Archives + Audiences: Andretta Schellinger, Historian and Author



Andretta Schellinger of Schellinger Research. Photograph courtesy of Schellinger Research.

This is the latest entry in our Archives + Audiences series, which features the perspectives of archival audiences – scholars, journalists, filmmakers, artists, activists, and more – for whom archives have been an important part of their life and work.  In this post, we feature COPA member Rachael Woody’s conversation with Andretta Schellinger and her experiences using historical materials to write her books.


Andretta Schellinger graduated from Pacific University with a Bachelor’s in History and Sociology before attending Hawaii Pacific and receiving a Master’s in Military and Diplomatic studies. While in Graduate school, she received an ORISE Fellowship to work in the records room at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command on Hickam Airforce Base, now known as the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). After leaving JPAC, she used her experience to start Schellinger Research, a company based on the belief that history should be shared through the digital and physical world and actively works to build the bridge between them.

RW: First, tell us a little more about From Knights to Skulls and The Men Beyond the Stones.

AS: “From Knights to Skulls” is a look at how culture, both military and civilian, affected the artwork, or nose art, that was placed on planes from World War I through Vietnam. It digs deeper than what was painted into the why’s and who of the artwork. While the book is out of publication, McFarland & Co have republished it as “Military Nose Artwork”. The new book is slightly different and updated, as it has a chapter on current conflicts and what the future holds for nose artwork.

“The Men Beyond the Stones” came about due to my never-ending search for information, particularly the who and why of something. I wanted to know who the men were, how they died, and why they were memorialized. It goes deeper than just a snapshot into their lives, as it looks at the creator of the structure, and the one individual who was from the county and died, but was not included.


Books written by Andretta Schellinger, author and historian. Photograph courtesy of Schellinger Research.

RW: What inspired you to write these books and use historical materials?

AS: “From Knights to Skulls” was my graduate thesis and what inspired me for it was History of Aviation and Airpower, a graduate class I took. I didn’t know what to do my final paper on, and while talking to the professor he suggested Aircraft Nose Art. I was instantly hooked, and during my Artist, Imagery and War I continued with the progression of Aircraft Nose Art. While sadly the professor who introduced me to the topic left the university before I started working on my Thesis, I pushed through and really began to appreciate culture and the way that culture and history are intertwined. Historical documents for that book kind of fell into my lap, especially nose art imagery.

As for “Men Beyond the Stones,” when I first moved to Oregon after living in Hawaii for graduate school, I travelled to Maryhill’s Stonehenge, a fully built representation of what the English Stonehenge may have looked like centuries ago. On the inner circle’s pillars are bronze plaques representing the men who died from Klickitat County during World War I. I wanted to know more about the men other than their name, birth date and death date. Using my knowledge gained in part at JPAC, I started to research. I relied on the military records to give me a good view of what their life was like during service, but for their child and young adulthood I used newspaper articles.

RW: You’ve written several books and articles, can you tell us more about your process and what goes into creating these written works?

AS: When I narrow my focus to a specific topic that I want to research, I make sure to always look for information that was already published. For both of my books, there was not a lot of information published that looked at the things the way I looked at them. For example, there are many books on military nose art, but those that do look at the culture side, tend to skim over that, and focus mainly on the pictures of the planes and the art. Those are great for the general audience, but not what I had questions about.

Or there could be information out there, but not in one location. Like with “Men Beyond the Stones”. There are many websites that briefly touch on the memorial aspect of the stones, but they’re not comprehensive, because the writers were not looking at those specifically, but more as an addendum to their intended focus.

After that I gain the documents I need, be it newspaper articles, military records, or other primary documentation to assist me with my research, I start writing. I am not one of those authors who outlines a book down to specifics and then essentially fills in the outline. Some authors use that method and it works great for them. I am the type that starts typing out what I want to say, with my source material near so I can grab it when I need an answer for something. While it works for me, I do not recommend this technique for everyone.

RW: How do you choose which materials to inform your books?

AS: That really depends on what I am writing about. For information concerning individuals like my current project, or “Men Beyond the Stones” I seek out information about the individual. For projects that are broader or that I haven’t narrowed the focus on, I tend to go broad with the materials and them slim down as I get narrower on my focus. I cannot even begin to count how many resources I started with for “From Knights to Skulls” because I had no idea where it was going to land. As I narrowed down both the culture and art side, I was able to remove sources that were not pertinent.

I believe in including everything that I use, no matter how seemingly unimportant it is, because, especially with “From Knights to Skulls,” it was intended as higher level reading material, and I wanted to give future researchers all of the tools that I had when I wrote it. I do not believe in hiding or leaving things out because ‘I found them’, I am a firm believer in source sharing whenever possible.

