Motion Pictures

Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Research Room

Our research room hours are Monday - Friday from 8:45 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.

Closed Saturdays, Sundays, and Federal Holidays


Welcome to the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Research Room. With the aid of this guide, please take a few minutes to become familiar with the room and its various elements including the movable shelves, audiovisual equipment, finding aids, and the procedures you are required to observe to safely handle and protect the materials you use. Upon entering the room please go to the control desk and register your presence by giving your researcher identification card to a staff member who will scan the bar code on your card.

The research room hours are: Monday through Friday from 8:45 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.
closed Sundays and Federal Holidays.

The motion picture, sound, and video holdings include official U.S. Government records of permanent value and donated materials obtained from various sources.

Archival technicians are in the room at all times to answer questions of a general nature, help you locate finding aids, give instructions to operate the movable shelves or audiovisual equipment, etc. Staff who specialize in the motion picture, sound, and video holdings are available 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday to provide specialized help. Nixon Presidential Material archivists are available on demand until 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Reference copies of certain videotaped and audiotaped materials are available for self-service use during all hours that the room is open (see Using Records: Self-service Materials, below, for details on these materials). Items not already in the room (for which retrieval request forms must be completed) are retrieved from the stack storage areas at 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 1:30 a.m., and 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday there is an additional pull at 3:30 p.m.
Nixon Presidential Material film, videotape, and sound recordings are retrieved on demand until 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Because records are not retrieved weeknights or on Saturday, advance arrangements must be made to have records available then.

Copyright or Restricted Status

Generally speaking, Federal government records are in the public domain and may be freely copied. However, there are times when copyrighted or other restricted use material may be included with records tranferred to the Archives by government agencies. Additionally, the Archives possesses privately produced material that has been donated with copyright or other use restrictions. Please speak with a staff member regarding the copyright or restricted use status of material you wish to copy for a commercial venture.

Handling Archival Materials

Researchers are obligated to observe the rules and procedures that are in place to protect the Archives' holdings, so they will be available for future generations. Rules for Using Historical Records in the National Archives [GIL 57] provides guidance. For instance, smoking, eating, chewing gum, drinking, and using pens are prohibited in the Room.

NOTE: Questions concerning the Nixon Presidential Materials may be directed to 301-837-3290. Questions concerning the National Archives Motion Picture, Sound, and Video unit holdings may be directed to 301-837-0526. The contact form for all queries is at Contact Us.

The Research Room Itself

The Research Room contains two control desks; an Information and Supply Center; a staff/researcher consultation area; finding aids areas; reference tables; non-restricted video material viewing/listening stations; non-restricted audio material listening stations; a non-restricted motion picture viewing area; a restricted media research area; microfilm reader machines; a microfilm printer machine; two videotape duplication machines; and movable shelves containing finding aids, reference copies of selected motion picture and video holdings on video tape and reference copies of selected audio holdings on cassette and reel-to-reel tape. Each element is described in detail below.

  • Control Desks

    Research Room staff are stationed at two control desks to assist researchers by providing information about finding aids, procedures, making copies, and equipment operation. They also answer questions of a general nature. If the staff member is not able to answer a question you will be referred to an archivist if one is available.

  • Information and Supply Center

    A large storage unit near the room entrance contains informational handouts; supplies such as paper, notecards, pencils, and cotton gloves; a debit card machine for use with the copier; and a reference telephone speed-dial linked to all National Archives entities nationwide including the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, the regional National Archives facilities, and Presidential Library facilities nationwide.
  • Staff/Researcher Consultation Area

    Staff who specialize in the motion picture, sound, and video holdings are available in this area 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday to provide specialized help. Archivists from the Nixon Presidential Materials staff are also available as needed until 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • Finding Aids Area

    Finding aids are available in several places. Please see the Finding Aids section below for details.
  • Reference Tables

    There are several reference tables available at the front of the room at which you may consult finding aids, including the National Archives Catalog.
  • Non-Restricted Video Material Viewing/Listening Stations

    At these stations you can view and listen to non-restricted videotaped material and use your own equipment to record copies. There are 34 stations for viewing/listening to videotaped material in 3/4-inch (U-Matic) or 1/2-inch VHS/S-VHS formats.

    For those who wish to dub copies, the station video output requires a BNC male connector on your video cable. The station audio output requires an RCA male phone plug on your audio cable. The audio signal is hi-fi monaural. There is only one audio output jack so if you desire audio on two tracks (such as the left and right tracks on a stereo recorder) you will need a signal splitter to divide the signal. There is a BNC jack for an input video feed from your copy equipment to the monitor. When dubbing 3/4-inch videotape to Betacam you may need a time base corrector. The viewing/listening stations are located in the aisle along the balcony railing and at the rear of the room.
  • Non-Restricted Audio Material Listening Stations

    At these stations you can listen to non-restricted audiotaped material and use your own equipment to record copies. There are 12 stations for listening to audiotaped material in cassette or reel-to-reel formats. For those who wish to dub copies, the station audio output requires an RCA male phone plug on your audio cable. The audio signal is hi-fi monaural. You will need a signal splitter to divide the signal onto two tracks. The stations are located in the aisle along the balcony railing and at the rear of the room.

