THERE’S AN ARCHIVIST FOR THAT! INTERVIEW WITH LAURA LAPLACA, THE DIRECTOR OF ARCHIVES OF THE NATIONAL COMEDY CENTER

Laura LaPlaca, Director of Archives. Photo courtesy of Laura LaPlaca.

Laura LaPlaca, Director of Archives. Photo courtesy of Laura LaPlaca.

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 Laura LaPlaca, the Director of Archives of the National Comedy Center.

Before her tenure as Director of Archives for the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, NY, Laura earned a PhD in Screen Cultures in the Department of Radio/TV/Film at Northwestern University. Her work focused on the early history of broadcasting in the United States, and particularly the development of the sitcom genre from the late 1920s to early 1960s. She also holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Dept. of Radio/TV/Film, and bachelor’s degrees in Art History and English Literature from Pepperdine University. During her 10+ years as an archivist of popular culture and media, Laura has led or contributed to processing and preservation efforts at institutions including the Library of Congress, USC-Warner Brothers Archives, and Paley Center for Media. She founded the Northwestern University Radio Archive Project [NURAP] and has served on the boards of the Library of Congress Radio Preservation Task Force and Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ Television Studies Scholarly Interest Group. Her co-authored manuscript on the history of American comedy is forthcoming from Smithsonian Press.

RW: How did you get your gig at the National Comedy Center Archives?

I first visited Jamestown, NY – a beautiful historic community on the shore of Lake Chautauqua in Southwestern NY – on a grant-funded archival research trip while completing my doctoral dissertation on the history of the sitcom. Jamestown is the birthplace of the ground-breaking TV pioneer Lucille Ball, whose archives are housed by the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum, which tells the story of Ball and Arnaz’s influential Desilu Studios and celebrates their enduring cultural legacies. During my visit, I met Journey Gunderson, the Executive Director of the museum, who told me about her team’s ambitious efforts to execute Lucille Ball’s vision to build the first national-scale, non-profit educational institution devoted to comedy in her hometown. I knew moments after meeting Journey, and hearing about the remarkable energy, optimism, and goodwill that all of Jamestown was pouring into the National Comedy Center project, that I had to be involved. It turned out that the Comedy Center had yet to hire a Director of Archives & Research, and my particular background in the history of entertainment media and popular culture archives was a good match. I joined the team about 18 months before the 37,000-square-foot, $50-million-dollar National Comedy Center opened its doors in August 2018. Since opening, we’ve educated more than 100,000 guests from around the world about the history and art of comedy. We’ve been named one of Time’s “World’s Greatest Places,” voted “Best New Museum” by USA Today, and were designated by the United States Congress as our country’s official cultural institution devoted to preserving and presenting the vital story of comedy. But I am most proud of the fact that we have been so thoroughly embraced by the comedy community itself; knowing that the artists and creators we are celebrating find our work important is really the best metric of our success so far, and the thing that energizes me every day.

Q: Please tell us about the National Comedy Center Archives.

Seinfeld_Puffy_Shirt

From the American sitcom Seinfeld, the Seinfeld puffy shirt on exhibit at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

The National Comedy Center Archives collects materials that illuminate the comedic process, demonstrate the sociopolitical import of comedy history, and elevate comedy as an artform. We are committed, first and foremost, to providing access to collections. We always acquire, process, and preserve artifacts with exhibition and educational goals top of mind. To that end, the archives team works hand-in-hand everyday with staff in Guest Experiences, Education, Programming, and Technology to activate our collections for the public. The Comedy Center is comprised of more than 50 immersive exhibits that marshal cutting-edge technology and novel forms of interactive storytelling to communicate the story of comedy – very often via primary source archival materials. One of my primary roles as

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From the movie Ghostbusters, the Ghostbuster suit on display at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

Director of Archives is curatorial: Where and how can archival materials illuminate history for our visitors? That sometimes takes the form of traditional artifact displays inside glass cases (the “Puffy Shirt” from Seinfeld, Harold Ramis’ Ghostbusters suit, Charlie Chaplin’s cane, or Joan Rivers’ joke notes). But, more often, involves activating digital surrogates of archival originals as part of interactive exhibits that involve touch screens, video walls, projections, or other technologically enhanced presentations. To share just one example, our visitors can take a seat at a Virtual Writer’s Desk and “page through” annotated script drafts from comedies like The Muppets, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum while the final-draft on-screen versions of the scenes play out beside them. In the past six weeks, due to the COVID-19 closures, we have moved a selection of our exhibit content to a digital platform that brings the museum direct to fans, students, and families around the world. You may enjoy exploring National Comedy Center Anywhere at anywhere.comedycenter.org.