RW: Please share a story of one of your great archival finds or a fond memory of an archives visit.



Portable scanning station setup with overhead scanner. Photograph courtesy of Schellinger Research.

AS: When I worked for JPAC, I spent a lot of time at NARA scanning military documents for use to help identify remains brought back by our teams. I remember the first time I walked in, bright eyed and bushy tailed thinking I was going to solve all the problems with my laptop and scanner. Only to be told by the archivist, who I later learned had been there for 15 years and became well acquainted with, that I could not bring in my laptop or scanner until I had taken a test. There I was, about to take on the 1500 files that I had requested of them not a month earlier, having to leave the room to take a test. The archivist personally handed me the test with a look, that I could only describe as pity. Awhile later, she handed me my archive license and told me to be careful with the documents. Off I skipped back to my laptop to start processing and scanning the documents.


RW: How have archives helped to inform your work?

AS: In some cases, the archival documents have inspired my work, in that I have found something while searching for something else that has taken me down a rabbit hole. That rabbit hole is usually deep and consists of me having books and documents everywhere in my office. For example, while working on “Men Beyond the Stones” I learned about a unit that I hadn’t heard about before. That has since led me to start researching, and I have a book in process.

Most times, what the archives do for me is to help broaden my subject matter. Sometimes I get hyper focused on one thing, and while reading the documents, I find small branches that can help to not only fill in gaps in my knowledge, and the knowledge I wish to impart in my work, but also to fill out the work itself. One good example is that I hadn’t looked at the use of propaganda as much as I should have when I was working on “Knights to Skulls”, but when I started looking into culture, one thing that kept coming back around was the use of propaganda to manipulate.

RW: Is there something you’re still searching for and haven’t found it in the archives yet? (We know people ;))

AS: I still have some soldiers that I can’t find images for from “Men Beyond The Stones” and while the book is published, I still look to hopefully find that long lost photo. It’s the little voice in the back of my head saying, “you should have looked harder.”

I am currently working on a book about the Lane County Spanish American War deceased, so I am starting to search for those individuals. I doubt there will be many images, but you never know until you look.

RW: Were there any barriers to using or accessing the collections? If so, please tell us about it.



A CZUR overhead scanner used to safely scan materials. Photograph courtesy of Schellinger Research.

AS: One of the biggest barriers that I have discovered is the lack of digitization, which is one of the reasons I started Schellinger Research. It is often impractical to fly around the US or even the World to find that one piece of paper that may make or break your writing. Jobs, families, financial constraints all play a part in creating a barrier for some researchers.


For this reason, I’m a big proponent of digitizing and, at the very least, documenting what a collection contains. That way researchers can view the collections from their home, or a local library. I feel this will vastly broaden the collective knowledge available and it will give a voice to those who may under other circumstances be unable to share their resource with the world.

RW: What’s one thing you wish the general public knew about archives?

AS: It’s not just large nondescript buildings that have workers wearing glasses with chains. It’s small archives in the back of museums, it’s cubbies at libraries that are full of documents you can’t check out, it’s in your grandmother’s’ attic (we all have that grandmother who has collected everything about something). Archives can be everywhere and of every size.

Also, archivists don’t just love the material they are processing, but they love sharing it with others. I have had archivists who were giddy with excitement to show me something they found while digging for something I asked for. And in some cases, digging is exactly what happens, because there are not enough days, man hours, or people to process all the archival material that’s being made on a daily basis. Be kind to the archivists in your life, they are the keepers of the materials you may need.

RW: What are some of the reactions you’ve received by writing and publishing these written works?

AS: The reaction from “Knights to Skulls”, and its new incarnation “Aircraft Nose Art” has been quite mixed. Some people love how I got into the culture behind the art, others hate that I didn’t add more images of the planes themselves. Some thought that I did a great job connecting culture to the aircraft art, others felt they could have done it better themselves.

For “Men Beyond the Stones”, the response has been almost universally positive. From people not knowing about the reason Stonehenge is there, to others really appreciating that I looked at it from the service members point of view.

While not all reviews, both positive or negative, are helpful, the ones that are help me to become a better writer, historian, and overall more aware of those around me and how my work affects them.


Mathew Brock, Mazama Library & Historical Collections Manager

This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. COPA member Anna Trammell brings you an interview with Mathew Brock, Library and Historical Collections Manager for the Mazama Library.

AT: How did you get your job?