    NOTE: The video and audio stations described above can comfortably accomodate one or two people. Headphones are provided which must be used. For larger groups a special viewing/listening room is available by advance arrangement that seats 36 people.
  • Non-Restricted Motion Picture Viewing Area

    16mm and 35mm motion picture film is viewed in a special area located adjacent to the control desk at the rear of the room. You may use your own video camera to shoot the image directly off the viewing screen. Audio may be recorded with a microphone from the speaker or through an audio output that requires an RCA male plug on your audio cable. You must remain at the playback station at all times while the film is in use.
  • Restricted Media Viewing/Listening Area

    Motion picture films, videotapes, and audio recordings that have duplication restrictions must be used in this area. No copying equipment is permitted in the area. Material used cannot be copied unless permission is secured in writing from the copyright holder. Please see a staff member for more information and a Source and Permission Contact List.
  • Microfilm Readers, Printer, and Other Machine Readable Material

    At the rear of the room are two microfilm readers for use with microfilmed indexes and a microfilm/microfiche printer that produces a paper copy of a microfilmed image. The copies must be stamped at the control desk to ease your exit from the Research Center. There is also a cartridge microfilm reader for holdings in that format.
  • Video Duplication Machines

    Two video duplication machines are located opposite the control desk at the rear of the room. You may rent a machine to dub a VHS, S-VHS, or 3/4-inch tape onto a VHS tape purchased from the National Archives. Personal recording devices cannot be connected to these machines and only tapes purchased from the National Archives may be used.

    You may purchase a videotape and 120 minutes of time to duplicate non-restricted videotapes according to the fee schedule below. Fees for additional time and blank tapes are also noted. Copying time cannot be reserved and it must be used as a continuous two-hour block commencing when you sign the use log. You must remain at the duplication machine at all times while it is in use.


Please see the fee schedule for current fees.

Payment by cash, check, or credit card (Visa or MasterCard only) is made at the Cashier's Office (first floor elevator lobby) from 10:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Monday - Friday. After 4:30 p.m. daily and all day on Saturday, payment is made by credit card or check in the research room.

Finding Aids

When U.S. Government agencies transfer motion picture, sound, and video records to the National Archives, they also transfer any existing finding aids. Frequently, such finding aids are in card catalog form. Because the records were created by many government agencies independent of one another, there is no master card catalog or other finding aid to all motion picture, sound, and video holdings. Various finding aids available for researchers are described below.

  • Card Catalogs

    Motion picture, sound, and video material is described in several independent card catalogs. Staff members will help you determine the catalog(s) suited to your research needs. There are handouts in the Information and Supply Center located at the front of the room that explain the scope and content for each catalog. Until a digitization project is completed, the catalog cards are stored in boxes found on rows 1 - 9 of the movable shelves. More

    Please remove an entire box of catalog cards from the shelf, not individual cards, and take the box to a reference desk at the front of the room to look through them. Researchers should reshelve the boxes after use. If you wish to copy cards on the copier, first take the entire box of catalog cards to the control desk for copy approval before going to the copier. Please use the pink marker cards available at the control desk to mark the place in the box from which you remove catalog cards for copying. Please remove only one box at a time. The cards must remain in the order they were in so please refile accordingly. Please use the card boxes only at the reference desks and at the copier station. Please do not take them to the viewing/listening stations.
  • The Preservation Binders

    The preservation binders list all motion picture, sound, and video holdings, both cataloged and uncataloged. They are located on black shelves near the Information and Supply Center. The binders and listings are arranged in numerical order by Record Group number. A Record Group is an administrative designation given to records created by an agency of government or donated materials. For instance, Record Group (RG) 111 pertains to records created by the Army Signal Corps. The listings help you determine if a reference copy is available and on the self-service shelf; the format of the record(s); and if the record(s) are restricted by copyright or other restriction.
  • Topic Files

    Topic files containing selected citations to motion picture, sound, and video holdings are located in file cabinets along the balcony railing. There are over 200 files for motion picture/video holdings such as Atom bomb, Civil Rights, Pearl Harbor, and Wildlife. There are over 250 files for sound holdings such as D-Day, Fireside Chats, and Watergate Hearings.

