On 27th October, I was lucky enough to be part of a team organising a visit to the BFI’s Reuben Library on the beautiful South Bank. A team of librarians from different universities were shown around the depths of the BFI offices, the book stacks, and the library itself – and I thought it might be worth letting some of you know what kinds of collections the BFI has to offer (it is only 40 minutes away by train, after all).
The BFI Reuben Library is open Tuesday – Saturday, and is just across the road from Waterloo Station. It’s free to use (although they’ll ask you fill out a registration card) and has the largest collection of film and TV material in the world. They hold 35,000 books, over 5000 magazines (the oldest being a copy of The Optical Magic Lantern Journal and Photographic Enlarger from June 1889), and 4.1 million press cuttings – some of these are available on site, but others will need to be requested. You can check their catalogue to view the collections here.
When you search, you’ll need to specify what kind of material you’re interested in, but if you search for a film the catalogue will show you not only film material held in the Library, but any archive material, books, articles, etc related to the film as well.
Academics and students are their largest user group – but the Library is also used by journalists, historians, and anyone interested in film.
Special Collections at the BFI
The Special Collections (like an archive) hold all sorts of unique and fascinating materials, including
- unrealised screenplays
- drafts of screenplays
- images from film sets
- correspondence between filmakers, cast, crew, etc
- shooting schedules
- marketing materials
- film posters
- costume design sketches
- much more!
You can search for special collections material in the catalogue, and request to view items you’re interested in. Materials are collected from pre-production of a film, production itself, post-production – and the collections can be very unique. At the moment an exhibition in the small space beside the screens takes material from one of the continuity editors on Star Wars IV: A New Hope and includes copies of scripts, unseen photographs of the actors taken to ensure continuity, and clips from the final film itself.
A visit to the BFI Reuben Library can give you an idea of what is available to you, and it can be a great resource for your research too!