MB: When the position was posted I was volunteering at the Oregon Historical Society in the research library. The then assistant director called me into her office and said, “You NEED to get this job!” At the time I was just out of library school having graduated in the spring of 2014 from the University of Washington’s iSchool. The application deadline was still a few weeks away, so with the help of my wife, I worked and reworked the application questions and did several mock interviews to practice my answers. I submitted my application and held my breath. A few days later I was called for an interview. The first interview was with a member of the staff and a few longtime library volunteers. I was called back later that day for a follow-up interview with the Executive Director. That interview went very well and the next day they offered me the position. In February of 2015, I was hired, part-time, as the first Mazama Library and Historical Collections Manager. I’ve since moved up to a full-time salaried position. 

Vault room containing archives, photographs, and rare book collections

AT: Tell us about your organization.

MB: Founded on the summit of Mount Hood in 1894, the Mazamas is a non-profit mountaineering organization with a legacy of promoting the Northwest culture of exploration and stewardship of its mountain environments. The Mazamas leads over 700 hikes, and 350 climbs annually. It offers a variety of classes and activities for every skill and fitness level, all of which are open to both members and non-members. 

Mazama patches exhibit

Capturing the history of this mountaineering legacy and providing a variety of contemporary resources for Mazamas members and the public is the aim of the Mazama Library and Historical Collections (LHC). In addition to a circulating library, established in 1915, the LHC contains a collection of climbing artifacts and an archival collection. It serves to make available a wide range of records that chronicle the history of the Mazamas and the organization’s place in Pacific Northwest outdoor recreation. Additionally, the LHC serves to document and preserve the actions and activities of the Mazamas committees, and past and current members. 

Mazama Annuals

AT: Describe your collections.

The Mazama Library, one-third of the Mazama Library and Historical Collections is one of the few standalone mountaineering libraries operating in the United States today. Early photographs of the Mazama Clubrooms, as they were known then, reveal a small glass-fronted bookcase that showcased the first books in the Mazama Library. Over the next 105 years, the library acquired guidebooks, technical how-to titles, and rare books on mountaineering. Today, the library is significantly more extensive and strives to meet the varied needs of members, researchers, and the interested public. 

Mountaineering boots

Currently, the circulating collection contains over 7,500 volumes on mountaineering, climbing, bouldering, hiking, canyoneering, trekking, and other outdoor activities. Also, the library’s reference collection maintains full runs of all the major alpine journals and periodicals including the (British) Alpine Journal, the American Alpine Journal, Rock and Ice, Outside, and Backpacker, to name just a few. The library’s extensive biography section holds works by many prominent mountaineers including Sir Edmond Hillary, Lynn Hill, and Reinhold Messner. Rounding out the circulating collection is a small DVD library of mountaineering and climbing films, and a selection of oversized works highlighting climbs, climbers, and mountains from around the world. The collection development policy strives to add books that respond to three questions: How to do it? (technical guides), Where to do it? (guidebooks), and Who did it? (histories, biographies, and expedition accounts). To a lesser extent, the library strives to collect fiction and poetry works related to mountaineering and climbing. The Mazama Library’s non-circulating Special Collection contains rare mountaineering titles from around the world. Several notable books in the collection include a unique, turn-of-the-century copy of Scenes from the Snowfield by Edmund T. Coleman, a first edition of Search for the Apex of America by Anna Smith Peck, and To the Top of the Continent by Dr. Frederick Cook. 

Scrapbook #7, William G. Steel Scrapbook Collections, showing articles from 1894 reporting on the founding of the Mazamas atop Mt Hood.

The archives contain not only Mazamas institutional records, but also preserved manuscripts, photographs, and other documents related to the Pacific Northwest’s history of mountaineering and climbing. A few of the more historically-important photograph collections include those of Mazamas founder William Gladstone Steel, early member Rodney L. Glisan, and the photographer Edward Curtis. William Steel, in addition to founding the Mazamas, was also the driving force behind the creation of Crater Lake National Park. His twenty-volume scrapbook collection, compiled from the late 1880s through the 1920s, details early mountaineering history of the Pacific Northwest, as well as his role in establishing first the Oregon Alpine Club and, after its demise, the Mazamas.  