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The Virtual Writer’s Desk on exhibit at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

Q: Please describe the collections or one of your favorite collections.

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The George Carlin Collection on exhibit at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

Our collections range across the history of comedy, from I Love Lucy to Saturday Night Live, from vaudeville to Internet humor, and across all comedy genres. I have three “favorite” collections: First, the 27,000-piece George Carlin Collection, which we have digitized and made available to visitors via an interactive interface in our galleries. The collection chronicles Carlin’s five-decade evolution as an artist, via his copious handwritten notes, day planners, audiovisual recordings, wardrobe, and more than 40 boxes of creative ephemera. The interactive exhibit showcases his meticulous process in detail, and allows our visitors an up-close look at the creative mind of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Second, the Rusty Warren Collection, and accompanying exhibit, honors the contributions of an important feminist comedic artist who levied her talents and brilliant wit to become a leading voice in the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Rusty Warren’s work was so progressive – and so feared – that she was banned from performing on television. Nevertheless, she toured cabarets and nightclubs for over thirty years and made 11 hugely popular comedy albums – 7 of which “went Gold.” Third, the Carl Reiner Collection – which is currently being processed – includes digitized

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From the American sitcom I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball’s polka dot dress on display at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

copies of every annotated draft page of the scripts for the seminal sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, which Reiner created and wrote. This series was an important pivot point in the history of American television, and set a high watermark that endures to this day. The chance to peer into Reiner’s process via these scripts is like taking a masterclass in the art of comedy writing. In addition to overseeing the processing and preservation of our rapidly-growing permanent collections, I also work closely with artists, estates, and industry partners to curate rotating exhibits of documents, props, and costumes that represent landmark moments in the history of comedy: Lenny Bruce’s trenchcoat, Harpo Marx’s wig, Lucille Ball’s polka dot dress, a “Dundie” from The Office, Carol Burnett’s charwoman costume, The Smothers Brothers’ guitar and bass, Andy Kaufman’s wrestling belt, Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor costume, the wedding dress from Bridesmaids, Weird Al Yankovic’s accordion, and so many more.

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The Smothers Brothers pose with the Smothers Brothers Collection on exhibit at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

Q: What are some challenges unique to the collections?

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John Mulaney views whe Rodney Dangerfield Exhibit at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

The primary challenge that we contend with is the vastness and variability of comedy as a subject area. The Comedy Center celebrates comedy in all its forms – and across all eras. That approach requires safely housing, preserving, and conserving a broad range of multimedia artifacts, most of which were designed for one-time use on stage – not for decades of stable storage and exhibition. Our team routinely handles manuscripts, photographs, scrapbooks, and documents of all sorts…but also cares for 100-year-old fake mustaches, vaudeville broadsides, cartoonist’s palettes, Grammy Awards, a toupee, acetate discs, costume jewelry, a piano, several motor vehicles, a papier-mâché frog costume, paintings, undergarments, nitrate films, a miniature bicycle, a trick cello, a sledgehammer, and all manner of fragile, irregular, and – oftentimes – very funny objects.

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Dan Aykroyd donates his motorcycle to the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

Q: What is your favorite part of the job?

Part of my responsibility as the National Comedy Center’s Director of Archives is to work directly with artists and their estates to devise the best ways to engage, inspire, and entertain our visitors while educating them about the vital role that comedy has played in shaping our shared cultural heritage. I enjoy every opportunity I have to interact with artists: to discuss their work, to internalize their stories, to strategize together about how to preserve and celebrate their craft for generations to come.

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The Joan Rivers Collection on exhibit at the National Comedy Center. Photo courtesy of the National Comedy Center.

There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Ilana Short

Courtesy of Ilana Short.

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 archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!

There’s An Archivist for That! Interview with Kat Siddle, Librarian for lululemon athletica

Portrait of Kat Siddle.

Courtesy of Kat Siddle.

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 Kat Siddle, the Sample  Librarian for the Historical Garment Archive at lululemon athletica.

As a self-described “clothes librarian”, Kat Siddle manages the historical garment archive at lululemon athletica’s headquarters in Vancouver, BC. During her 12 year career, Kat has worked in public, academic, and special libraries, with a short stint in copywriting.

How did you get your gig?

It’s a long story!

I’m technically a librarian, not an archivist. And I got this job because I left libraries for copywriting.

