The British Film Institute Tour - Tuesday 8th December 2015

The London Research Library Trainees where given a tour of the British Film Institute (BFI) Reuben Library by Sarah Currant, Librarian for Reader Services. After a short explanation of the small but well-designed reading room, Sarah discussed the library and her own career. The Edwin Fox Foundation Reading Room has six public access computer terminals with access to the BFI’s Collections and Information Database (BFI ScreenonlineBFI InView and the FIAF database). As a research library, the BFI uses onsite access to uphold copyright restrictions. Sarah stated that she is surprised that these computers are not used more, because of the wonderful material that can be viewed on them. Users also have the opportunity to use three digital scanners to retrieve information held on microfiche and roll film.

The library collection is 81 years old and one of the largest written collections on film and television in the world. The Library, notes as a point of pride, that their oldest material is older than the BFI National Archive, which is sometimes recognised as a more prestigious counterpart. The library holds 5,000 serials titles and over 200 current titles with worldwide coverage. Sarah joked, that you wouldn’t believe how many journals are just called ‘film.’ The Library has 45,000 books, and acquires around 1,000 new titles per year.  

The BFI Collections Information Database (CID) contains information collected by the BFI since 1933 and holds over 800,000 film titles (including television programmes, documentaries, newsreels, as well as educational and training films). Although CID is updated daily, less than 50% of listed titles are actually represented in their physical collection. The collection is roughly 20% open access, and around 55% in total is held at the BFI Southbank. The remaining 45% of the collection is held offsite at the J. Paul Getty Jnr Conservation Centre in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. The Library is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 10:30 - 19:00, the enquiry desk is man by 2 people at all times and has 3 separate timetabled shifts.

The Library is available for private hire and has produced events such as the Salon Discussion: Writings on Artists' Moving Image (Monday 11 January 2016) and Jean-Luc Godard as Architect (Wednesday 13 January 2016). The Libraries next event is Flare at 30 a lively illustrated talk celebrating 30 years of the BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival (29th February 2016). This is to make some small profit and illustrate a further integration with the rest of the BFI.

Sarah stated that the BFI had recently gone through a change project, after major cuts in funding, but that this had led to many positives. The move to the Southbank complex had made the Library more central to the institutions goals and had changed its customer base. With access now free to the library, visitor statistics have dramatically increased. With annual visitor targets, the BFI gets over 70,000 people through the reading room doors per year. Due to the relocation in June 2012, the BFI is now getting more students from Kings College than Birbeck and UCL. Sarah noted that many users were students that simply wanted a quiet place to work in central London, rather than specific information about film. As a small library with only 50 TipTon chairs, 30 for library users, and another 20 users for specialist research, Sarah feels it would be very difficult to reduce numbers based on an interest in film material if the library ever got too full.

Sarah mentioned that the library does take a series of statistics to illustrate its cost effective nature, and was looking into the possibility of creating a world map that indicated the distance that some visitors have gone to see the library. However, she did state that the library does not have membership cards, and gets visitors to fill in daily registration cards to count stats.

Having started at the BFI in 2005 from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Library, Sarah advised students to focus on taking broad MA’s that encompassed aspects of information management and digital systems to give them the best opportunity when applying for jobs.

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