Fifty Pounds of Filmstrips

It all started with a comment left here on the CQ blog, on an article by Derek about collecting filmstrips. He details the item excellently, so I won’t repeat the exact meaning and function of the lowly filmstrip.

“I work in a school library. School was built in the 1950s. Have several hundred filmstrips about to go to the trash. Anyone interested? Please email me with subject: filmstrip.”

Now, working on this here blog has afforded me a number of great opportunities and collections : communicating with friends & family of some amazing musicians, my Voice-O-Graphs getting featured in military radio programs, and most recently, a museum in Baton Rouge requesting a portion of my action figure collection for an exhibit on cartooning. It’s great to watch the act of collecting bring so much to so many, especially when to the outsider, it seems like a selfish pursuit.

We also get a LOT of offers in the comments section where people try to sell us stuff – often without contact information, or a proper description, and often addressed incorrectly to boot. I don’t buy things from the comments in our articles, generally, because the nebulous and sinister internet doth betray more oft than it does please. This offer, however, seemed pretty straightforward, as a fellow librarian, I was interested.

After some negotiating through a misunderstanding about payment, I managed to score a whole bunch of educational filmstrips – the kind that used to advance one frame at a time while a cassette tape hissed away in the back of the warm, sleepy classroom and we ostensibly learned about the life of Woodrow Wilson or something. I had just grabbed a dozen or so from my own library’s defunct A/V closet (replete with slide projectors, super 8s and other forgotten technologies), so I was starting a collection with some creative goal in mind. These goals are usually pretty open to interpretation and change about a dozen times as I realize my own limitations and projects metamorphose.

While the friendly librarian on the other end of the communications indicated that she’d be sending a LOT of filmstrips, I guess my dinosaur-brain didn’t really pick up on the subtlety of how much ‘a lot’ is. I found out when I showed up at the local post office one day and the women behind the counter looked at me aghast and said, ‘Boy, do we have some packages for YOU today!’ They were too big to bring out over the library counter, so one of the mailmen left them next to my car, and indeed, they were gargantuan. I had trouble hefting the trio of boxes into my back seat. All for the cost of Media Mail shipping – about $25.

When they arrived, they were neatly organized into Ziploc pouches and arranged by subject, each one contained in its own plastic container (and some dusty metal ones, also), covering almost every academic subject I could fathom. I was already formulating ideas about snipping off individual frames and projecting them through artworks and custom toys. I had also just developed a significant fondness for ‘Look Around You’, a BBC pseudo-educational show that took on the distinct, outdated ‘educational filmstrip / video’ aesthetic and constructed fallacious 8-minute segments out of it. You can see these on YouTube, and they’re hilarious.

$25 didn’t seem like quite enough to cover the physical toll that this poor lady endured carrying these enormous cardboard boxes to the Post Office, so I repaid her efforts the only way I knew how, since financial compensation was well out of my ability (and being a library employee, she understood my dilemma) : I painted a picture for her, which now hangs on the wall in a Virginia school library – which is also a bit of an honor.

How I’m going to live with a few hundred filmstrips is a question I’m not even prepared to ponder, but here’s hoping that the inspiration that they bring is at least equal to $25. It’s already flooding in.



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Julie I just came across two sets of Cathedral Filmstrips "Parables From Nature"...I have Series II and III. Both sets are complete with 6 films, teachers guides, and record albums in their original boxes. They are in good condition and the animation is cute. I can't seem to find anything online about whether there are collectors out there interested in this series. Anyone have any info? June 15th, 2013 at 11:35 AM

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