Unfortunately, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences won’t let just anyone in a designer dress or tux into the Dolby Theatre come Oscar night, so it’s up to our librarians to bring the Oscars to everyone. Let’s take a look at what some libraries do to celebrate Oscar season.
Heather McCartin, adult information specialist at Monticello and De Soto Libraries, part of Johnson County Libraries in Kansas, says, “One of our favorite ways to promote Oscar movies (current contenders and previous winners) is to build a display of DVDs for patrons. With several decades of film to choose from, there’s always a variety on the display shelf. When current contenders are available in the collection (not on hold by patrons), we include them in the display as well. Our Oscar display naturally coincides with the award show and pops up in early to mid-February.”
Cecilia Cygnar, adult program coordinator at Niles-Maine District Library in Illinois, says, “Every year, we do at least one Oscar-winning and nominated films display for DVDs and Blu-rays. And it always is one of the more popular movie displays we do, which is why we had to expand it to winners and nominees since winners were too few of a selection to keep up with demand. We also have lists of past Oscar winners and nominees that we put out near the display as well.”
Scott Handville, assistant director of Gardiner Public Library in Maine, says his library’s Oscar-related displays tend to be a “read the book, see the movie” theme. “We often do a movie display at the circulation desk end cap when a star or director passes away.”
Slaven Lee, who has 20-plus years of experience in libraries and is currently doing operations consulting, is a fan of multimedia displays. “For Oscar-nominated movies, it’s fun to create displays that are a mix of books related to films, graphic novels, soundtracks, etc. For example, a display that includes the Black Panther DVD, Kendrick Lamar CDs, World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay, and other black superhero movies like Blade and Attack the Block are the best.”
“We do not promote Oscar-nominated movies through displays, because we have limited display real estate,” says Charles Cobine, cinema and media studies librarian at the University of Pennsylvania. “Internally, we do our best to make sure that the films that have been released on DVD are available in our collection and discoverable through the catalog, but it does take some awareness on the part of library patrons and the campus community. Our DVD collection lacks the visibility that the collections in other academic or research libraries benefit from” because it is housed in closed stacks.
Screenings and Viewing Parties
“Screening Oscar-nominated films or past winners is an easy program. I most recently managed a library in New York City and patrons were always looking for free entertainment, so they were willing to view films that exposed them to new ideas,” says Lee.
“I have been hosting a program for several years that I call The Year in Movies, where I talk about the past year’s films, including award winners and nominations,” says Cygnar. “I talk about the Academy’s process for nominating and selecting winners, as well as how other awards are selected. All of these awards-season activities culminate with our showing of the Oscars telecast at the library. Since the library normally closes at 5 p.m. on Sundays, we re-open the library at 7 p.m. for those who register. We encourage attendees to dress up, and we not only show the telecast on our big screen, but also have fun games and prizes as well. And, of course, snacks! We’ve been hosting Oscar night at the library for well over 10 years, and each year, it is more successful than the last.”
“Usually, staff who are film buffs connect one on one with patrons who check out lots of DVDs and recommend other titles they would like,” says Lee.
Patrons “appreciate being kept well-informed of what’s going on in the entertainment world,” says Cygnar. “And in return, they regularly seek us out for movie recommendations, news, and even Hollywood gossip.”
Handville says, “Overall, discussion between patrons and staff or just between patrons tends to be more about a specific movie or a star rather than about if it has won any awards. … [W]e talk about the Oscar ceremony [if] it is in the news (such as when the nominees are announced or the day after the ceremony is on TV), then we all talk about it and our opinions of it.”
Cobine uses Twitter (@cobine) “to aggregate film news and watchlists that may be of interest to film scholars and other cinephiles and that would include issues relevant to the Academy and the Oscars.”
Tony Hahn, web services manager at Des Plaines Public Library in Illinois, says his library has a “books and brews” Oscar discussion group that it holds at a local bar. “We’ve done this for a few years now, and we advertise it on Meetup to try to appeal to residents outside of the ordinary library marketing bubble. We’ll often watch movie trailers, include a short trivia game, and prepare discussion questions to get attendees talking. The amount of prep is similar to a book discussion.”
McCartin says her library promotes Oscar-nominated movies “through library lists. When the county purchases the titles, they appear in our online catalog, and we can create a library list featuring the films. Our lists are also a great way to find previous nominees and winners.”
“Our staff create a podcast episode each year where we talk about nominees before the award ceremony. We usually release it shortly before the Academy Awards. For us, it’s a good time of year to check in on many of the year’s ‘best’ films and reflect on some of the artistry presented there,” says Hahn. The podcast episodes are available here.
Cygnar says, “We have an Oscar contest, called Pick the Winners, where we give away movie gift cards for those who pick the most … in the top 8 categories (picture, director, screenplays, and all acting).”
“Believe it or not, these awards help DVD circulation at the library,” says Jessica Hilburn, historian at Benson Memorial Library in Pennsylvania. “Since purchasing all of 2018’s Best Picture nominees at my library, the films have been checked out hundreds of times, with Get Out, Dunkirk, and The Shape of Water being the highest in demand. I believe this year’s nominees will do similarly well. Black Panther has been checked out almost constantly since it was purchased last May.”
Katherine Moody, a librarian from Christchurch, New Zealand, says that “DVDs of nominated films circulate very often. Sometimes people are requesting movies that haven’t yet been released on DVD. Even though DVDs are on their way out, it’s still important for libraries to have them so that people who don’t have other ways to view them still have access to popular movies.”
“I think we have a fair-sized movie collection for a small library (about 3,900 films) with a good circulation number for our population [of about 18,000] served (about 15,200 film checkouts per year),” Handville says. “We use the nominees for the Golden Globe Awards and the Academy Awards as a guide for what is considered the best of the movie industry for any given year. During the course of the year—previous to their announcements—our selection of what films to purchase is balanced between reviews and popularity. After the nominees are announced, we try to purchase what we may not already own.”
It’s a different story for Cobine, who says, “Circulation has been dropping for at least 5 years now. Sometimes instructors can only get access to certain films by using DVD copies, particularly for international titles or films with rights that are in limbo or rightsholders who are impossible to track down for licensing or permissions. I am generally more than happy to put multiple copies of DVDs on reserve to support courses that are using films, or purchase extra copies if that is our only option. We are seeing an increase in students using laptops without DVD drives, so that is a barrier to use of the physical media as well. We circulate portable DVD players and peripheral DVD drives that connect via USB.”
The availability of streaming titles is problematic too, he says. “As distributors of content, [Netflix, Amazon, and other] giant companies need to step forward and recognize that they have a role to play. …” Read more of Cobine’s take on this issue in “Librarians Discuss the Oscar Nominees.”