Reserve Film and Video Collection

Third Floor


Phone: 212.870.1639
Fully accessible to wheelchairs
Open Hours:

  • Mon, Thurs: 12 PM - 8 PM
  • Tues, Wed, Fri, Sat: 12 PM - 6 PM
  • Sun: Closed


The Reserve Film and Video Collection includes more than 6,000 16mm films, 5,000 VHS videocassettes, and 2,000 DVDs.


The New York Public Library began acquiring films in 1952 and established a film department at the Donnell Library in 1958. The library began adding videos to the collection in the 1970s.

Since the collection's inception, its primary focus has been independently produced works. Careful selection practices have resulted in a collection that is impressive for its scope and depth and its overall high quality. The collection's holdings provide a very broad spectrum of both subject matter and filmmaking styles and genres. It is unique among American public libraries and is comparable to archives held within major American museums and universities.


Particular strengths of the collection are its political, social, and cultural documentaries; experimental films; video art; animation; short fictional works; and films and videos created by and for children and young adults.


The Reserve Film and Video Collection also offers an impressive array of feature films across multiple formats and genres, including works from the silent era; independently produced features; a broad representation of world cinema; and Hollywood productions from American classics to recent releases.


How Can I Find What I’m Looking For?

RFVC materials are described in the NYPL’s online catalog. To search for a specific title or name within the collection, enter the search term (title or name), and then select "Performing Arts Reserve Film and Video Collection" from the Location dropdown box. Reference assistance is available at the 3rd floor Theatre/Film/Dance Reference desk and by email at


Who Can Use the Collection?

Individuals and organizations may borrow most RFVC holdings for a period of seven days with a valid New York Public Library card; RFVC material cannot be renewed. Some materials also require a Special Collections account. All materials must be borrowed and returned at the Library for the Performing Arts’ third floor Access Services desk. Individuals and groups may also view RFVC material on site. Materials and appointments can be requested through the Special Collections account or by emailing


Films within RFVC are selected for home use and private community use only. They must not be shown or used in curriculum-oriented classroom situations, school clubs, school auditorium programs or assemblies. They are not to be used at fundraising events, nor are they to be shown for commercial purposes or in venues at which an admission is charged. However, school and community groups can be accommodated at the Library for the Performing Arts. Please make inquiries by email to


Public Programs

RFVC material is regularly used in public programs at the Library for the Performing Arts and throughout The New York Public Library’s system. To find a program near you, check out the Library’s Events calendar and the The Little Screen page dedicated to 16mm film programs.


16mm Film Handling and Projection

To maintain the 16mm film collection for circulation outside of the library, it is necessary for users of the films to ensure that they do not incur damage while in your care. Keep the films away from direct heat and moisture and make certain that a competent projectionist and a 16mm projector in good working order are used. 


  1. Inspect the projector prior to showing. Canned air should be used to remove loose dust and dirt from the film path, gate (the small plate through which the film passes as the light projects it on the screen) and lens. Using a lint-free cloth, wipe down the entire film path including the rollers. Using an alcohol-saturated swab, wipe down the film path and gate. Do not use alcohol to clean any rubber parts (if there are any), as it will dry out and decay those parts. Clean lens with “lens cleaning solution” or simply wipe free of dust with a lint-free cloth. Be careful not to scratch or streak the lens.

  2. Perform a "scratch test." Scratch tests should be done with a small reel of black leader. Run the leader as if it were a film, head to tail. Inspect the leader for scratches, and if necessary run the leader again and see if any scratches are visible upon projection.

  3. Once your projector has been cleaned and tested to ensure that the film will not be damaged during projection, carefully thread the projector, making certain that the film is properly passing through all sprocket wheels and the film gate. Turn the projector on and run a few feet of the film through the machine to ensure proper threading, focus and screen alignment.

  4. During your screening, stop the projector at the first indication of difficulty. Turn off the projector lamp switch to prevent burns on the film.

  5. Once the film has finished, place it back in the can without rewinding.