The films and videos collection is a principal repository for biomedical moving images in the U.S. and around the world. The collection includes more than 8,000 cataloged films and video recordings from the early twentieth century through the present day. More than 900 titles date from before 1950.
While most of the films are in English, there are important titles in German, Russian, French, and Spanish. The collection includes instructional and educational films, public health titles, commercial films with medical themes, public service announcements, histories of medicine on film, recordings of public lectures and ceremonies, and documentary footage of biomedical research.
The collection is particularly strong in the following subjects:
- Mental health (See our Guide to Mental Health Motion Pictures)
- Child development
- Cancer research and treatment
- Communicable disease
- Military medicine
- Clinical dentistry
- U.S. Public Health Service titles
History of the Films & Collection
Film collecting at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) began in the 1950s, when library director Frank Rogers surveyed the field and discovered that no repository was systematically collecting medical films. By 1962, NLM had acquired almost 700 titles.
As NLM’s mission and responsibilities grew, Rogers concluded that the film collection would be better housed within the audiovisual branch of the Communicable Disease Center (now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)) in Atlanta. The films were transferred there in 1962, and the collection continued to grow, with many film and tape titles acquired. In 1967, the National Medical Audiovisual Center (NMAC), which produced public health, clinical, training and other medical films on the US government’s behalf, was established, initially carrying out its work in Atlanta as well.
By the late 1970s, a new Bethesda-based space for both NMAC production and the NLM film collection was in the works, and in the early 1980s, the entire collection returned to Maryland and the NIH campus. Audiovisuals—tape-based material as well as film—were managed by the Library’s General Collection until 1988, when all pre-1970 titles were transferred to the History of Medicine Division. Today the collection contains many post-1970 titles as well, and the General Collection no longer acquires audiovisuals in any format.