MOUNT PONY, Virginia (Hollywood Reporter) - The blast doors
that were to shield members of the Federal Reserve board from
nuclear annihilation are gone.
A massive bunker about 75 miles from the Capitol building
has been taken over by Library of Congress archivists caring
for the world's biggest collection of movies, TV shows and
If a civilization is truly to be judged by its libraries
and museums, then the 415,000-square-foot Library of Congress
Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation makes a pretty
decent statement for the nation and the uniquely American
impact on recorded media.
"Movies, television and sound recordings are the people's
art forms," said Mike Mashon, head of the library's moving
image section. "They tell us who we were, who we are and
perhaps where we're going."
Not having the dedication to preserve the past consigns our
heritage to an unsure fate, Mashon added.
"We have embraced the history, glamour and storytelling
splendor of moviemaking while ignoring the reality that films
are physical artifacts that can shrink, fade and disintegrate
into dust in less than a lifetime," he said.
From the outside, the building -- most of which is buried
in the side of the mountain -- has a Hanging Gardens of Babylon
effect. Gone are the early 1960s furnishings and post-doomsday
decor designed to see the central bank through a nuclear
winter. In its place are the archivists' workstations, film
restoration machinery and vaults that will protect the
library's delicate inventory.
The archive brings together in one place for the first time
6 million items that have been scattered in facilities in four
states and the District of Columbia. The vast collection will
be made available to researchers and the general public.
Embracing history isn't cheap. The Packard Humanities
Institute, largely at the behest of early-film enthusiast David
W. Packard, provided $155 million for land acquisition and
design and construction costs. This year, the foundation
donated the facility in late July to the government. It was the
largest-ever private gift to the U.S. legislative branch and
one of the largest ever to the federal government.
Congress authorized purchase of the property by the
institute and since 2001 has provided $82.1 million in startup
Packard, a former classics professor at the University of
North Carolina and the son of Hewlett-Packard co-founder David
Packard, has funneled millions of dollars into such archives as
the Library of Congress, the UCLA Film and Television Archive
and the George Eastman House.
Packard played a hands-on role in the construction of the
campus. He ensured that the archivists had a decent work space
and that the building's theater would realistically mimic the
experience movie patrons had during Hollywood's golden age.
While Packard has been a godsend for film preservation
efforts, he doesn't want the facility that bears his name to
become a private Xanadu for archivists. During the July
ceremony where Packard signed over the facility, he urged
Congress to develop more ways so that ordinary people can
access the archive.
Mashon said the library intends to make as much material
available as technology and copyright law will allow, giving
public access to the library's audiovisual holdings via
electronic transmissions to the reading rooms on Capitol Hill
and through curated online exhibits, regular theatrical
screenings, festivals, symposia and events open to the public
for free, Mashon said.
But the library doesn't want to stop there.
"We can send any digital content we want back to the D.C.
reading rooms but will be looking immediately to make
rights-free material online as soon as possible and in
high-quality downloads," Mashon said. "Looking ahead, we'd like
to establish access partnerships with archives and educational
institutions around the county and then the world so that
anything we digitize here is also available there."
Archivists at the Packard Campus will be able to preserve
between two and four times as many films, sound recordings,
television shows and other ephemera.
The facility features new conservation technologies and
processes, many of which were created specifically for the
Library of Congress. A technology known as IRENE (image,
reconstruct, erase noise, etc.) will create digital audio files
by taking high-resolution images of fragile or damaged grooved
media like the earliest phonograph records.
A robotic system called SAMMA (system for the automated
migration of media assets) will automatically create
preservation-quality digital files from cassette-based media.
It is expected that the Packard Campus will produce about 2
petabytes of digital content in its first year, increasing to
an annual rate of 3-5 petabytes when additional, planned
systems are brought online. If you were to store two petabytes
of data on CD-ROMs, each holding 700MB, you would have a stack
of discs reaching about 2-1/4 miles into the sky.
"Preservation is sort of like 'Back to the Future,"' said
Steve Leggett, staff coordinator for the National Film
Preservation Board. "If you want things to be right 30 years
from now, you must store and preserve them properly now."