Using Records

  • Original Archival Materials

    Researchers requesting to use original textual records (e.g., production notes, scripts, etc.) or reference copies of audiovisual items located in the storage stack area of the building do so by completing a reference service slip. Please complete the slip by filling in the appropriate sections with the date, your name, researcher card number, the type of record requested (textual, motion pictures, sound recording, video), and description of material requested. Samples are posted in the research room.

    After completing the reference service slip, please give it to a staff member so that the time of receipt can be recorded. Original textual records and reference copies of audiovisual items are retrieved Monday through Friday at specified times or on demand. When the material(s) arrive in the research room you will be asked to sign a copy of the reference service slip acknowledging receipt and you may be asked to show your researcher card. A maximum of 24 items at a time is made available to a researcher or a research team.
  • Self-Service Materials

    Reference service slips are not needed if you are using self-service unrestricted video and/or audio tapes located on the moveable shelving in the research room. The audio material is located in rows 31 to 36. Video material is in rows 41 to 48. Please limit your selections to six items at one time but open only one case at a time so there is no danger of placing a tape in the case of another. When you have finished using an audiovisual item, please rewind and reshelve the item. If the item was not self-service, please return it to the control desk at the rear of the room.

Protection of Archival Materials and Archives Equipment

Special care is necessary when using archival audiovisual items. To protect the motion picture films, we provide white gloves that must be worn whenever handling the film and you must remain at the film viewing station while the film is in use. Please remain in the research room when operating audiovisual equipment.

If equipment or media malfunctions, breaks, jams, etc., please notify a staff member immediately before attempting to continue operating the equipment. Only National Archives videotapes and audio tapes may be used in the research room equipment. No personal tapes, even if unopened and still in original packaging, may be placed in the research room equipment.

Researcher-Owned Equipment

Feel free to use your own copying equipment but cases, bags, boxes, and other enclosures must remain in lockers located in the basement. Please see the viewing/listening station descriptions for details on the equipment you need to connect to our machines. Recording device(s) may enter the Research Center without prior approval. Personal paper to paper copiers are not permitted to enter the Center. Flat-bed scanners without automatic document feed may enter the Center.

Audiovisual equipment carts are also available for use while conducting research. They are located in the Researcher Registration office in the building lobby. Please place personal equipment on the carts because the viewing/listening stations have limited flat space and your equipment may not be placed on Archives equipment or at an unoccupied station. Your copying equipment and any copies you make will be inspected by a staff member as you leave the research room. Archival holdings may not be used in your equipment.


Please see the fee schedule for current fees.

  • Self-Service Copiers

    A paper to paper copier is in the room for copying catalog cards, pages of other finding aids, and textual documents. It operates with a debit card that is purchased in the room. Please take the item(s) you wish to copy to a staff member at the control desk for copy approval before going to the copier. Please see the section on card catalogs for information on copying cards.
  • Self-Service Audio and Video Copying

    You may use your audiovisual equipment to duplicate audiovisual items that are not restricted or you may rent the use of a dubbing station available in the room. Using your own equipment, video duplication requires a recording device (deck, camcorder, or Betacam ), blank tape, a video cable with a BNC connector and an audio cable with an RCA phone plug with a signal splitter if you would like the audio on both tracks of your stereo recorder.

    Audio copying requires an open-reel or cassette recorder with cables that have a mini-plug and/or cables with an RCA phone plug. An auxiliary-in or input jack is necessary to receive a satisfactory recording signal. You must have your own cables and connectors as they are not available in the room. The viewing/listening station output jacks are located on a panel at the front of the station. Connections may not be made on the back of the equipment. The quality of video and audio copies will vary depending on the quality of your equipment and the quality of the reference copy from which you copy. Reference copies are, at best, second generation copies and rarely of broadcast quality.
  • Self-Service Copying of Motion Picture Film

    Copying motion picture film requires a Betacam or camcorder for shooting the image directly from the screen of the playback machine. A tripod may be used. The motion picture playback machines project an image of a relatively low light level and there will be a flicker movement in the duplicated copy.

    Sound, if available, may be recorded from the speaker by your camera's built-in microphone or from an auxiliary microphone (not supplied by the Archives) placed in front of the speaker. Direct wired sound reproduction requires an audio cable with an RCA male plug inserted into the "SUM" jack. There are four audio tracks that are individually controlled. The "SUM" jack outputs all four tracks.
  • Copies Made for Researchers by Outside Vendors

    Outside vendors can provide duplication services for both broadcast and non-broadcast quality motion picture film, videotapes, and sound recordings. The National Archives supplies to vendors intermediate copies of an archival original item from which the vendor makes a reproduction. Usually, the contents of an entire item is copied. If you desire only portions from an item copied, you must arrange with the vendor to be present during the transfer. Vendors also provide master positive and duplicate negative reproductions of motion picture film. For information please speak with a staff member.
  • NOTE: Handouts pertaining to copy orders are available at the Control Desk at the front of the room. They are: