When I saw my first movies in the late 1950s, there was no way of keeping a copy of the one’s you especially enjoyed to view again at some time in the future. This was in contrast to some of the first books which I really enjoyed in the early 1960s – such as Coral Island and Greenmantle – and which have resided on my bookshelves to this very day, available for dipping into or re-reading at will (though, truth be told, this hasn’t happened much). All this changed in the 1970s with the emergence of the domestic video recorder, and movies could be rented, and eventually purchased, on video tapes. In the 1980s, you could have a collection of films in your bookcase along with your favourite books.
Unfortunately, there was – and still is – a significant distinction between the two media: books don’t require anything else to be able to read them, whereas video films need equipment to play them on – equipment that keeps changing as the technology develops. So, my collection of films on VHS video had to be swapped into DVDs; and last year we got a new TV streaming box which doesn’t have a DVD player at all.
However, leaving aside this pesky technology problem, I’m wondering if the introduction of films to our bookshelves has truly made a difference. As I hinted above, I don’t reread books very often; and yet having them on my shelves does make a difference. I guess their presence acts as a reminder of the impressions they made on me; and their physical presence does afford me rereading opportunity, whilst their absence might fuel a desire to obtain them. Is the same true of films? Well, I think in my case – yes! The visuality and motion in films undoubtedly make them seem more attractive than a book, and may be more likely to inspire a second viewing; nevertheless, as with my books, I don’t seem to have taken much advantage of their availability. But I would, in principle, like to have a collection of my favourite films, even if only to know what they are.
Of course, films are not the only video material that we encounter today: we also watch huge amounts of TV, some of which we really enjoy and regard as memorable. Some people recorded and had collections of such material – and then encountered the changing technology problem. In the face of today’s streaming services, only the dedicated will have managed to retain such collections in a form that Is still accessible. My wife and I, thankfully, never went down that particular rabbit hole.
There are two other types of video material that I do have collections of. One is about a dozen pieces relating to office technology developments that were relevant to my job as an IT consultant. These were included in my work filing system, converted to digital files several years ago, and continue to be maintained within the filing system under its digital preservation maintenance plan. I feel no need to have these items displayed anywhere: they are accessible via the filing system’s index in just the same way as all the other 25,000+ items in the collection. The other type is the family’s collection of cine films from the 1950s onwards, and more recent videos taken on video recorders and then on mobile phones. These are included in the family’s photo collection, and maintained under that collection’s digital preservation plan. Interestingly, we do have these items on DVDs in very thin cases and on display in our living room bookcase, so the fact that we no longer have a DVD player attached to our TV does affect the accessibility of these family records as well.
While there are numerous similarities in the motivations and practicalities associated with collecting these three different types of videos – films/TV, work, and family, I nevertheless feel that I’ve collected the work and family videos for very specific reasons, whereas the collection of film/TV videos is much more like collecting books – it is based on very subjective appreciations of the content and, importantly, whether you own the item in the first place: if you really enjoyed a book you borrowed from a library would you be likely to go out and buy a copy just to put it on your bookshelf?
This last point is critical in todays streaming world, and it applies not just to video but also to music and books. The lack of physical media when films/TV, music, and e-books are consumed mean that there is nothing physical to go on our physical bookshelves; and in the case of films/TV and music, there is not even a digital file to store on your local device. This simple fact is probably the most significant factor in our decisions about collecting films/TV and music in today’s streaming environment. It also highlights the point that most physical collections of books and films/tv exist simply because the media was purchased in order to consume it – not because you wanted to build a collection. The collection was just a by-product of the process. I shall carry this thought with me as I set about deciding what to do with my DVDs.