Small objects collection

The Glisan Photographs Collection spans the 1910s through the late 1930s and documents a wide range of outdoor activities such as skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking, in addition to alpine mountaineering. Edward Curtis, known for his photographic and ethnographic work among American Indians, was also an early mountaineer and Mazamas member. The Mazamas own nearly fifty original Curtis prints that illustrate the Mazamas annual outings to Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens in 1897 and 1898 respectively. In addition to capturing two early Mazama outings and climbs, the St. Helens collection contains what several specialists consider one of Curtis’ earliest photographs of Native Americans. Rounding out the important photograph collections is the C.E. Rusk Lantern Slide collection. Comprised of over four dozen slides, the collection recounts Rusk’s trip to Alaska and Mount McKinley to verify the first ascent claim of Dr. Fredrik Cook in 1912. 

Wood handled ice axes

The two most used collections in the Mazama archives are the summit register and glacier research collections. For almost eighty years, the Mazamas managed the registers on the summits of all the principal peaks in the Northwest. The logs, many in custom made aluminum boxes designed and manufactured by the Mazamas, record the names of climbers and the date they reached the summit. Also, the registers encompass a wealth of observational data on the climate, geology, and glaciology of the mountains on which they resided. Beginning in 1895, the Mazamas undertook scientific research and observations of glaciers around the Northwest. The Mazamas were early pioneers of using aircraft to document glaciers and their movement. Covering roughly thirty years, this collection offers climate researchers a snapshot in time of the glaciers around the northwest.


Begun in the early 1970s, the Mazama realia collection contains historic mountaineering gear from around the Northwest and the world. The collection was started by a longtime Mazama volunteer who noticed that material objects of historical value were being discarded and lost and thus took it upon herself to collect and save them. Over the last four decades, the collection has grown significantly, having amassed more than 8,000 objects. 

Since the organization’s formation, Mazama members have made hundreds of first ascents on peaks and rock formations regionally and around the world. The realia collections include objects from those first ascents, including early hand-forged pitons, Army surplus carabiners, and the first set of crampons made in Oregon. The collection features not only items used on climbs but also unused gear in pristine condition, such as a Goldline climbing rope and a set of climbing shoes from the 1970s. With a primary focus on Mazama history, the collection contains the 125-year-old alpenstock used by founding member Frank Branch Riley on the Mazamas inaugural climb in 1894 and again during the 100th-anniversary climb in 1994. The collection also holds an ice ax once owned by Argentinian dictator Juan Peron, later given as a gift to Mazama member William Hackett. Objects from the collection are frequently on display at the Mazama Mountaineering Center and loaned out to other institutions for exhibits and shows.

Mountaineering clothing

AT: What are some challenges unique to your collections?

MB: Awareness and accessibility are the two main challenges to our collections. When I was hired back in 2015 I think it was safe to say not many of our members knew about the library and historical collections, to say nothing of the public at large. Through a lot of outreach and awareness building that is slowly changing. More and more researchers, authors, and climbers are finding the collections and making use of the. 

Climbing ropes

Access is another ongoing struggle. Putting the library catalog online in 2017 improved awareness and access to the library’s circulating and non-circulating collections. Access to the archives and realia collections is limited by missing or incomplete catalog records with spotty metadata. The largest request is for easy access to our extensive photograph collection, however, less than 10% of the collection has digital access copies. 

Mazama Library

AT: What is your favorite part of your job?

MB: Every day I am amazed at the scope and depth of the collections.  While not a high alpine mountaineer myself, I enjoy hiking and rock climbing. I am astounded by the deep roots that Mazamas have in the history of Portland and the Pacific Northwest. From William Steel’s advocacy for Crater Lake National Park to Henry Pittock’s zeal for climbing, the Mazamas profound influence on our regional history is tangible. Each time I wander the stacks helping patrons, I encounter wonderfully obscure titles, many out of print or unique to this collection. I enjoy the opportunities I have to work with some of our earliest photograph collections. The images of women climbing in petticoats and men in suit jackets amaze me in their formality and inspire me to delve deeper to understand their motivations. Mostly, however, I am driven to come to work every day to help tell the story of this fantastic organization, its history, and its inspiring members. 

Stay tuned for future posts in the “There’s an Archivist for That!” series, featuring stories on archivists working in places you might not expect. If you know of an archivist who fits this description or are yourself an archivist who fits this description, the editors would love to hear from you—share in the comments below or contact to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!

Archival Identity and Popular Culture: An Interview with Samantha Cross, Creator of the POP Archives Blog

Samantha Cross

Archival representations in popular culture can go a long way in informing and impacting our work to raise public awareness about archives and archivists, which is why we knew we had to talk to Samantha “Sam” Cross, creator of the POP Archives blog!  COPA member Nick Pavlik recently spoke with Sam on representations of archives and archivists in popular media, and what archivists can do to address the cringe-inducing and wildly inaccurate stereotypes we often see.  Sam also writes about archives and popular culture on the American Archivist Reviews Portal.

