The Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center
It is the mission of the Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation
Center to actively conserve, preserve and restore the Nation's
motion picture heritage in the collections of the Library of Congress's
Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (M/B/RS).
Since the early 1970's, the Library of Congress has maintained
an active film preservation program. It is currently the only such
program in the United States funded primarily with public monies.
In the late 1960's, the Library began storing much of its nitrate
film archive at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, located just northeast
of Dayton, Ohio. The Air Force offered the Library the use of its
motion picture facility, which included 100 purpose- built nitrate
By the early 1970's, the Library was involved in a cooperative
project with the American Film Institute (AFI) and was accepting
large gift collections of nitrate film from many of Hollywood's
major studios. These included Columbia, Universal, Warner Brothers,
and MGM. Today, under the stewardship of M/B/RS, the nitrate film
holdings, dating from the 1890's through 1950, exceed 100 million
The Motion Picture Conservation Center at Wright-Patterson AFB
now consists of two primary facilities, the Film Vaults and the
Motion Picture Preservation Laboratory. The Center currently has
20 full and part-time employees, almost half of which are paid
for through the use of Gifts and Trust funds.
The Film Vaults facility provides safe storage for the highly
flammable nitrate film by maintaining the environment at a temperature
of 52 to 55 degrees fahrenheit and a relative humidity between
35 and 40 percent. Additional safety features include special double
doors which will automatically close in the event of a fire, and
blow out panels which would help to direct the flames and smoke
from a fire away from the other vaults.
The facility's 100 vaults are separated in half by a central
corridor, with all doors opening towards the corridor. Each vault
can hold up to 1000 or more reels of nitrate film stored in metal
cans on cores. All films are stored flat (not on edge), the current
recommended practice for archiving master material.
The Motion Picture Preservation Laboratory moved to Dayton from
Washington in 1981. It consists of a nitrate vault for the temporary
storage of film as it is being preserved, along with nitrate preparation,
timing, printing, developing and viewing facilities. Most of the
equipment in the Laboratory has been modified in order to properly
copy the aging and shrunken nitrate films. In addition, full immersion
printers are used in order to photographically conceal the scratches
and other base defects found on old films. All black and white
films are developed in- house, while color developing is handled
under contract at a commercial laboratory.
The Conservation Center has completed a number of major film
restorations over the past few years. These include MR. SMITH GOES
TO WASHINGTON (1939), THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), and WITHIN OUR
GATES (1920), the oldest surviving feature film directed by an
African-American. Current restoration efforts include MR. DEEDS
GOES TO TOWN (1936) and the entire Paper Print Collection, which
is being remastered onto 35mm film.