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EXCLUSIVE: Kodak donates archive to libraries

Jan Wildman of Kodak and Ronald Milne of the British Library handover the formal donation agreement. Photo: Michael PritchardIn a generous move Kodak has donated its British company archives to the British Library and its research department's library to De Montfort University in Leicester. The donations safeguard the material in perpetuity as the company continues its worldwide reorganisation. The material comes from the company's British corporate headquarters and the company's European Research Centre which was established at Harrow in 1928 and recently moved to Cambridge.

At a formal ceremony on 2 March at the British Library Kodak's Jan Wildman and the British Library's Ronald Milne, Director, Scholarship & Collections, signed the formal agreement to donate. The company archive which dates from the company's arrival in the United Kingdom in 1885 includes business documents, contracts, production records and marketing material and will complement the British Library's expanding photographic collections which have recently been joined by the William Henry Fox Talbot and Fay Godwin collections.The British Library will be holding a major exhibition of its photographic collections, including some of the Kodak material, from October 2009.

This is not the first time that Kodak Ltd has made a major donation. In 1985 it closed the Kodak Museum at Harrow which had opened in 1927 and donated the entire collection to the Science Museum. It now forms a key part of the National Media Museum in Bradford.

l to r: Dr Kelley Wilder, Chris Roberts, Kodak Archive Curator, and Professor Roger Taylor. Photo: Michael Pricthard Kodak's British research department was formally established in 1928 and the library includes runs of nineteenth century journals and books which were used by company staff until the 1980s and go to De Montfort University in Leicester which has established itself as the leading UK centre for photographic history and research. The university has produced a number of ground-breaking online historical databases and a MA course in Photographic History and it's Practice starts in October 2009. It also has several PhD students researching photographic history. The library donation is a major resource and will be housed in a secure special collections areas of the university library. A small part of the library has been retained by the British Library to fill gaps in its collection of photographic journals.

Kodak first arrived in Britain in 1885 when founder George Eastman opened a London office in London's Soho Square to sell his and other American manufacturer's products. The London office was a base for Eastman's expansion into Europe and in 1888 it moved to Oxford Street with formal retail premises. The first British company, the Eastman Photographic Materials Company, was formed in 1889 to handle all Eastman's business outside of North America and in 1890 Eastman bought the Harrow site where the first Kodak factory outside of Rochester, NY, was established. The site remains in operation producing photographic papers. Kodak Limited was established 1898 and the company established a network of shops throughout the UK and added photo-finishing to its operations. Camera making commenced in Britain in mid-1927. The Kodak Ltd dominated the British photographic manufacturing and retail scene for the next fifty years. In the early 1980s recession forced the Eastman Kodak Company, the American parent company, to review worldwide operations and the company underwent a period of contraction which accelerated from in the early 2000s as digital photography began to impact on the company's traditional areas of film and paper production. In Britain a number of sites were closed. The Hemel Hempstead headquarters which had moved from London and opened in 1971 were relocated and the Harrow factory downsized. The research department is due to close shortly. Restructuring had started to show financial benefits by late 2008 when the worldwide credit crunch hit the company but Kodak remains poised to ensure it's future survival by focusing on materials and cameras for digital photography.

The donation has taken several years to complete and a number of the key players to secure the collections were present at the formal signing ceremony including Kodak's Dr Sam Weller, former head of research, Chris Roberts, Kodak Archive Curator, Derek Birch formerly of Kodak Research Laboratories; the British Library's John Falconer head of photographic collections, and Professor Roger Taylor. Representatives from De Montfort University included Dr Kelley Wilder, head of the new MA course, Professor Stephen Brown and Dr Gerard Moran, Dean of Art and Design.

Michael Pritchard

Please note this is a personal report and has not been produced by Kodak, the British Library or De Montfort University. The formal press notice will be uploaded in due course. The photographs here and others are © Michael Pritchard and are available on request.

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Comment by John Davies on March 11, 2009 at 7:37
It may not be British, but Kodak did the same to the State Library of Victoria (Oz) in that they donated their library and their research papers when their Australasian plant was closed.
Comment by Pam Roberts on March 3, 2009 at 14:05
Great news that Kodak Archives going to BL and Research Library to DMU. Congratulations to all involved in discussions to make this happen.

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