Storing Motion Picture Film at the Harvard Depository

Do you have motion picture film in your collection? It requires special care and storage. The best thing you can do for the long-term survival of your film is to get it into cold storage.


The Harvard Depository (HD) has a specialized Film Storage Vault that is different from the rest of the Depository.

HD consulted with Preservation at Harvard to determine optimal storage conditions for motion picture film.  Film should ideally be stored at slightly different conditions than video and paper for its long-term survival.  The Film Storage Vault at HD is 40ºF, 30%RH (the other vaults at HD are 45ºF, 35%RH).  These differences may look small, but theoretically, these conditions mean the difference between 570 years of healthy film and 320 years. (NB: Do not store material that is not film-based, such as videotape, in the Film Vault.)

Preparing Your Film for Storage

Identifying Problems

  • Check your film for Vinegar Syndrome first, using A-D strips.  Films with VS may not be sent to HD.
  • Determine if your film is nitrate (possible for pre-1952 35mm film only).  Nitrate may not be sent to HD.

Boxing Material

  • Avoid mixing materials when boxing collections.  For cold storage purposes, motion picture film should be housed in boxes that do not contain other media.*
  • If the film is stored on a reel, it should be stored vertically; if stored on a core, it should be stored horizontally.
  • All Super 8 and 8mm films should be stored vertically on reels.
  • All films should be taped down securely using acid-free tape.
  • Film sent to HD should be in a barcoded box, marked for storage in the Film Vault. 
  • Several film cans may be placed in each box, but avoid packing extremely heavy boxes.
  • If re-canning, use the smallest possible film can and pack the cans in an appropriately-sized box.  Do not allow small film cans to rattle around in a large box. 
  • If a box needs to be packed with material to stop the film cans from rattling around inside, please use archival material.  Do not put any packing material inside the film cans.

*For mixed material already in storage, until the box can be segregated according to material it is acceptable to keep the box in the non-film storage area.

When you recall material from the Film Vault, HD staff pull it from the shelf and stage it overnight in one of the 45ºF vaults to prevent condensation forming on the inside of the film can.



If you have any questions, concerns, or need any assistance, please contact the Harvard Library’s Film Conservation Center.