June 23, 2021

The Legendary Michelson Cinema Research Library Finds a New Home at the Internet Archive

UPDATED POST: January 28, 2020: Community Gathers for an Online Celebration Of Michelson Cinema Research Library (via Internet Archive)

–End Update–

Note: For background on the Michelson Cinema Research Library’s search for a new home, see this LA Times article from August 14, 2020.

From The Internet Archive:

The donation of the historic Michelson Cinema Research Library,  the legendary repository of all things Hollywood, to the Internet Archive was announced today by the Internet Archive’s Founder & Digital Librarian, Brewster Kahle, and by the Library’s Founder, Lillian Michelson.

Michelson has donated the Cinema Research Library that bears her name to the Internet Archive, a digital library with global reach, so that this irreplaceable physical collection will be preserved intact and digitized as much as possible, providing free public access to these research materials via the Internet Archive’s popular site, archive.org. When packed, Michelson’s rich collection of 5,000 books, 30,000 photographs, and more than 1,000,000 clippings, scrapbooks and ephemera fill more than two 18-wheel tractor trailers.

Michelson has donated the Cinema Research Library that bears her name to the Internet Archive, a digital library with global reach, so that this irreplaceable physical collection will be preserved intact and digitized as much as possible, providing free public access to these research materials via the Internet Archive’s popular site, archive.org. When packed, Michelson’s rich collection of 5,000 books, 30,000 photographs, and more than 1,000,000 clippings, scrapbooks and ephemera fill more than two 18-wheel tractor trailers.

In making the announcement, Brewster Kahle said, “A library is more than a collection of books. It is the center of a community. For decades, the Michelson Cinema Research Library informed Hollywood— and we want to see that continue. Lillian spent her life supporting top Hollywood directors and designers. Many organizations wanted pieces of the collection, but I think the importance of keeping it together is so it can continue to help inspire global filmmakers to make accurate and compelling movies.”


“I feel as if a fantasy I never, never entertained has been handed to me by the universe, by fate,” mused Lillian Michelson. “The Internet Archive saved my library in the best way possible. I hope millions of people will use it [to research] space, architecture, costumes, towns, cities, administration, foreign countries… the crime business! Westerns! That’s what is amazing to me, that it will be open to everybody.”

Lillian and Harold Michelson established the library in 1969 while Lillian was working as a volunteer at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios. In its more than 50 year history, the Michelson Cinema Research Library has had many homes. The library consists of research materials from Goldwyn, United Artists, and many past donations from leading art directors. Its contents will now be moved for long-term preservation to the Internet Archive’s physical archive in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The Michelson Cinema Research Library has been looking for a digital home for a long time and this means that its important materials will be available forever with 24/7 access throughout the world,” said Thomas Walsh, former president of the Art Directors Guild.

Bringing this historic Hollywood design resource back to life—a largely digital life—can make it a global design resource for designers, filmmakers and researchers in search of information and visual inspiration. For 50 years, Michelson’s research informed scores of Hollywood films, including The Right Stuff, Rosemary’s Baby, Scarface, Fiddler on the Roof, Full Metal JacketThe Graduate and The Birds.

“Lillian Michelson opened my eyes to the importance of a research library to all aspects of motion picture production,” said Academy Award-winning director, Francis Ford Coppola, who invited Michelson to move her library to the grounds of his Zoetrope Studios. “At a time when the rich and deep research libraries created and maintained by the motion picture studios were being ‘given away’ or otherwise destroyed, Lillian was a beacon of light guiding us to consider them as treasure.”

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The Save Lillian’s Library Fund will now focus on building a new website with navigational tools that are simple, intuitive and non-language dependent to help people utilize these digital materials. Meanwhile, the Internet Archive is looking for supporters to help with the costs of digitizing a collection of the complexity and magnitude of the Michelson Cinema Research Library.

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Lillian Michelson will preside over a virtual ribbon cutting, panel discussion, and a screening of the documentary on Wednesday, January 27 from 4-6:30 PM Pacific time. There, she will unveil the first phase of her new digital library, available to the world via the Internet Archive’s digital platform, at https://archive.org/details/michelson. Sign up for the screening event here.

See Also: After Searching for a Decade, Legendary Hollywood Research Library Finds a New Home (via Internet Archive Blog)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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