After I graduated, my first full-time position was at a public law library. I liked my job, but after a few years, I started feeling like it was time to move on. I didn’t quite know what to do next. Library jobs were scarce and public law libraries are pretty unusual institutions. I didn’t have an obvious next step. I went back to the drawing board and started applying for non-library jobs. I got a job as a junior a copywriter at lululemon athletica, the company that invented yoga pants. I didn’t have any experience, but I was interested in the apparel industry and I was a good writer. I didn’t know if I would ever end up in libraries again. I did copywriting and content management at lululemon for 2.5 years – and then a role in the archives opened up.

Now I’m librarian running an archive. And instead of books or documents, my archive is filled with clothes. It’s a hybrid library-archive space, because employees can check items in and out, and they’re able to self-serve if I’m not available.

Tell us about your organization.

lululemon is company that makes yoga and fitness clothing, plus accessories and clothes for everyday. It’s known for having an intense culture. It’s very outgoing, sporty and goal-driven—which was a big change for me!

View o f hoodies in pastel and gray shades hanging on a rack.

Garment racks are absolutely essential. They’re my bookcarts. They’re the best way to organize and transport clothing in a workspace. Courtesy of Kat Siddle.

lululemon is a vertical company, which means that we create everything in-house. We develop our own special fabrics and design our own garments, and sell them in our own stores. This means there’s lots of opportunities for information professionals. Right now, there are three librarians/archivists working here.

Describe your collections.

Right now, my collections all contain clothing and accessories. I have a few other products, like bottles of skincare and cans of lululemon-branded beer that we created for our annual half-marathon.  We keep the lululemon products that come out globally every season, plus products made by our Lab line and our little-sister company, Ivivva. Ivivva made clothing for girls. The Ivivva brand will be closing soon, so right now I’m working on transitioning that collection from a “working collection” that needs to be referenced by merchants and designers to a historical collection. I want to capture the aesthetic character of the brand and really honor all the hard work that went into it.

Some day, I would love to keep designer’s sketches and other artifacts from the design process, because I find that fascinating.

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

One challenge is that our accessions are driven by the company’s productivity. The company has been growing, so the amount of archival garments that I’m keeping is increases every quarter—but my space remains the same. So I’m always on the verge of a space crisis.

Another challenge is defining what makes up a meaningful or useful collection. I don’t always know how or why people are using my collections, which can make planning and weeding a challenge.

View of women's mannequins in storage.

Behind the scenes at a clothing company. Piles of mannequins are pretty common, and I almost don’t find them creepy anymore. Courtesy of Kat Siddle.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love that I have the chance to apply my skills in a design-driven environment. I always wanted to be a special librarian, but many of those positions deal with dry subject matter that doesn’t inspire me the way clothing does. I love working with colours and fabrics. It’s just inherently interesting to me. And I’m always learning — there’s so much I still want to learn from the fields of archives and museum sciences.

9 scrunchies on display, various colors, w/ exhibit tags.

I keep collections of all kinds of clothing and accessories. For some reason, the scrunchie collection is one of my favourites. Courtesy of Kat Siddle.

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 archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!

THERE’S AN ARCHIVIST FOR THAT! INTERVIEW WITH MATHEW BROCK, LIBRARY AND HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS MANAGER, MAZAMA LIBRARY

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.

Alpenstocks

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 archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!

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.

There’s An Archivist for That! Interview with Rebecca Cline, the Director of the Walt Disney Archives

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Photograph of Rebecca Cline. Courtesy of Walt Disney Archives Photo Library.

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 Rebecca Cline, the Director of the Walt Disney Archives.

Becky Cline joined The Walt Disney Company in 1989, and became a member of the staff of the Walt Disney Archives in 1993.  Today, as Director of the Archives, Becky is charged with collecting and preserving all aspects of Disney history and making the material available to researchers from all areas of the Walt Disney Company — as well as to historians, writers, documentarians, and fans around the world. Her many responsibilities include maintaining and conserving the Archives’ collections of historical documents, artwork, character merchandise, costumes, props and memorabilia.   In the years since the Archives was established at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, it has grown from a one-person department to its current staff of twelve, and has come to be recognized as a model among corporate archives in the country.

In her position with the Archives, Becky has also enjoyed participating in the research and development of many new and exciting programs and fan-based initiatives for the Walt Disney Company including the development and operations team for D23: The Official Disney Fan Club.

Born in Glendale, California, and raised in Los Angeles, Becky attended Glendale College and California State University Los Angeles, majoring in Theater Arts.  After college, she worked for two years in the Rare Books Department of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, where she received her first taste of library/archives work.

