There are a handful of television archives and museums in the United States that together contain hundreds of thousands of hours of television programs. These include the Library of Congress, the Paley Center for Media, and The UCLA Film & Television Archive. Some are open to the general public while others are restricted primarily to scholars and researchers. Most have made it possible to search their collections online, although online catalogs may be incomplete. Many academic institutions hold smaller, specific collections, often pertaining to an individual or a specific television program.
What follows are descriptions for some of the larger television archives and museums.
The American Archive of Public Broadcasting
A collaboration between the Library of Congress and PBS station WGBH, the American Archive of Public Broadcasting launched in 2009. An inventory project carried out between 2010 and 2012 resulted in more than 2.5 million inventory records. Over 100,000 hours of content have been digitized and roughly 60,000 assets are accessible online.
The Library of Congress
According to the collections overview provided for television, the Library of Congress began collecting television programs in 1949 and today holds about 80,000 programs but that number may be substantially higher. Some of the more noteworthy collections held by the Library include: the NBC Television Collection, the NET Collection, and the Hubert Chain Collection. Additional information on the Library’s television holdings can be found here.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications
Founded in 1987, The Museum of Broadcast Communications has a collection of more than 85,000 hours of television and radio broadcasts dating back to the mid-1940s. Currently, only about 27,000 records are searchable online.
The Paley Center for Media
Broadcaster William S. Paley founded The Paley Center for Media in 1975 as the Museum of Broadcasting. In 1991 it became Museum of Television & Radio and in 2007 became The Paley Center for Media. There used to be two locations, one in New York City and the other in Los Angeles, but the Los Angeles location closed in 2020. The Paley Center maintains a list of television programs it’s searching for.
Peabody Awards Collection
The George Foster Peabody Awards honor excellence in radio and television broadcasting, with the awards bestowed for programs produced during the previous year. The first radio awards were distributed in 1941 and the first television awards in 1949. Housed at the University of Georgia Libraries, the Peabody Awards Collection contains approximately 90,000 radio and television programs.
UCLA Film & Television Archive
The John H. Mitchell Television Collection at UCLA Film & Television Archive contains more than 170,000 television programs, including the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences/UCLA Collection of Historic Television.
Vanderbilt Television News Archive
The Vanderbilt Television News Archive started recording the nightly network news programs for ABC, CBS and NBC in August 1968, adding select cable news programs in later decades. Digital copies of entire broadcasts or compilations of segments from various broadcasts are available for loan for a fee. A monthly index to the ABC, CBS and NBC nightly news program as well as special network programming can be found here.
Published November 6th, 2010
Last updated June 29th, 2021