Emflix – Part One – Background

As many of you surely know, I once created a browsable/searchable interface for the Emerson College Library circulating DVD collection. How do some of you already know this? Because I talk about it. A lot.

It’s the thing I’m proudest of in my brief career as a librarian, and I crow about it. As I learn more, (I started the project while still in library school), as I read more and see other people’s work, I realize things I should’ve done differently, and get ideas (or dreams?) for future projects.

Because working on one of those right away seems hard for me right now, I thought I’d write about the process and steps I took to create my last project, and who knows maybe it’d even inspire someone else looking for a project.


There are many different ways to place films on a shelf. Some libraries use the PN1997s, shelf-listing them by title, with films released after 2000 going in the PN1997.2s. Some don’t bother with a formal classification and just place them numerically, relying on the descriptive data in the catalog to help users find them (this is how we did it at Berklee). Another popular method (and the one that Emerson was using) is the PN1995.9 section. I recently discussed on twitter with Roxanne Shirazi, Violet Fox, and Jessica about how the PN1995.9 section is a mess. Have a look:

PN1995.9.A-Z                               Other special topics, A-Z
PN1995.9.A25                              Abjection
Aboriginal Australians see PN1995.9.A835
PN1995.9.A255                            Accents and accentuation
PN1995.9.A26                              Acting. Auditions
PN1995.9.A3                                Adventure films
Aeronautics see PN1995.9.F58
PN1995.9.A43                              Africa
African Americans see PN1995.9.N4
PN1995.9.A433                            Aging
Cf. PN1995.9.O43 Older people
PN1995.9.A435                            AIDS (Disease)
PN1995.9.A437                            Airplanes
PN1995.9.A44                              Alamo (San Antonio, Tex.)
PN1995.9.A443                            Alcatraz Island (Calif.)
PN1995.9.A45                              Alcoholism
PN1995.9.A457                            Alien films
PN1995.9.A46                              Alien (Foreign) workers
PN1995.9.A47                              Alienation (Social psychology). Rebels
PN1995.9.A48                              Aliens

And that’s just a PIECE of the A‘s. It’s a very very very long list, mixing together genres, forms, moods, styles, and yes, topics. Even setting aside the usual issues in LCC of offensive terms (notice that African Americans directs you to N4), it is an unwieldy list which requires very careful institutional thought and consistency. Are you going to use those geographic cutters? Are you going to place series with their given cutters, or with the genre they may belong to? Will films of a form be placed with their form or with a genre? If you decide to use a specific set of cutters and try to fit everything into those, you’d better make sure that all your catalogers (now and future!) know that set, and adhere to it. Ultimately you’ll still need great metadata to describe the films, but I think patrons still enjoy the serendipitous discovery of browsing shelves, and so these choices do matter.

I’m not casting any aspersions on Emerson, they had a huge collection of some 3000+ DVDs spread across the PN1995.9s with cutters ranging from .A1 to .Y6, many with as few as 1 movie, the most numerous one having 367. I thought that our patrons really enjoyed the ability (like at a video store, back when those existed) to browse the collection visually, without the catalog, being able to find a gem they weren’t even looking for.

So what was the problem, why did I do all that work? Find out — in part 2.


2 thoughts on “Emflix – Part One – Background

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