Libraries reel in film preservation grant for Gilbreth collection

November 24, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University Libraries will save 13 films in its archives that were produced by early 20th-century motion study pioneers Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, thanks to two grants from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

"These unique Gilbreth materials are only available at Purdue" says Elizabeth M. Wilkinson, processing and public services archivist and acting head for Purdue University Libraries Archives and Special Collections. "Thanks to this grant, they are now accessible to researchers and scholars where they weren't before due to their deterioration." 

The Gilbreths were renowned as "the Father and Mother of Modern Management," and their motion study work continues to interest and attract researchers. The Gilbreths' research introduced using photography and motion pictures to study and improve the efficiency of industrial workers and minimize worker fatigue. 

The couple also raised 12 children together, and the story of their family life has been recounted in numerous journal articles, books and films, notably "Cheaper By the Dozen." 

Frank Gilbreth died in 1924, and Lillian Gilbreth continued the work they had started together. She became a professor of management at Purdue in 1935 and later donated many of her husband's papers and belongings to Purdue Libraries. 

Among Purdue's collection are laboratory records, the couples' personal library and artifacts used in their time, and motion studies. Additional gifts from the Gilbreth family over the years have included correspondence, certificates, photographs, motion picture films, and memorabilia.

Purdue's Gilbreth collection contains information on the early principles of scientific management and the psychology of management, which revolutionized the industry of their time, Wilkinson said. A consortium of engineers, academics, and management specialists, The Gilbreth Network hosts a forum relating to the couple's work. Libraries also receive frequent requests to use papers contained in the Gilbreth Library of Management at Purdue for exhibitions, scholarly texts and other purposes, Wilkinson says. 

"As a result of the increased research interest shown in the Gilbreth materials, we are attempting to preserve and digitize as many of the films as possible to make them better accessible to researchers," Wilkinson says.

The 13 films that the Libraries most recently chose to preserve with the film foundation's funds were identified as the ones in most need of preservation due to their poor condition and probable research value.

In all, 45 motion picture films created by the Gilbreths were donated to Purdue Libraries with permission from the donors to share the films to onsite researchers and the public. 

The National Film Preservation Foundation is the nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America's film heritage.

Writer: Grant Flora, 765-494-3676,

Source:  Elizabeth M. Wilkinson, Processing & Public Services, 765-494-9040,