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Accordion List

The Cinema and Media Studies program offers a major, a minor, and a graduate certificate. Its courses focus not only on the history of cinema, television, new media, and film theory and aesthetics, but also allow students to gain experience with writing scripts for film, television, and media production. Courses are cross-listed in a wide range of departments, such as courses on national cinemas, film movements, and genres, which are listed in all modern languages and literatures departments and the History of Art department, or courses on modern digital and classic animation techniques and video production, which are listed in the undergraduate program in Fine Arts and Design. The program includes seven full-time faculty positions, and many other faculty from across the School of Arts and Sciences and the Stuart Weitzman School of Design. The program is likely to evolve in the direction of media studies, extending, for example, to the globalization of media; mobile device cultures and applications; immersive video and eXtended reality (XR) encompassing augmented, virtual, and mixed reality (AR/VR/MR); and the history of screen cultures.

The Penn Libraries is home to a world-class collection of streaming film, physical media, and Cinema & Media Studies literature, including works on film studies, television studies, and new media.

Streaming video is an essential part of our moving image collections, because faculty and students now have immediate access to works of film and can navigate and re-watch digital files with relative ease. Whenever possible, the Libraries acquires works of film with rights to give access for educational use for life of file, in which case the Libraries maintains a digital file of the film on a local server dedicated to streaming video, or the vendor will provide access through a streaming platform of their choice, such as Kanopy, Docuseek, or Academic Video Online. When it is not possible to purchase a digital file of a film, the Libraries purchases a digital streaming license, usually for between one and five years, often based on course needs.

The Libraries began to collect physical media systematically, in the form of videotapes, mostly VHS, in 1999, when SAS Computing’s Multi-Media Services (then known as Multimedia & Educational Technology Services), until then the unit which managed the University's primary film repository, transferred most of its holdings — about 1,000 videotapes — to the Libraries. For the next several years, the Libraries only added to this rudimentary collection in response to faculty and student request. Faculty positions in the then-new Cinema Studies Program had not yet been filled, and it seemed prudent not to acquire actively during a time of transition, when technology was shifting from VHS to DVD. Eventually, the Libraries began to build a core collection of classic films, working with faculty and from lists such as those provided by the American Film Institute and, for foreign films, the Facets catalog. In 2004, the gift of the collection of Temple University film scholar William F. Van Wert included thousands of videotapes and DVDs to bolster the study of contemporary, avant-garde, and independent film.

The Penn Libraries maintains the following distinct film collections: Van Pelt general collections and Reserves (closed circulation), the William F. Van Wert Film Studies Collection (including the dark archive at LIBRA), the Eugene Ormandy Collection, the Harvey Sheldon Jewish American Music Video Research Library, the Fisher Fine Arts Library, the Penn Museum Library. A few academic departments and programs still have their own media collections and viewing facilities, including Cinema & Media Studies.

1. Chronological

All periods are included, from magic lantern studies and Muybridge and the zoopraxiscope to film criticism and history to film writing in the present day.

2. Formats

Collections include text formats such as monographs, reference works, periodicals, and both physical and streaming media. 

The text collections (books, journals, databases) focus on scholarly material: history, aesthetics, theory, and the motion picture and television industries. The foundation of the collection consists of works that support critical thinking about film and television history and film theory in a global context. For production courses it is important to have up-to-date books on video and production standards and broadcast engineering. For screenwriting courses, it is important to have books relating to screenwriting theory, adaptation studies, and screenwriting as a profession. Film scripts and more popular, non-academic materials on stardom and production are a lower priority. 


The market for physical video formats is in decline, with many filmmakers and producers choosing to forego DVD releases of films for the home video and educational markets or choosing streaming or online distribution exclusively. However, DVDs remain important to researchers when the Libraries cannot source films in any digital format, an issue when works of video become out-of-print or unavailable on subscription video-on-demand platforms, or researchers do not have reliable internet connectivity. DVDs remain an important medium for local storage and distribution, and the Libraries will continue to acquire them.

The Libraries collects DVDs from all regions, with a strong preference for NTSC DVDs, or DVDs produced for Region 1 (North America). DVDs from Region 2 (Europe, Middle East, South Africa, and Japan) sometimes receive call numbers which begin with DVD/PAL. The Libraries also collect all-region and region-free DVDs.

The Fisher Fine Arts Library selectively acquires DVDs that are original works of art, usually sold at prices higher than other home-use video or video marketed to the academic institutional market by individual galleries representing the artists rather than by commercial film distributors.

Films are also bought for other programs and departments: for example, theatre arts (especially Shakespeare and Renaissance drama), history, literature, history of art and architecture, communication and political rhetoric, music (staged musical works, orchestral performances, historical jazz performance, ethno/folk music), and classical ethnographic and documentary videos on a wide range of African topics.


The Libraries collects Blu-ray discs selectively, chiefly popular or canonical films, but only for Region A (North America), intended for students or researchers who have access to a Blu-ray player or video game console that allows Blu-ray playback. Blu-ray players are backwards compatible with both NTSC and PAL DVDs.

Blu-ray discs are often housed in LIBRA, not the Van Pelt Video Collection. 

Video CD (VCD). 

