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Discovering a presumably lost reel of film is an exhilarating moment for moving image archivists and film historians contributing to and studying the overall preservation of cultural heritage. When discovered, one’s most prominent inclination is to spread the news and communicate the finding. In some cases, this may be one reel of many that were thought to be lost. In other cases, perhaps other reels from the same film have been discovered but in exist in different locations or even in various countries. The discovery also prompts a variety of questions and next steps: How can these reels be unified in order to piece together the film? Who else possesses components, be it reels of footage, sound discs, or stills, from the same film? Where are these components located?

Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are often not readily available, as is evident in the initial attempts to locate, reunite, and restore many different presumably lost films. The work to restore Vitaphone features, however, brings about an interesting success story; in an effort to overcome the challenges of communicating among archivists and private collectors from all over the world, the Vitaphone Project (VP) community has had many triumphs in working towards the rediscovery of Vitaphone features. Thanks to the efforts of the VP, a community dedicated to the location and restoration of Vitaphone features and matching soundtracks, audiences have been able to enjoy a multitude of feature-length and short subject films that were once thought to be lost.

The VP has worked to preserve and restore the many performances captured in Vitaphone features during the dawn of the sound era, namely highlighting the works of performers who transitioned from live vaudeville routines to careers in the film industry. Moreover, members of the VP community have actively worked with collectors and archivists worldwide to reunite Vitaphone films with their soundtracks. Their discoveries of Vitaphone films and their accompanying soundtracks have led to the complete restoration of several Vitaphone features. In turn, several studio-sponsored commercial releases of these features have become available for public consumption via modern media formats. Like working to complete a puzzle, the VP community has taken on the challenge of piecing together an important part of film history.

Though the VP has had much success in reuniting Vitaphone films with their corresponding soundtracks, there is a need for more effective communication within their community. While the VP community is active on Facebook and has a website, the community as a whole lacks a centralized place in which collectors can easily interact with one another; mostly fans and enthusiasts, as opposed to collectors, utilize the VP community’s Facebook group. The constant postings from aficionados of the community’s efforts are certainly welcome and exciting for the group but also make it difficult for collectors to share information with one another. While the website was updated in 2019, its interface is outdated and needs reimagining in terms of structure as well as updates in its content to reflect the changes and updates in the community, so that it can offer a relevant, interactive interface and stronger means of communication for collectors. Not all individuals in the VP community are active on social media or even on the internet, so it is important that a new interface or means of communication keeps in mind the needs of those members.

Overall, the community would benefit greatly from an interactive platform that would allow users to share information about their Vitaphone collections in order to reunite film prints with their proper soundtracks and lead to their full restoration. Grounded in Archival Intelligence Theory and Social Network Theory, this article examines the information behavior and interactions of the VP community and proposes research designed to enhance communication between its members to advance the mission of the organization.

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Sep 3 2021