NP: What was your inspiration for starting the POP Archives blog?

SC: Primarily, there wasn’t a lot in the way of archival literature or online resources about archives and archivists in popular culture. Even as a profession we’ve only scratched the surface of examining archival identity as seen through a pop cultural lens. I like pop culture. I live in a world where the Venn Diagram of pop culture and nostalgia is a circle. I also spend a lot of time explaining what exactly it is I do because a lot of movies and television shows don’t understand my profession and treat it as synonymous with librarians.

I think the most direct inspiration was Leith Johnson’s “Archives in the Movies” at the annual SAA meeting. We spend an hour watching clips, some new, many of them repeats, and laugh at how poorly our profession is depicted, but then I started wondering about the sum total of all those middling to cringe-worthy stereotypes. From there I started making a very long list of movies, tv shows, cartoons, comic books, video games, etc., and a website was born of my ramblings.

NP: Overall, how would you “grade” the popular entertainment industry on its portrayals of archivists and archives?

SC: Not great. Based on the articles I’ve written so far, I’d go C- at best. Some creators put the effort in, but there are a lot that don’t.

NP: What are some of the best portrayals of archivists and/or archives you’ve seen in popular culture?  What are some of the worst?

SC: As a caveat, I haven’t read or seen every and all things featuring archives and archivists. There’s a surprising amount to go through, but some of it takes a lot of time and energy that I need to parse out between work and what resembles a personal life. So, your mileage may vary on this answer.

The best depiction of an archivist, for me, is in the book Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers. The head archivist, Isabel, is the oldest living archivist for a fleet of ships that acts as a hub for humanity amid a cosmos of alien life. There’s a lot of philosophy and slice of life vignettes that have stuck with me and I highly recommend it if only for the cute interactions between Isabel and her wife, Tamsin.

Personally, I really enjoyed the Ben Stiller adaptation of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Walter is a photograph archivist, but he doesn’t do a lot of archiving so much as he goes on a journey of self-discovery. It’s not a great representation of an archivist, but I enjoyed it, nonetheless.

Worst portrayal? I mean, the archivist of Minas Tirith lets Gandalf drink and smoke all over the Gondorian documents! And that place was such a mess before Gandalf arrived! No wonder it took him ages to figure out Frodo had the One Ring!

NP: How, if at all, do you think representations of archivists and archives in popular culture have changed over time?

SC: Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s changed as much as any of us would like and it depends entirely on the piece of media being consumed. The go-to depiction of an archivist is often white, male, and middle aged, if not older. I’d throw in cis het, but that would mean the archivist gets any character development beyond “that weird guy who inhabits the dimly lit, dusty basement of our university/company.”

Equally as worrisome is the lack of archivists featured in a piece of media where they should absolutely be present. If you watch any urban fantasy television show, Supernatural, Grimm, Sleepy Hollow, Buffy, etc., they always need to do research to legitimize the threat and justify killing the monster. And wouldn’t you know it, they find what they’re looking for without help or aid from someone with – I don’t know – a background in records management and/or archival science. How did the documents get there, Sam and Dean? How did they get there?

NP: What do you think are some of the real-world impacts on archivists of the ways in which we are generally portrayed in popular culture?

SC: The major real-world impact is the same as it ever was, no one outside of the archival community knows what we do.

Whenever I tell someone I’m an archivist, the first response I get, 9 times out of 10, is “Oh, like Indiana Jones!” It says something when the earliest reference most people have for your job is three decades old and it isn’t even the right profession! And when people don’t know what you do, or conflate it with libraries and museums, then you end up with a profession perpetually stuck between a dated/incorrect reference and a thin media landscape offering little to no alternatives capable of penetrating the pop culture bubble.

It doesn’t help when journalists cover stories about the archives like they’re the first to explore forbidden territory. Historians always “discover” something in the archives regardless of the time and effort put into processing collections and help provided by archival staff. We’re invisible at the best of times and at the worst of times we’re spotlighted for blurring images and perpetuating imperialist practices regarding the records of marginalized communities (which we should absolutely be called out for).

It adds up. No one knows what you do, pop culture paints a confusing picture, and the real-world counterpart is either invisible or nefarious. We have severe trust issues internally and externally, is what I’m saying.

NP: Have you thought about how archivists could be more proactive in attempting to influence (or correct) the ways in which we are represented in popular culture?  If so, what are some of the ways in which you think we could do that?

