In posts on 23 and 24 February I highlighted the story of Croydon Public Library’s unexpected role as an innovator in film archiving, before the First World War. I should have checked the literature, because the story has been uncovered before, by the film historian Stephen Bottomore, who wrote a chapter on early calls for film museums in the marvellous history of nitrate film, This Film is Dangerous: A Celebration of Nitrate Film (ed. Roger Smither, FIAF, 2002). Bottomore uncovered a reference in The Bioscope journal (26 May 1910, p. 3) to Croydon having established the film collection in 1910. The report I found dated from 1914, so this proto-regional film archive existed for four years at least. Originally the films were projected at the library should anyone need to see them, but later a viewing device was created by a local engineer. However, what is significant about the Croydon initiative is not just that it was such an early attempt to form a publicly-accessible film collection, but that it was argued for as a civic duty, fulfilling a local need, and seen alongside other media that were appropriate for a local authority to be funding as part of its library services.
Bottomore’s essay (‘”The sparkling surface of the sea of history” – Notes on the Origins of Film Preservation’) has a huge amount of information on the calls to preserve films and to create national film museums which arose almost as soon as films were invented.