After Searching for a Decade, Legendary Hollywood Research Library Finds a New Home

Over more than 50 years, Lillian Michelson built one of Hollywood’s most famous libraries for film research.

[Press: Hollywood Reporter]

Need to know what an Igloo really looks like? How about a Siberian hut? Or the inside of a 15th Century jail?  For 50 years in Hollywood, generations of filmmakers would beat a path to the Michelson Cinema Research Library, where renowned film researcher Lillian Michelson could hunt down the answer to just about any question. She was the human card catalogue to a library of more than one million books, photos, periodicals and clippings. But ever since Lillian retired a decade ago, the Michelson Cinema Research Library has been languishing in cold storage, looking for a home. Today it has found one. Lillian Michelson, 92, announced that she is donating her library and life’s work to the Internet Archive. For its part, the nonprofit digital library vows to preserve her collection for the long-term and digitize as much of it as possible, making it accessible to the world.

“I feel as if a fantasy I never, never entertained has been handed to me by the universe, by fate,” mused the legendary film researcher.“The Internet Archive saved my library in the best way possible. I hope millions of people will use it [to research] space, architecture, costumes, towns, cities, administration, foreign countries… the crime business!  Westerns! That’s what is amazing to me, that it will be open to everybody.”

Internet Archive founder, Brewster Kahle, explained why his organization was willing to accept the entire Michelson collection and keep it intact: “A library is more than a collection of books. It is the center of a community. For decades, the Michelson Cinema Research Library informed Hollywood—and we want to see that continue. Many organizations wanted pieces of the collection, but I think the importance of keeping it together is so it can continue to help inspire global filmmakers to make accurate and compelling movies.”

Samuel Goldwyn Studios, circa 1938, where the Michelson Cinema Research Library was housed for many decades.

With $20,000 borrowed against her husband Harold’s life insurance policy, Lillian Michelson purchased the reference library in 1969. Over the next half-century, the Michelson Cinema Research Library had many homes. From the Samuel Goldwyn Studios it moved to the American Film Institute, then to Paramount Studios, and finally to Zoetrope Studios at the invitation of director, Francis Ford Coppola. Michelson later received an offer via Jeffrey Katzenberg to move the Michelson Cinema Research Library to the newly opened DreamWorks Pictures, where it remained until Lillian’s retirement due to health reasons 19 years later.

The Michelson Cinema Research Library includes some 5,000+ books dating back to the early 1800s; periodicals, 30,000+ photographs, and 3,000+ clipping files. In storage they filled some 1600 boxes on 45 pallets—enough to fill more than two 18-wheel tractor trailers. Its contents have now been moved for long-term preservation to the Internet Archive’s physical archive in Richmond, California.

In September 2020, Internet Archive Founder & Digital Librarian, Brewster Kahle, was on hand at the Internet Archive’s Physical Archive in Richmond, CA to accept the 1600 boxes of books, photos, clippings, and memorabilia from the Michelson Cinema Research Library. Michelson’s books were then shipped to one of the Internet Archive’s scanning centers to be digitized and ultimately made accessible to the public.

For six decades, Michelson’s research informed scores of Hollywood films, including The Right Stuff, Rosemary’s Baby, Scarface, Fiddler on the Roof, Full Metal Jacket, The Graduate and The Birds.

Harold & Lillian Michelson fueled the creativity of scores of directors, from Alfred Hitchcock to Mel Brooks, and their influence can be traced through countless Hollywood films.

Bringing this historic Hollywood design resource back to life—a largely digital life—can make it a global design resource for art directors, designers, filmmakers and researchers in search of information and visual inspiration. 

“Lillian Michelson opened my eyes to the importance of a research library to all aspects of motion picture production. At a time when the rich and deep research libraries created and maintained by the motion picture studios were being ‘given away’ or otherwise destroyed, Lillian was a beacon of light guiding us to consider them as treasure.”

Academy Award-winning director, Francis Ford Coppola
Harold & Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story” by director Daniel Raims chronicles the couple who became Hollywood’s “secret weapons,” empowering generations of filmmakers and designers to create their most iconic work.

The story of her long and creative union with renowned storyboard artist Harold Michelson was told in Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, a 2015 documentary produced and directed by Daniel Raim and currently streaming on Netflix. (To honor this devoted Hollywood couple, the DreamWorks Pictures named the king and queen in Shrek 2 Harold and Lillian.)

Lillian Michelson will preside over a virtual ribbon cutting, panel discussion, and a screening of the documentary on Wednesday, January 27 from 4-6:30 PM Pacific time. There, she will unveil the first phase of her new digital library, available to the world via the Internet Archive’s digital platform, at Sign up for the screening event here.

23 thoughts on “After Searching for a Decade, Legendary Hollywood Research Library Finds a New Home

  1. Chris


  2. Delight Schwartz

    This is wonderful news, I prayed hard that this precious cultural resource would find the right home. Great job!

  3. Richard

    Mark, What a wonderful & fitting addition to the Internet Archived expansive approach to
    preservation that is integrated with a purposeful sense of community. Richard

  4. Pingback: After Searching for a Decade, Legendary Hollywood Research Library Finds a New Home – Veille patrimoniale

    1. Wendy Hanamura Post author

      We are so happy to be working with Tom, Libby, Dan, Rick and others to make Lillian’s legacy secure.

  5. Carolyn Plumb

    As one of Lillian’s past library volunteers, I am so very happy that her prized collection will be preserved for everyone to use and enjoy.

  6. Pingback: Internet Archive: After Searching for a Decade, Legendary Hollywood Research Library Finds a New Home | ResearchBuzz: Firehose

  7. Pingback: WWOZ, Texas History, Michelson Cinema Research Library, More: Thursday Afternoon ResearchBuzz, December 17, 2020 – ResearchBuzz

  8. giso

    What a wonderful & fitting addition to the Internet Archived expansive approach to
    preservation that is integrated with a purposeful sense of community. Richard

  9. Istanbul

    What a wonderful & fitting addition to the Internet Archived expansive approach to preservation that is integrated with a purposeful sense of community. Thanks to Lillian Michelson who donatted her library.

  10. Dr. Ronald M. Manning

    Congratulations! And thank you for helping to make this rich collection available to most of us!! Dr. Ronald M. Manning

  11. Pingback: La “bibliothécaire d’Hollywood”, Lillian Michelson, donne son patrimoine à Internet Archive –

  12. Sherry Stewart

    My parents, Russ and Phyllis Stewart, worked for MGM in the early thirties, and were prominent in the running of the then new MGM Movie Train Tour throughout the United States and a bit in Canada too! I grew up with stories of Eddie Carrier and others! (He was head of the MGM Train project!). MY folks were his right-hand helpers, and the stories were thrilling! New Orleans for the Mardi Gras and Kentucky for the Derby! Those folks weren’t dumb!

    Only library I could access years ago in Los Angeles was the Margaret Herrick Library in (what!?) Beverly Hills. They had info on the old Movie Train Tour – so I started a website – and then dropped it. Time to start it up again. Met some very interesting people and made some contacts back then. Here’s the wee web site – I’ll do more now. Thanks to all of you and my daughter, Holly, who is a filmaker now in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. MovieTrainTour website is at See you on January 27th! Thanks again to ALL! Sherry Stewart,

  13. chad

    WoW, fantastic ! Not for any of the reasons shared BUT because of the IA – 1,000% more accessible than in it’s current form. Imagine going thru two 18 wheelers for ur info rather than the click of a mouse for the search? Infinitely indexable, a content page, etc…

    In Community,
    – -Bro Chad

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