SC: I think the only way to be proactive is to acknowledge the portrayals and course correct. The last presentation I gave at work, I showed an image from Raiders of the Lost Ark (you know the one) as an example of what is “Not an Archives” and then I showed an image from Captain Marvel as an example of “An Archives”! It was entertaining, they were engaged, but I can’t tell you if any of those people who came to the presentation kept it in their brains after the pizza ran out and they left the room.

Repeatedly engaging with the public, maybe some aggressive outreach, is really the only way to change perceptions of archivists and archives. Movie nights are great for that. If your institution or company is up for it, doing an #AskAnArchivist day at work gives you the opportunity to squash those poorly conceived depictions. Even if they don’t ask you a direct question about archives in film, just getting to know you is the bigger win. And maybe they learn that you were a horse girl in high school.

NP: Have you considered authoring a novel, screenplay, etc. of your own that portrays archives and archivists in a more accurate and revealing light?  Or perhaps a blockbuster movie series all about the adventures of archivists (please)?  When can we expect to see that?

SC: Believe me when I say that the thought has crossed my mind, but there aren’t enough hours in the day! I did write a short script for a writing contest that featured three archival staff members describing boxes that contained actual odd items submitted by donors. I didn’t win, but it happened!

I will say that I’m a big advocate for SAA putting an anthology together of short stories, poems, etc. created by archivists. The fiction contests SAA ran the last few years were a rare opportunity for archivists to center ourselves as the protagonist, if not the hero, of a piece of fiction. Identity is and always will be an important factor to any professional and archivists are no different. Every archivist has a story. Every archivist has a perspective uniquely their own. Every archivist experiences the world differently and we need to let that aspect of our profession thrive. The more art produced by archivists, in whatever the format, the better our community is for it.

Samantha “Sam” Cross (She/Her) is from Seattle, WA where she works as an archivist at CallisonRTKL, Inc. A self-proclaimed sponge for information, when Sam isn’t being an archivist she’s typically immersed in comic books, movies, music, and television, never shying away from talking about or analyzing pop culture minutiae. As a means of combining the two things she loves, POP Archives ( was born, a place for Sam to analyze the depictions of archives and archivists. You can also follow her on Twitter @darling_sammy for even more hilarity and inane ramblings.

There’s An Archivist for That! Interview with Susan Malsbury, the Director of the Estée Lauder Companies Archives


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Photograph courtesy of Susan Malsbury

This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.  COPA member Rachael Woody, owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC, brings you an interview with Susan Malsbury, the Director of the Estée Lauder Companies Archives.


Susan Malsbury graduated from Earlham College with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and continued her graduate work at Pratt University, obtaining a Master’s in Library and Information Science and Archives with an Advanced Certificate in Archives in 2009.

Susan’s first archival work was volunteering at the Maine Historical Society in Portland, Maine, where she cataloged glass plate negatives from the Portland Press Herald and mariner maps. In 2007, Susan interned at the Guggenheim Museum and in the Manuscripts and Archives Division at the New York Public Library. Upon the completion of her internships, Susan was offered a project position at NYPL to be assistant archivist on a project to process the 1939/1940 New York World’s Fair records. Susan remained at NYPL for 12 years, becoming a Manuscripts Specialist in 2010, and the Library’s Digital Archivist in 2014. While at NYPL, Susan worked on complex audiovisual collections, such as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis records, and a wide variety of hybrid collections, from publishing house records to artist papers. In 2018, Susan began working at the Estee Lauder Companies Archives as the first ever Manager of Digital Collections and became the Director in 2019.

Susan has lectured extensively on digital archives and is currently the Chair of the Society of American Archivists Electronic Records section.

RW: How did you get your gig at the Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) Archives?

I began working at the ELC Archives in 2018. I had not been actively looking for a new job, but a friend sent the job listing to me and I was intrigued. It was a Manager of Digital Collections position and the role was to build a digital archives program, support the development of a collection management system, and oversee all digitization. I had been at the New York Public Library for twelve years, most recently as Digital Archivist, where I helped build the digital archives program from a project-based approach to a programmatic model. The idea of building a program from the ground up was intriguing and I also thought it would be good to get experience at another institution, as I had spent my entire professional career at NYPL. After a year at ELC, the Director of the Archives left and, after a brief acting period, I assumed the role. It was an unexpected career move but has been an incredible experience to lead a busy corporate archive through what has been a very transformative time!

RW: Please tell us about the Estée Lauder Companies.

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Ronald Lauder, Estée Lauder, and Leonard Lauder in 1972 at the GM Building, the Company’s global headquarters since 1969. Photograph courtesy of the Estée Lauder Companies Corporate Archives.

