A Visit to the PFA Library

Pacific Film Archive Library and Film Study Center
Location: BAM/PFA Galleries
2621 Durant Avenue, Berkeley, California
Phone Reference Line: (510) 642-1437
Hours of Operation: Monday-Wednesday, 1-5 p.m.

Nancy Goldman*
Head, PFA Library and Film Study Center
Jason Sanders, Film Research Associate
Susan Wester, Film Cataloger
*interviewed staff person

Situated on the south edge of the UC Berkeley campus, the PFA Library is housed in the Berkeley Art Museum gallery. The institution will move to downtown Berkeley in the near future.

The PFA Library is part of the Pacific Film Archive, conceptualized by Sheldon Renan as an archive, study center, and exhibition program for film, within the auspices of a fine arts museum (Amazonas, p. 149). The PFA opened to the public on January 22, 1971 and the Library and Film Center opened in 1972 with Linda Artel. I was fortunate to sit with Nancy Goldman, who succeeded Linda as PFA Library’s Head and uber-knowledgeable librarian. Nancy advocates for the preservation of the analog medium and leads digitization initiatives to meet the demands of their international patronage.

At the PFA every office doubles as shelf space: extensions of their  collections storage room. The main film study room is filled with shelves of books and metal file cabinets of clippings and ephemera. The library has private film screening rooms, equipment to play 35mm film, and machines that create low-resolution digital stills from film. Former curators and collaborators influenced the collection’s strengths: film studies, west coast avant garde, Japanese films, soviet silents, and Eastern European animation. According to their website (n.d.), the collection includes over 14,000 films and videos, over 8,000 books, 150 journal titles, 7,500 posters, 35,000 stills, and 1,500 audiotapes of filmmakers who have appeared at the PFA, as well as screenplays, international film festival programs, and distributors’ catalogs. Cinefiles, PFA’s film document image database, comprises some 95,000 files containing film reviews, press kits, and articles on filmmakers, performers, national cinemas, genres, and other topics.


Library details

The PFA Library employs the LC classification for books and periodicals, and an in-house classification system for films. Clippings are cross-referenced by author name and film title. Cinefiles is AACR compatible: fields can be mapped to MARC or Dublin Core. The library uses an offline LibraryWorld database to record sensitive patron and donor information. Films and books are cataloged by OCLC are accessible by WorldCat, and UC Berkeley’s catalog Oskicat (Innovative/Millenium system). Digitized content is also part of the California Digital Library.


Like many libraries and museums, decreased budget, staff and space are current issues. However their strategic planning—part of the new building planning—has allowed the staff to identify opportunities such as chances to engage new audiences in the downtown Berkeley location. They are also aware of the need to be flexible and responsive to how new patrons want to get information. Having had worked at BAM/PFA six years ago, I was thrilled to see that the people resources of the PFA Library were preserved, and can testify that these experts will get you the film information you need. Even with their challenges, the PFA Library has maintained its integrity and reputation, and remains a reliable place for viewing and studying film.


Amazonas, L. (2004, Spring). Guerrilla cinematheque comes of age: The Pacific Film Archive. Chronicle of the University of California, 6, 147–159.

PFA Library & Film Study Center. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2012 from the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive website: http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/pfalibrary/

Here’s an additional article that supports the analog medium and considers how digital technologies affect preservation:



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