) can request them from the Archive in Berkhamsted. There is generally a one day turnaround and they are brought to London on a daily van run. This arrangement will remain unchanged under the new proposals.

The same goes for anyone wishing to view material from the film and Television collection. They request the material in advance from our Research Viewing Services facility.

We are planning a digital-on-demand service that will also allow desktop delivery of materials. For example, our nitrate collections are not viewable, but could be if we digitise them on request. For researchers and curators who need to work on major collections (we have a few researchers at the moment who need this service, but we cannot accommodate them properly at the Conservation Centre) a bespoke facility will be created at Berkhamsted where the Collections are physically held.

If some parts of the collection are not on view in the Library, how do I know what is available to be seen?

A significant percentage of the collections held at the BFI are catalogued and we are working hard to improve this. We have been able to make investments from the Screen Heritage project which means that for the first time ever our database of titles held in the BFI National Archive moving image collections will be available online. In the course of next year we want to merge the Library catalogue, special collections and posters and designs data. Library users will be able to access the catalogue online to see what is in the collection and where it is held, so they can order up items if they are not physically in the Library. We will also rotate stock in the Library as user needs dictate – something we have always done. Elements of the collection that are rarely seen or used will be part of that rotation process.

Why are you not keeping all of the collections together on a single, easily accessible site?

All the great cultural collections are stored on multiple sites and rarely more than 5% of each is on public display at any one time. Even with other collections such as those of the British Library in London and the Library of Congress in Washington, the vast majority is not kept onsite. The BFI has a significant collection taking up 33 acres of land and issues of space and the need for the right storage conditions do not make it practical to store everything in Central London. The current turnaround time for calling items from the Collection at the BFI National Archive to be viewed in London is one working day – for other national collections it can take a lot longer at 5 days or more.

Why create a research facility at Berkhamsted where it is more difficult to reach geographically?

The collections will still be accessible in London. We do understand the issues about the Berkhamsted location, but the majority of the film, TV and paper collections specifically are more fragile by nature and the better the conditions the material is kept in, and the less it is moved, the better it is from a conservation point of view. Our proposal is to create dedicated space at the Archive for partnered and in-depth research into existing and new collections, where they are held and where curators are on hand to assist and work with the researchers. This augments rather than replaces our current offer and is something that many researchers have requested.

What about users from outside London and overseas – how will their needs be catered for when they cannot reach Berkhamsted easily?

With the relocation to BFI Southbank we are planning to retain most of the collection of books and periodicals currently held at Stephen Street, so users regardless of where they are based should still be able to carry out their research in London. Currently, if they need to reference parts of the collection that are kept offsite then they do so by calling it up from the Archive. This arrangement does not change under these proposals.

The uniqueness of the BFI’s collections is that they are interlinked and one discovery leads to another part of the collection, so how does the BFI propose to allow that to continue?

By keeping as much of the collection currently actively used together in the relocated Library, we are confident that we will be able to continue to provide an open-ended research and reference experience.

What will happen to the staff at the BFI Library, many of whom are experts and of great assistance to researchers and other users?

We will still be retaining much of the knowledge and experience in the Library when it relocates, and although we will sadly be losing some posts as a result of the modernisation process, we are confident that we will be able to maintain the overall user experience.

How will the BFI’s plans for ‘digital-on-demand’ impact on its viewing services facility?

Most of the collections are currently only in analogue format and can only be viewed or researched in situ. Our proposal is to over time digitise a great deal more of the Collection so that it can be viewed online or delivered for viewing on dedicated terminals on-demand. We need to work through a number of issues as we carry out feasibility on this but we are currently investing in new equipment and looking at how when we can start to deliver on it.

BFI | Library & Research | Is it available?

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