Lucasfilm Research Library

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Interview with Jo Donaldson, Manager, Lucasfilm Research Library & Robyn Stanley, Research Librarian on January 31, 2012.

Photos : © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Jo and Robyn: Share a bit about each of your backgrounds and your roles are at the Lucasfilm Research Library

Jo:  Before starting my career at Lucasfilm, I worked at a graduate studies program in anthropology at a Bay Area university.  Although I always loved movies, I never dreamt that one day I would work for a film company.  Through a series of fortunate circumstances I heard about a job at the Lucasfilm Research Library and was hired as a library assistant by Debbie Fine in 1984. Debbie started the Lucasfilm library in the late 1970s, and was a well-known figure in the world of film research, having worked on Apocalypse Now for Francis Coppola, and Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Star Wars series for George Lucas.  Debbie became my mentor and taught me all about production research and library management.

Robyn:  I graduated from San Jose State Master's of Library and Information Science program (http://slisweb.sjsu.edu) in 1998. I worked briefly at in a law library filling, and then moved on to my first “real job” at an internet company where we were creating vertical portals for a variety of industries and “cataloging the web.” I worked on the insurance catalog, and it was a fun experience, but my true passion has always been in the film industry, so when I saw a job posting for my current job, I jumped at the change to work at Lucasfilm.  I was on pins and needles for 4 months waiting to find out if I got the job. Finally I got the call and started in my current position in April of 2001, and I’ve been here for nearly 11 year – time has flown!

Jo:  Basically Robyn and I have very similar jobs.  We provide research and reference services to all departments of Lucasfilm and to outside clients, maintain the library collections and work on acquisitions.  I am also responsible for managing the budget and overseeing policies and procedures for the Library.                                                                                                                                        

Jo Donaldson, © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. Robyn Stanley, © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Lucasfilm Research Library's History:

George Lucas is a great admirer of motion picture studio research libraries, and in the late 1970s he decided to create his own research library to support Lucasfilm productions.

The Lucasfilm Research Library was established in 1978 at Lucasfilm's Los Angeles offices. In 1981 the Library moved to Northern California, and then to its present location in the Main House at Skywalker Ranch in 1985. The Library acquired the long-dormant Paramount Studios Research collection in 1987 and the Universal Studios collection in 2000, adding two amazing historical collections to our resources. 

The Paramount Studios Research Library began in the 1920s and operated during the heyday of the Hollywood studios. The library provided research in all areas of filmmaking until closing in the late 1960s.

The Universal Studios Research Library began in 1915, and like the Paramount collection, helped countless filmmaking professionals with their craft over the years until closing in 2000. Additionally, in 1993 Lucasfilm acquired the Elstree Collection, a compilation of location photographs and visual reference materials gathered during EMI and MGM studios productions shot in England from 1948 to 1969.

In the early 1980s the Lucasfilm Research Library obtained a small collection of film scripts, publicity photographs, title cards and advertising literature from the California Motion Picture Corporation, a San Rafael based motion picture studio in operation during the 1920s.

Describe the library's collection, can it be checked out by the public, and what in it might Lucas fans go crazy for?

Our collection includes:

 

  • Books: 27,000+ titles, spanning from the 1880s to the present day.
  • Video & Audio: 17,000+ feature films, documentaries, television shows and Lucasfilm-related media clips in DVD and vintage formats (VHS, Laserdisc, Betamax and Betacam). The collection also includes CDs, LPs and audio cassettes.
  • Periodicals and Newspapers: Current subscriptions to more than 75 magazine and newspaper titles as well as over 300 archived titles, some dating back to the 1800s.
  • Picture Files: Over 600 file drawers containing photographs, magazine and newspaper clippings, brochures, postcards, menus, ticket stubs, maps, location photographs and other paper ephemera, dating from the 1800s to the present day.
  • Press Clipping Archive: An extensive collection of newspaper & magazine articles pertaining to the Lucasfilm, LucasDigital, and LucasArts companies and their productions. 
  • Additional Materials: The Library is also an archive for miscellaneous items such as story research and scripts, music scores, production reports and company yearbooks.

Library materials can be checked out by Lucasfilm employees, but are not available to the general public.

