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About the IU Audio-Visual Center

The Moving Image Archive’s Educational Film Collection is rooted in the legacy of the Indiana University Audio-Visual Center (AVC). Beginning as an outreach service of the Extension Division in 1913, the entity that would eventually be known as the Audio-Visual Center (then called the Bureau of Visual Instruction) began with a few lantern slides in various subject areas and grew over the next several decades to become a film library valued at over $10 million in 1978.

Though the first three decades of its’ history preceded the increased demand for audio-visual materials following WWII, there was enough need for film and other visual aids that they saw a steady growth in operations. After WWI, the Wilson administration gifted war materials to the Extension Division and the service responsible for circulating lantern slides, loaning exhibits, and collecting educational films became known as the Bureau of Visual Instruction. During the 1920s, the Bureau expanded its reach to begin lending materials outside of Indiana and in 1931 began renting 16mm film in addition to other visual aids. The materials were rented out for low fees ($.50 - $5.00) to schools, colleges, universities, public libraries, clubs and organizations throughout the United States.

Under the direction of L.C. Larson, the unit was renamed the Bureau of Audio-Visual Aids during WWII and became one of the largest of such services, most of which were based in major universities. This growth corresponds with the surge in demand and ubiquity of audio-visual materials being used for educational purposes during the war and in the postwar period. Between 1939 and 1945, the number of sound film prints offered by the Indiana University Audio-Visual Center (as it was called from 1945 to the early 1990’s) increased by nearly 1000 percent. In 1969, the peak year of productivity, the Center circulated 392,047 reels of film and employed over 300 people.

The Audio-Visual Center was also sustained by important partnerships in the world of audio-visual instruction. Possibly the most significant of these relationships was with NET (National Educational Television, the predecessor to PBS). Beginning in 1955, the AVC became the exclusive distributor of NET programs in what was known as the NET Film Service. Between 1956 and 1965, the income generated from this partnership totaled over $1.5 million. Indiana University was also awarded a grant by educational film producer Coronet to analyze curriculum content for their films. The revenue from these partnerships allowed the AVC to continue to expand its film library as well as produce their own educational films, an activity which began in earnest after the war. Through the late 1940’s and 1950’s, the Center completed a handful of films each year with consultation by IU faculty, including exemplary microbiology and anatomy series.

Indiana University provided leadership in best practices for such collections, and faculty and graduate students in the Department of Instructional Systems Technology in the School of Education collaborated with the staff of the AVC (later the Center for Media and Teaching Resources, and finally Instructional Support Services). The expertise and reputation of AVC staff was growing on a global scale, with Director Larson and Carolyn Guss serving on committees for U.S. National Commission for UNESCO to evaluate films for international distribution.

In the late 1970’s, the Audio-Visual Center, along with many similar organizations, started purchasing and renting videocassettes (3/4” U-matic and ½” VHS) instead of the much more expensive 16mm films. However, the film collection continued to circulate, and most of the films were not discarded with the changeover in format. The ease of duplicating videos (legally or illegally) spelled the demise of the pooled resource model, and many university-based rental centers closed during the 1990’s.

In 2006 Indiana University decided to close its rental service, and the collection of about 50,000 reels of 16mm film and 7,000 videos came under the aegis of the IU Library System. The 16mm films in this collection date from as early as 1929 into the 1970’s; there is strong representation in anthropology, dance, African-American studies, and psychology.

Further reading:

Anne Walker Cook, “A History of the Indiana University Audio-Visual Center, 1913-1975,” PhD diss., (Indiana University, 1980).