Time for another research resource, and this looks like a major one. ArchiveGrid, still in beta form, aims to be a gateway to the world’s archives. It has been created by OCLC, the library organisation behind WorldCat (“the world’s largest library catalog”). Much as WorldCat turns the catalogues of the world’s libraries into one giant catalogue, so ArchiveGrid wants to become the single place from which the researcher may discover anything held in an archive, anywhere.
OK, so it’s some way off such an ambition just yet, being largely composed of American archives, and they are collection descriptions rather than individual items (I think we’re going to have a long wait for that to happen). Each record gives you the name of the contributing institution, the title of the particular collection (each institution may have several collections, of course), the collection description, contact details (a link to the institution’s website), and catalogue record (including unique OCLC identifier) or finding aid. Searches can be narrowed by institution or location, there is a selection of topics to guide you through the collections. And by typing in your postal code you can see on a Google map which participating archives are in your area.
So, what can we find on silent films? The answer is plenty. Our standard test term, ‘kinetoscope’, brings up the Raff and Gammon papers at Harvard University – Baker Library, a typescript study of Thomas Edison by Rose Lombard in Harvard University – Theodore Roosevelt Collection, and the Library of Congress’ Inventing Entertainment website, which Pennsylvania State University Libraries has cited as a resource. ‘Cinematograph’ produces 38 hits, from the Paul Rotha papers at UCLA to the United Artists Corporation Records at Wisconsin Historical Society Library and Archives. ‘Silent film’ brings up 260 records: examples include the silent film music collection at the University of Colorado, Boulder; Lillian Gish papers at Bowling Green State University – Center for Archival Collections; and the Cecil B. DeMille Archives at Brigham Young University – L. Tom Perry Special Collections.
Much of this sort of information has been available in printed directories, but not, I think, in so extensive and freely available an online resource as this (ArchiveGrid has had an earlier existence as a subscription service, which didn’t get enough subscribers). Clearly it is a huge boon for research of every kind. It is mostly written archives, but not exclusively so; while some of the archival objects might be more naturally classified as books, so that you wonder how WorldCat and ArchiveGrid might be brought together in some way, at some glorious future point.
There are other directories of archives out there. UK researchers should be familiar with the National Archives’ National Register of Archives and the Access 2 Archives search resource, but perhaps not all know the university archives service Archives Hub, or AIM25 for archives in the London area. We have previously higlighted the Canadian Discovery Portal, and sung the praises of Australia’s Trove portal. Regrettably the UNESCO Archives Portal for archives worldwide is no longer accessible online.
New to me is Archives Portal Europe, a pilot service for opening up European archives, which doesn’t appear to have a great deal on film, and what can be found seems eccentric or marginal, though its multilingual nature is likely to hiding more than I realise (try the search terms ‘cinema’ or ‘kino’ for an idea of the range of content).
Directories of film archives are another matter, and should be the subject of another post. Meanwhile ArchiveGrid is a particularly exciting development, and likely to spark off plenty of new research projects. Go explore.