We have many books that are unusual and valuable, including some that are hand colored.  It’s fun to look at the check-out cards from our historical collections as we have found books that were checked out by Cecil B. DeMille, Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Clint Eastwood, Steve Martin, Edith Head, Charlton Heston…the list goes on and on!  The picture files also contain a wide variety of interesting items.  You might find passports from the 1930s, dog tags from World War II or behind the scenes photos of Audrey Hepburn on the set of Roman Holiday. Many of the items in the picture files are one of a kind.    

Our Research Library archives contain many items of interest to Lucas fans.  Avid fans would probably love to see early drafts of the Star Wars & Indiana Jones scripts, the story reports we prepare for George Lucas and the internal production memos that contain interesting tidbits from the set.  Occasionally we find some of George’s handwritten notes tucked into folders in our collection.  Fans might also enjoy seeing our extensive press clipping archives, which contain newspaper and magazine articles written about George and Lucasfilm productions.

What resources or technology do you use within your work? Does the library have its own cataloging system?

We use modified Dewey to catalog books, and a FileMaker database to organize our various collections.  We also try and use Sears subject headings whenever possible, but we often modify these too because requests we get from artists and designers can be very specific.  For example, we have been asked to find photographs of sunlight reflected off skyscraper windows during a sunset and reflections of certain objects on water.  Some subjects are not for the squeamish.  We’ve been asked to find Gatling gun wounds, scars from burns and people dying of starvation.

Who are your primary customers at the library?

Our library works for all departments of Lucasfilm, but our main focus is providing research and reference to production personnel like artists, designers and writers. 

We also contract out our research services to non-Lucasfilm productions.  Our collection is used by production and fashion designers, hair stylists and makeup artists working in film, theater and television. Some noteworthy productions we have worked on include: J. Edgar, Lincoln, The Great Gatsby, Dark Shadows, Iron Man, Good Night and Good Luck, Memoirs of a Geisha, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Moulin RougeChicago and the television series "Big Love."

Main House at Skywalker Ranch © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.What is a typical library request and what have been some of the more interesting or challenging questions you've ever received?

There are no typical requests, although production personnel will often ask for detailed pictorial research which can be quite time consuming.

For the Star Wars prequels we provided inspirational material for the artists to create new creatures, costumes and environments.  We might spend a day looking for animal claws or mouths for the creature design phase. 

For the Indiana Jones movies, we provided story research on a wide variety of subjects to George Lucas, and costume and set research for the designers.  We often get interesting requests during the script development phase which sometimes requires contacting experts in various fields.  For the infamous “nuking the fridge” scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we contacted a nuclear physicist to discuss the plausibility of various scenarios.  For Red Tails, a Lucasfilm movie about the Tuskegee airmen of World War II, we contacted many military historians, archivists and organizations for help with set, costume and story research.

In addition to production, we receive requests from other Lucasfilm departments as well.  Our publishing department has used our press clipping archives and production files for many books, and our public relations and marketing departments often use our services.  The Research Library also peruses newspapers, periodicals and online news services on a daily basis for information of interest to all departments of Lucasfilm.

We never know what the day is going to bring, and it’s always interesting. 

Have you ever met George Lucas?

Yes, we have worked directly with George Lucas on many productions.  Our library would not exist without George’s support.  He is acutely aware of the value and significance of motion picture studio research libraries and believes strongly in preserving these unique collections. 

What are each of your favorite Lucas films?

Robyn:  Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.  I loved Star Wars when I was a kid, and definitely feel honored that I get to be involved in archiving some of the materials that helped make this iconic film. 

Jo: Raiders of the Lost Ark.  It’s so much fun watching Harrison Ford in this film.

Anything else would you like readers to know about you or the Lucasfilm Research Library?

We think readers might be interested in knowing that our library is located at Skywalker Ranch, in a very rural setting. In addition to housing the Lucasfilm Research Library, production offices and post production facilities, Skywalker Ranch has a vineyard, olive groves, an organic garden and a stable with many farm animals. We also have a small lake named Lake Ewok.  Wildlife abounds at Skywalker Ranch.  We often see deer, bobcats, birds of prey, foxes and even aggressive wild turkeys, that occasionally sneak into the Library.

For additional information, how should readers best contact you or the library?

Our email address is rlibs@lucasfilm.com.