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 Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Ilana Short, the Vault Manager for Invenium.
Ilana Short, MA has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a master’s degree in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University. Ilana is currently the Vault Manager for Inveniem, a technology and archival company in Los Angeles, California. Ilana has previously held positions as the Manager of Visitor Services and Education with Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts and the Photography Collections Manager for the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas.
How did you get your gig?
I honestly sort of fell into it, which is of course not what people want to hear, as I know how hard it is to get a position working in archives. But, it really is the truth in this case!
I had spent most of my career working in museums, and I had done everything from education and visitor services to working with collections. Collections was really my favorite and where I focused my career, and I had been working at the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas managing the photography collections and archive. I then became more involved with the Curator of Manuscripts, and worked with her on cataloging and developing taxonomies for the photo collections, in addition to developing and curating exhibits. I discovered I had a knack for cataloging, and really enjoyed the work as well! I had been working closely with the archivist for a sister organization, the Las Vegas News Bureau, when she came across the job posting for Vault Manager at Inveniem on the SAA message board. She forwarded it to me with a note that said “this sounds like you!”
I have a personal passion for music, and many things I enjoyed doing in my free time revolved around music and concerts, and the job posting mentioned working in the music industry. I really went back and forth on applying for a little while, since the job was in Los Angeles, and I live in Las Vegas, but I did apply a couple days later.
From there, things moved fairly quickly, at least for a job in the museum and archives world. I applied in late summer, had a few rounds of interviews, and started in November of 2018. I had expected that my husband, kids, and I would all move to Los Angeles, but it hasn’t actually worked out that way. I am still commuting weekly, but now I am working from home more with the pandemic.
Tell us about your organization.
Inveniem is a small, private technology and archival company and we work primarily with living musicians and the estates of former musicians. Our client list, with rare exceptions, is completely confidential. What we specialize in, though, is helping our clients archive their personal memorabilia and possessions, as well as helping them monetize those assets if they choose to do so. We employ a staff of professional archivists, most of whom have MLIS degrees, and have developed our own schema and taxonomic structures for cataloging our client’s assets. We also choose the best long term storage and preservation options for our client’s assets as well. As Vault Manager, my job is to oversee the archivists, as well as developing strategic methods for cataloging assets and monetization plans, and creating work flow procedures for each of our clients.
Describe your collections.
The collections that we work with vary from client to client, but because our clients are musicians, they tend to contain a lot of the same types of objects. The assets that we work with typically include photographic materials (photos, slides, negatives, and transparencies), tour books, merchandise from tours, stage and video costumes, awards (like gold records and Grammy Awards), instruments, posters, and personal memorabilia. Being a photo archivist by trade, the photographic collections are always my favorites to work with!
One client that we are allowed to talk about is Wiz Khalifa, and most of the objects we worked with in his collection were clothing and shoes. We really excel at receiving a lot of disparate objects and turning them into cohesive collections – we categorize the objects, assign barcodes, photograph or scan each object, create metadata, and ingest the metadata into our database.
What are some challenges unique to your collections?
One of the biggest challenges is our confidentiality. It’s absolutely essential to our business but it does make it more difficult to participate in things that archivists normally would for professional development, like presenting at conferences. It’s also hard on a personal level because you might be a tremendous fan of an artist you are working with and you can’t tell anyone what you are doing! Aside from that, we face the challenges anyone in other archives face, especially how to organize information so that our clients can interact with it in a way that makes sense to them, as they aren’t archivists.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Where do I begin? In a lot of ways I have really found my “dream job.” Yes, I get to meet rock stars from time to time, but honestly my favorite thing is working with objects that I know no one else has ever seen. Some of our clients are artists that I really enjoy listening to, so getting to see lyrics in their handwriting, or photos from their travels are fascinating to me. I also love that the job constantly brings new challenges to solve and that I have to continuously be creative in many ways to bring new initiatives to our clients.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!