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Moving Image Research at Wilson Special Collections Library: Finding and watching materials

Finding moving images at Wilson Library

Archival moving image materials at Wilson Library are usually part of a larger collection. A collection can contain a single videotape or tens of thousands of documents. The creator of a collection is usually an individual, a family, an organization, or administrative unit that was responsible for producing or gathering together collection materials. The collection is usually named for the creator—for example: Nancy Kalow Collection, C. Clay Dillard Papers, Barbara Lau Collection, Delta Health Center Records, and Athletic Communications Office of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records.

Researchers can find information about specific items or moving images in a finding aid. Finding aids describe archival collections to researchers and provide a list of the items in the collection. A finding aid includes biographical or historical information about a collection's creator, while also providing an outline of a collection's contents: such as papers, bound volumes, audio recordings, photographs, films and video.

Searching Across Finding Aids

You can search Wilson Library finding aids using the "Search Archival Collections" tool on our website.


To search for collections with moving image materials like film and video, try searching for the format by typing "videotape" or "film" in the search bar. You can also search by using or adding key words as you would in the Library Catalog, Google, or other search engines. Searching the finding aids for "video" produces roughly 333 results. Each result is a link to an individual finding aid for a collection. 


Searching Individual Finding Aids

Once you are on a finding aid, you can scroll through it to browse description of all of the collection's materials. Moving images are often arranged or published in their own series or grouping, such as "Audiovisual Materials", "Videotapes," or "Video Recordings." If a collection has multiple series, you can quickly review the series titles by selecting "Contents List", found under "Navigate this page" on the left-hand side of the finding aid.

“Find in page” function

One of the most effective tools for locating relevant materials in a finding aid is the “Find in page” function.  Use Ctrl+F [cmmd+F on mac] to search for relevant terms, proper names, places, and container numbers.

When searching a finding aid, it's helpful to remember that finding aid description, or the words or language that archivists use to describe materials, is not exhaustive! The "find in page" function allows you to key word search the entire finding aid quickly and relatively thoroughly, however this search is limited to what is written in the description. So if a person’s name, or place, or date is not recorded in the description, the “Find in Page” will not yield results. You should consider likely synonyms and alternative spellings (or misspellings) when applicable and search for those as well.  

Often moving images are just listed by their title and format. A title may also include a recording location and a date of production, as seen in the example below from the John Kenyon Chapman Papers (#05441): "Farmworker Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) demonstration, Chapel Hill, N.C., 18 March 1999". Also in this example you can see how archivists format locations and dates for individual items - in this case, Chapel Hill, N.C. for the recording location and 18 March 1999 for the recording date.

Farmworker Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) demonstration, Chapel Hill, N.C., 18 March 1999

Additional review

Locating individual songs, persons, events, or images not described in a finding aid requires review of the collection in greater detail. A finding aid does not typically include description of contents of moving images, like a list of song titles or a summary of images or even a list of performers. There will always be materials that require viewing the materials to learn of the contents.

Some collections include supporting documentation that corresponds to the moving images, such as transcripts, tape logs, field notes, ephemera, or production information that may be useful to review. Often these supporting materials are described as "supporting documentation" or  "field notes" in the finding aid.

You're not alone!

And remember, you're not alone in this search process - Research and Instruction staff at Wilson Library are available to help with your search. The best way to reach them is by email, or Wilson Library's Research and Instruction staff are super knowledgeable of the collections and can help guide you to collection materials which may be of interest to you.

Harmful language and content

When searching for archival moving images, you may come across finding aids that contain outdated and harmful language, as well as harmful digitized content. As part of the library-wide Reckoning Initiative, Wilson Library's Conscious Editing Initiative, and Special Collection's Technical Services' "Principles for Ethical Description", staff at Wilson Library are working to remedy this by reviewing and remediating harmful legacy description, by providing additional historical context for materials and their creators, and by alerting users of harmful digitized content.

Below you will find additional information on how to watch, or stream, digitized moving images from collection finding aids at Wilson Library.

Watching digitized moving images

finding aid collection title with purple box indicating digitized content Collections with digitized moving images include a purple “Digital Content” note at the top of a finding aid, as seen in the image on the right. This indicates that some materials from that collection are digitized and accessible online. Browse through the finding aid's contents list to read description of individual items and identify materials you would like to review. 

Within a finding aid, digitized videotapes can be identified by the “Video” icons in the item description, as indicated in the screenshot below with the red arrows. This icon indicates that the video has been digitized and is available for viewing online. Digitized content is also labeled as “digitized,” so it is also an option to do a "find in page", or Ctrl+F [Commd+F on Mac] for "digitized" to search within a finding aid to find digitized moving images. When you find an item you want to view click on the hyperlinked icon to navigate to the digitized file. 

description of two videos including icons and links indicating the items are digitized

After you click on the hyperlinked "Video" icon from the finding aid, the next screen you see includes links to the streaming files for an individual video or motion picture film. From here, click on the "Video" icon or the object link to go to the streaming file. Importantly, this screen also provides information on access restrictions that indicate whether streaming is restricted to the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill or open and available from any location. The access restriction, which is listed either as "open", "campus", or "closed", is listed under the "Access Restrictions" heading. The access restriction is circled in red in the screenshot below.

screenshot of link to digitized video. access restrictions to the streaming video are circled in red.

undefinedAn "open" access restriction indicates the digitized media file can be streamed online from any location. An access restriction identified as "campus" indicates the file may only be streamed when present on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill or for users authenticated through secure connection to the UNC network via Virtual Private Network (VPN). A "closed" access restriction, as seen in the screenshot below, indicates a user must have a UNC log-in or ONYEN to stream materials.

After you click on the "video" icon or object link, the video player will be on the next page. As noted above, for moving images with "closed" access restrictions, you will also have to log in with your ONYEN at this time. Once you have the appropriate access, click on the play button on the top left of the player to begin watching or streaming the digitized videotape or motion picture film. This play button is indicated by the blue arrow in the screenshot below.

Ta-da! After hitting play, you should now be able to watch or stream digitized moving images from Wilson Library. If you run into any technical issues, please reach out to us at

Web browser compatibility

It is important to note that if you are using the default settings in certain web browsers, such as Safari or the incognito mode in Google Chrome (private mode in Firefox doesn’t have this issue), you will be unable to watch materials that have "campus" or "closed" restrictions. You will receive an error message that reads, “The media could not be loaded, either because the server or network failed or because the format is not supported”, as seen below.

Safari compatibility

In Safari, the default setting blocks cross-site tracking, which prevents you from streaming restricted "campus" or "closed" content. To get around this, open up "Preferences" from the "Safari" drop-down, as indicated below with the blue arrow.

From "Preferences", select the "Privacy" tab. Un-check the “prevent cross-site tracking” box, as indicated in the screenshot below with the blue arrow. You should now be able to stream the restricted content following the instructions listed above for "campus" or "closed" restricted moving images.

Google Chrome (incognito mode) compatibility

Similarly, in Google Chrome incognito mode, the default setting blocks third-party cookies, which prevents you from streaming restricted "campus" or "closed" moving image. To get around this, de-select the "block third-party cookies" option on the incognito homepage, as indicated below with the blue arrow, and you will be able to stream the restricted "campus" or "closed" moving images following the instructions listed above.