General comments on digital reproductions of motion pictures for American Memory


The motion pictures available in the American Memory collections are all early silent movies. They include actuality films and entertainment. Most were deposited through the Copyright Office as paper print rolls.

Digital formats for motion pictures

The Library of Congress does not yet make computer-based digital recordings of motion pictures for archival purposes. The conversion process for these motion pictures involves several steps. First, they are transferred to 35mm film from the paper prints or other media, where necessary. The film is then converted to BetaCam-SP videotape, with speed- correction to allow for 30 frame-per-second playback although the original films were hand- cranked at an average 15-16 frames per second. This videotape is edited to add character-generated titles. Finally, the edited videotape is sampled twice to generate the digital versions. Motion pictures that are more than four minutes long are divided into segments.

For the serious user with more powerful equipment, an MPEG-1 version is created at 30 frames per second and at a spatial resolution (size) of 320x240 pixels (at a data rate of approximately 1.2 Mbits per second of playing time). For service to a wider range of users, a QuickTime version is created at 10-15 frames per second and a size of 160x120 pixels (at a data rate of approximately 640 Kbits per second, usually quoted as 80 Kbytes/sec, of playing time). In the future, the Library expects to create and serve a streaming video version.

To provide a "thumbnail" preview of each video, the Library picks two or three representative images and combines them in a GIF image.

Descriptive records

For each movie, an item-level MARC record is available. In an 856 field, the combination of subfields $d and $f provides unique identifiers for the associated digital reproductions. Files representing the motion pictures are available in a directory structure (known at the Library of Congress as an "aggregate") for which $d identifies the root. Filenames for the different digital versions and segments of a motion picture are created by combining the $f value (which identifies the item) with distinguishing suffixes and file extensions.

Motion pictures available for use in DLI - Phase II

The American Memory collections listed below, currently released or in an advanced state of production, include digitzed motion pictures. Technical summaries with considerable detail and links to samples are available for each collection by clicking on the title.

Collection title.     Click for technical summary.


The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920

61 items, entertainment

Before and After the Great Earthquake and Fire: Early Films of San Francisco, 1897-1916

26 items, actuality

The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920

1 item, not online yet

Inside an American Factory: The Westinghouse Works, 1904

21 items, actuality

Inventing Entertainment: The Early Motion Pictures of the Edison Companies

250 items (eventually), actuality, entertainment, overlap with other collections

The Last Days of a President: Films of McKinley and the Buffalo World's Fair, 1901

28 items, actuality

The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906

45 items, actuality

The Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures, 1898

68 items (eventually), actuality

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