Silent films and public libraries

John Holland (jholland@chipublib.org)
Thu, 6 Jun 2002 11:05:39 -0700 (PDT)

I tend to agree with Becky. Budgets and space play a significant role in
what gets ordered for the collection, and when weeding becomes
necessary, those items that haven't been checked out in a year or two
get pulled - it's sad but true. On the other hand, we do not buy 25
copies of "Harry Potter" or anything, in fact three is usually our
limit, and when those all get ripped off or broken we give it serious
evaluation as to whether we need a replacement.
It is different of course in a large public library in a large city - we
typically get more money (though for features it is self-generating from
rental fees and fines) and we have to serve lots of different tastes. A
general rule here has been to focus on the type of film not easily found
in video stores, hence we have a respectable collection of silents,
although only two of Jessica's initial four "must-haves" are here, and
one of them, "The Docks of New York", has been checked out one time -
exactly a year ago - and that had the added "selling point" of being
selected for the Nat'l Film Registry.
To touch on another point which was raised: sometimes we end up with
NASTY, EVIL, BOOTLEG (to paraphrase Jessica) copies unknowingly. If we
see an interesting film listed as a new release from a reputable vendor,
we buy it assuming it is legal, or at least the rights holder has chosen
not to bother (that doesn't make it right, but how are we to know?). A
case in point: like Oksana, I will order any Lubitsch films I run
across, and when I saw a listing for a copy of "The Doll" I ordered it.
It is rather generically packaged with no easily identifiable company
name other than "Foreign Film Classics" on the photocopied sleeve, and
the quality of the print is pretty poor. If and when companies like Kino
or Milestone release silent films, I will always buy them and replace
any old, questionable copies, but the problem remains that we don't know
who the publisher is up front. It would seem to me that the burden falls
on the rights holder to do something about this rather than harangue us
for buying them openly from legit vendors in good faith. I suspect that
they won't do this unless the film in question offers them such huge
sales potential that it would be worth the legal battle, much as the
classical music labels never spent a lot of time and energy tracking
down the producers of bootleg opera recordings by their "exclusive"
singers.
Just my two cents worth!

--
John Holland
Librarian
Chicago Public Library
Media Express
(312) 747-4100