VCD has inferior image quality, and many players cannot run software that will read VCDs. The Libraries collects VCD selectively, when it is the only option available, and usually for films from South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, or other parts of the world.


Digital files for streaming are the preferred format with perpetual or life-of-file rights for institutional use. Major distributors commonly have a division for non-theatrical, or educational, sales. When it is not possible to purchase a digital file, because it is not a licensing option or prohibitively expensive, the Penn Libraries seeks to acquire a digital streaming license (DSL), usually offered as a one-, three- or five-year license. The length of the licensing term appears in the video’s catalog record with an expiry date, and the most appropriate option normally depends on anticipated course use and the frequency with which instructors teach a specific course or include a given work in their syllabus.

The Libraries selectively acquires digital files for streaming with life-of-file rights due to the expense of perpetual licenses. However, a perpetual license may be preferable to a term-limited license, if the film is not regularly taught in courses yet still, because of subject matter, would be considered of potential research interest, especially documentary films or films which fulfill library strategic goals for collections.

Legacy formats. 

The last major film released on VHS was in 2006. The Penn Libraries does not collect videotape cassettes such as VHS or Betamax, although there may be rare exceptions for material available in no other format. Most videotapes are housed in LIBRA, not the Van Pelt Video Collection or other branch library video collections. Most VHS tapes are Region 1 (North America), but the Libraries have acquired VHS/PAL tapes from other parts of the world selectively and on request by instructors. At one time, instructors had access to all-region VHS players, however the Libraries do not have or provide access to an all-region VHS player (VCR). There are videocassette recorders (VCRs) available in the Eugene Ormandy Music & Media Center.

The Libraries do not actively acquire films in legacy formats, such as 35mm or 16mm film reels or formats intended for amateur film, such as 8mm or Super 8. The Libraries does not provide access to projectors or other A/V equipment to access these formats.

3. Geographical

All regions. Area Studies bibliographers are building especially strong collections in Indian, Iranian, Israeli, and Latin American film.

4. Language

The primary language of Cinema and Media Studies print collections is English. Languages of secondary importance are French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Russian, Hebrew, and Arabic. Other languages are collected selectively.

The Libraries collects films and video in all languages. For films in languages other than English, subtitles are preferable. 

Responsibility for the Libraries' Cinema and Media Studies video collections is distributed among bibliographers systemwide, analogous to print collections. That is, the bibliographer for Literature in English selects films in English, primarily in support of the Cinema and Media Studies Program and the English Department; the Italian literature bibliographer acquires films in Italian; the History bibliographer purchases films, primarily documentaries, for courses in the History Department, etc. Films for which no other single bibliographer has clear responsibility are acquired by the Cinema and Media Studies bibliographer, who is the overall coordinator for Cinema and Media Studies collections.

The acquisition of print materials and databases follows a similar pattern. Materials on cinema, television, media, etc. that are not specific to a particular country are the responsibility of the Cinema and Media Studies bibliographer. 

5. Publication Dates

No restrictions, but emphasis is on current material. Older material is regularly purchased to fill gaps in the collection.

6. Other

The priority in building the current film and television collection is the ongoing acquisition of canonical works. Popular, non-canonical films are acquired selectively, often for instructional use.

Because of their quality and importance, the Libraries acquires all Criterion Collection DVDs in addition to receiving those distributed by Kino Lorber and Film Movement on standing order. 

In addition to the Libraries' major approval plan (GOBI) for both university and trade publications in the U.S., there are smaller approval plans for German (Harrassowitz), French (Amalivre), Italian (Casalini), and Dutch (Erasmus) language material. These are supplemented by slip plans from the same vendors.

Midwest Tape provides DVD firm orders. Digital streaming licenses are purchased selectively, normally for course use, from Kanopy, Swank, Criterion Pictures USA (not related to Janus Films/Criterion Collection), Alexander Street Press, Grasshopper Film, Women Make Movies, Films Media Group, Collective Eye, and many other providers.

Film journals, magazines, review publications such as Video Librarian, social media, and the VIDEONEWS mailing list are scanned for film and book reviews, publication announcements and "books received" lists. Distributors share announcements of new releases and promotions via marketing emails, forwarded to bibliographers by the Cinema & Media Studies librarian as appropriate.

Subject Call number range Level
Drama PN1864-1989  
-- Broadcasting PN1990-1992 4E/4F
          -- Radio broadcasts   4E/3F
          -- Television broadcasts   4E/4F
          -- Nonbroadcast video recordings   4E/3F
Motion Pictures PN1993-1999  
-- Films by country, national cinemas   4E/4F
-- Hollywood   4E/3F
-- Film festivals   4E/4F
-- Film theory   4E/3F
-- Genres and themes   4E/4F
          -- Individual films   4E/3F
-- Adaptations   4E
-- Screenwriting   4E/1F
-- Screenplays   4E/2F
-- Film direction   4E/4F
          -- Individual directors   4E/3F
-- Studios and film industry   4E/4F
Dramatic representation. The theater.     
-- Art of acting   3E
-- The stage and accessories   3E
Telecommunication TK5101-6720  
-- Including telegraphy, telephone, radio, radar, television   3E
Photography TR1-1050  
-- Cameras   2E
-- Lighting   2E
-- Cinematography. Motion pictures. TR845-899 4E/3F
          -- Film and video editing   3E