The Estée Lauder Companies is one of the world’s leading manufacturers and marketers of prestige cosmetics. The Company was founded in 1946 by Estée Lauder and Joseph Lauder. Estée handled all product development and marketing, while Joseph oversaw finance and operations. The Estée Lauder brand launched with four main products that she sold at beauty salons around New York. The brand grew rapidly and both the Lauders’ sons eventually joined the Company, Leonard Lauder in 1958 and Ronald Lauder in 1964. The family is still very involved with the Company today, including now fourth generation family members.


The Company began creating additional brands in-house on the premise that it was better to make its own competition through separate brands that had distinct brand positioning. Aramis, a men’s fragrance and treatment brand, was launched in 1963. Clinique, the first dermatologist-created, allergy-tested and fragrance-free brand, came soon after in 1968. In 1979, Prescriptives launched as a color authority and was one of the first brands to offer custom blended foundation to match a wide variety of skin tones. The last in-house brand was Origins, founded in 1990 as the first prestige wellness brand that fused natural ingredients with science. After Origins, the Company shifted to fragrance licensing and acquiring already established companies; the first fragrance licensee was Tommy Hilfiger in 1993 and the first brand acquired was MAC Cosmetics in 1994. The Company currently owns 29 brands, including Aveda, Jo Malone London, Bobbi Brown, and Tom Ford Beauty, and is truly a global company with products sold in 150 countries and 48,000 employees worldwide.

Additionally, the Company has had a longtime focus on philanthropy through its Citizenship and Sustainability initiatives. The Breast Cancer Campaign was founded by Evelyn Lauder in 1992 to increase awareness and fund global research, education, and medical services. A little-known fact is that Evelyn Lauder co-created the iconic pink ribbon which has been adopted by breast cancer initiatives worldwide! The MAC AIDS fund was established in 1994 and has raised over $500 million dollars for AIDS organizations through the sale of the Viva Glam lipsticks.

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A portion of the Archives’ heritage exhibit. Courtesy of the Estée Lauder Companies Corporate Archives.

The Archives was founded in 1991 by Leonard Lauder with the mission to collect, preserve, and make available the rich heritage of the Company and its diverse portfolio of brands. The goal of the Archives is to be the center of research and inspiration for the Company, to drive creativity and innovation, and to foster an appreciation and understanding of the Company’s heritage and development. While the Archives started off as a packaging library from the four core brands, it has expanded to include products from all brands as well as any public facing material or material that informs the consumer experience. We also hold select corporate records and the personal papers of Estée and Joseph Lauder.

The Archives has grown significantly from its initial home – like many archives, a closet in the basement of the corporate headquarters – to a full-floor facility in midtown Manhattan. We also recently opened a second archival processing hub in Long Island City. Our main office in Manhattan contains storage for a quarter of our collection, workspace for product processing, a heritage exhibit, and an on-site digitization lab. The heritage exhibit highlights the founding of the company and four core brands by the Lauders, and showcases key products and marketing innovations. Archivists give heritage tours regularly to new employees or by special request, providing over 100 tours a year.

RW: Please describe the collections.

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Estée Lauder Crème Base Face Powder, circa 1960. Examples of product photography. Courtesy of the Estée Lauder Companies Corporate Archives.

Each brand has its own collection, and there are three additional collections for corporate records, the Lauder Family, and the Breast Cancer Company. The collections are broken into two main categories: packaged goods (products and packaging) and archival material (everything else). Currently, the Archives contain 75,000 products, 8,000 linear feet of archival material, 20,000 audiovisual items, and over 60 terabytes of born-digital files.

Products and packaging consist of fragrances, color cosmetics, skincare, home goods like room sprays and candles, and even ingestibles (Aveda’s Comforting Tea and Origins’ Peace of Mind gumballs). Our earliest products are from the 1950s and our latest products are ones that have not yet hit the markets. As the Archives receives two copies of each new product from every brand, we’re expanding by two to five boxes of products each week, depending on the season. We currently have an in-house digitization lab where products are photographed according to museum standards; a color chart is used to ensure 100% color accuracy of packaging and makeup shade.

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Clinique Supplementary Lashes, 1971. Examples of product photography. Courtesy of the Estée Lauder Companies Corporate Archives.

The archival material consists of creative material, collateral, advertisements, education and marketing material, and files related to the Company’s many philanthropic endeavors, much of this increasingly arriving in born-digital form. Additionally, the Archives contains a good deal of special formats like garments, awards, and counter displays. One of my favorite recent acquisitions is the corset that RuPaul wore in the iconic Viva Glam ad! The vast audiovisual assets consist of commercials, tutorials, fashion shows, and media appearances.  We have historically received transfers of material when an office moves or is redesigned or an employee retires. In the future, we plan to develop regular transfer schedules so that we are assured we are getting all material identified as having archival value.

