Opening Hidden Collections

Curator's Note

Media historians depend on creative and craftspeople and executives who see a future in the materials of production (recordings, props, images). As objects move from the hands of media-makers themselves, to their family members, or between fans, they often end up in garages or attics—or trash bins. If we are lucky, they find their way to libraries and archives. Ideally, these archives are well-funded, have materials organized and digitized, and have their collections available for use by patrons. In reality though, many collections remain “hidden” or at risk due to the preciousness of materials, deteriorating objects or media formats, or inaccessible conditions for patrons to view materials.

Over the last five years, I worked closely with the Writers Guild Foundation (WGF), a small non-profit institution associated with the Writers Guild of America, as I researched my book, The Writers: A History of American Screenwriters and Their Guild (Rutgers, 2015). The WGF’s mission is to preserve and promote screen storytelling and storytellers. The WGF Shavelson-Webb Library and Archive is is a rare gem. Currently it houses 4,000 screenplays, 16,000 TV scripts, 760 radio scripts, 100 new media scripts, 2,700 books, and the numbers grow every week. The WGF has 5,600 recordings of programs, interviews, seminars, and events. While everything in the core collection of the WGF Library is a special collection, the archive holds unique treasures including annotated drafts of scripts, show bibles, clippings files, Guild history, letters, and much more yet to be processed.

 My research in the WGF has turned into a multi-year collaborative effort to advocate for the opening of hidden collections. During the SCMS workshop I will speak about my experiences finding and accessing hidden collections, and how this has led to my role on the advisory board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oral History Digital Archive.

Media scholars have an opportunity to assist families, archives, and libraries in opening hidden collections by assisting in grant-writing to open hidden collections, by explaining the historical or cultural importance of particular documents within a collection, and by doing the basics of cataloging as they look through materials. The following video shows the process of turning a precious piece of the WGF collection into a digital resource available to a much wider audience—including academics, scholars, journalists, and aspiring media makers.


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