The Archives also runs an Oral History Program, overseen by Marion Jaye, the Company’s first archivist. Marion has conducted 48 interviews with longtime employees, collecting valuable institutional knowledge and stories that truly bring the Company’s heritage to life.

RW: What were some challenges unique to the collections?

One of the biggest challenges is the sheer variety of material types which require separate processes for accessioning, description, conservation, digitization, and access. Two factors that have helped manage these complex collectives are the development of a new collection management system and moving towards a staffing model that encourages expertise by material type.

The Archives uses customized versions of Collective Access for our CMS and our front-end archival portal, allowing users to access our catalog and select digital assets through a beautiful internal website. It was a true team effort to develop cataloging schemas that worked for all the material types in our collection while at the same time ensuring that our controlled vocabulary would be understandable to our user base. The former Director, Adrianna Slaughter, wrote a wonderfully thorough article about this process that everyone should go read! Having a customized system allows us to catalog fields specific to products and packaging, audiovisual, physical archival items, and born-digital files in separate modules that work synergistically in the same system. Collection management fields allow us to track an object’s provenance, and – for physical material – the condition, collection use, and availability and quality of digital derivatives.

We also have a large amount of legacy data in spreadsheets and files from past digitization projects on hard drives. Over the last year and a half, I have been vetting the quality of the metadata and standardizing legacy metadata so that it can be imported into the CMS. The audiovisual spreadsheets were an excellent candidate for this treatment; following my audit and remediation, we now have over 6,500 catalog records that can now be reconciled with a physical audiovisual object and/or a digital derivative, and then pushed to our front-end website for viewing by our users.

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Audiovisual catalog record with media player on the front-end website. Courtesy of the Estée Lauder Companies Corporate Archives.

Another challenge is that, as a corporate archive, we can never close a collection for research. Processing projects require an additional level of strategic planning to ensure that material remains accessible to our users. Sometimes this can create unexpected opportunities to advocate for the Archives. Archivist Laura Donovan recently finished processing the MAC Cosmetics collection and has hosted research appointments at our Long Island City processing hub. These users have loved seeing a processing project in action, and a visit really drove home the scope of our archival work. It is one thing to describe the size of a collection, and quite another to walk into a room where all record cartons are on full display, neatly labeled and arranged on shelves.

RW: What is your favorite part of the job?

I have a few favorites, but the biggest is that I work for a Company that truly values its heritage and thus the Archives. You can see this firsthand in this fun video when the Estée Lauder brand had their spokesmodel, Karlie Kloss, intern at the Archives for a day. There’s often a challenging tendency in archives to have to constantly justify your existence; but at ELC, we are given the resources we need to focus on archival processing, provide reference services, host tours, and support special initiatives. These special initiatives include supporting media opportunities, creating educational programming for employees, and co-curating pop-up and permanent exhibits. No two days are ever the same and that makes the work tremendously exciting. It’s also exciting to see brands use the Archives for product development. Archivist Chelsea Payne, who oversees most reference requests, has seen an increase in brands requesting to see examples of refillable cosmetics as the Company seeks to make more sustainable packaging.

Personally, building out the front-end archival website has been an incredible project to work on and one of my proudest professional accomplishments thus far. The site will launch to ELC employees in June after a two-year development project that began last fall. I have learned a tremendous amount, from application development to designing an archives system for users who may be new to archival research. We decided to forgo the traditional bio/history note and instead created a chronology feature where chronology events were categorized by the following fields: Business, Events, People, Products, Regions, Events, and Philanthropy. Users will be able to select multiple categories and export those results to a PDF or an Excel file which provides more value to our users than a narrative history. I was also able to harness what I learned at NYPL to build out functionality to provide access to born-digital material directly through our site, including automatically capturing original files names as a metadata field.

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An example of a collection’s page. Courtesy of the Estée Lauder Companies Corporate Archives.

This past winter, I ran two user testing phases and have been meeting with stakeholders across the company to demo the site and highlight points of collaboration. Unexpectedly, these meetings have provided wonderful opportunities to build visibility and highlight the Archives work. I previously mentioned that the Archives is in a transformative time. When our site goes live, it will provide all our employees worldwide with access to the Archives, previously only available to New York City-based employees. It is an exciting time to make a truly global archive for a global company.