As an author, Becky has co-authored the books Disney Insider Yearbook, The Walt Disney Studios: A Lot to Remember ­(Sept., 2019), The Art of Disney Costuming: Heroes, Villains and Spaces Between (Aug., 2019) and the upcoming Holiday Magic at Disney Parks (Summer 2020), and has written numerous articles on Disney history for magazines such as Disney’s twenty-three, Disney Magazine, The Disney Channel Magazine, Persistence of Vision, and The E-Ticket, as well as many other Disney internal publications and websites. She is also a frequent speaker on behalf of The Walt Disney Company, giving talks and presenting seminars on Disney history.

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Cover: The Walt Disney Studios: A Lot to Remember by Steven Clark and Becky Cline, Disney Editions 2019. Walt Disney Archives Photo Library.

How did you get your gig?

I started out in the Walt Disney Archives as a (Semi-Senior) Secretary.  After college I planned to work in live technical theater which was my major, but couldn’t find steady work, so I took a job as a Library Assistant in the Rare Books Department at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA.  I had always loved libraries and reading, but after two years there I discovered a passion for rare books and materials and had a great desire to work in that field instead.  In 1989, I heard from a friend that they were hiring a file clerk at the Walt Disney Archives and so I jumped at it.  They had already filled the role, so I took a job at Disney Home Video for four years and then finally got a secretarial job in the Archives in 1993.  Then, I learned everything I could about Disney and began writing and researching on my own.  Eventually I was made an Assistant Archivist, and then moved on to build out our Collections department as the Manager of Collections, focusing on working with the department’s dimensional assets.  When our Chief Archivist and Founder, Dave Smith, retired in 2010,  I was made Director­ – a role I’ve held ever since.  I just celebrated my 30th anniversary with Disney and 26th with the Archives.  Oddly enough – I have no institutional library training, but my theatrical background has been of inestimable value in an entertainment archive setting – working with props, costumes, sets, art, curating exhibitions, budgets, and scheduling, assisting historical researchers and being a spokesperson, and acting as a presenter and on-camera interview subject – I wear lots of hats!

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Becky Cline (Director, Walt Disney Archives) speaking at D23’s Destination D event – 2014, Walt Disney World, Orlando FL. Courtesy of Walt Disney Archives Photo Library.

Tell us about your organization.

We were founded in 1970 as the first studio archives in the film/entertainment industry – and we are the largest of our kind.  We now have a staff of 30 and work as teams in multiple areas – Research, Collections, Exhibitions, Operations, and a Photo Library and Digital Lab.  The staff is comprised of employees from various backgrounds with various experience – some have traditional library and archival training, museum training, academic and film studies training, some even have business management training.  They are all fantastic historians as well and are very passionate about The Walt Disney Company and its history.

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Describe your collections.

The collections of the Walt Disney Archives cover all aspects of The Walt Disney Company.  We keep all historical documentation from Walt Disney and Roy O. Disney as co-founders of the Company, to motion pictures, television, theme parks, consumer products, publicity, publications, media collections (physical and digital), and corporate history.  As the Corporate archive of the entire Disney enterprise, we cover the history of all areas and brands under the Disney umbrella – including ABC, ESPN, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and now 21st Century Fox.  Last year the Fox Archives merged with our department, and we are now one.  Our collections are extensive and rather amazing in scope – from almost the beginning of Hollywood history, to today.

Research Collections

A significant portion of our research collection centers on Walt Disney, the man.  Books, articles, speeches, interviews and more than 8,500 photographs just of Walt, himself.  We also chronicle the history and genealogy of the Disney family. There is also a complete set of Company annual reports from 1940 to the present along with Company phone directories, employee periodicals, stockholder materials, and corporate officer materials.

Although the Company’s film collection is housed elsewhere, the Archives collects many films on various formats for reference, including all home entertainment releases, television programs, interviews, special events, and employee training films.  We have scripts for Disney live-action films and television programs along with dialogue cutting continuities for animated films, costume breakdown and continuity books, shooting call sheets and other production information.  Feature animation art is held in a special library that is part of the Walt Disney Animation Studios, but the Archives contains the live-action film, television, publicity and commercial art of the Company.  We also keep documentation about the animated films, including shooting drafts, original story concepts, and transcriptions of story meetings – which are quite enlightening.  Walt Disney first arranged a clipping service in 1924 and ever since the Company has been the subject of countless magazine and newspaper articles.  These are generally arranged by year and subject.

Press releases, press books and movie posters help tell the story of the studios and filmed product the Company has released over the years, too.  We also maintain biographical material – including audio interviews and oral histories with many key Disney Cast Members, Employees, and Imagineers through the decades.  Typed transcripts of significant interviews and speeches are available in both text and digital formats, for reference.  Disney publications have been published in the U.S. since 1930 and we have a complete collection of more than 10,000 titles catalogued.  There are also thousands of international Disney books, published in more than 40 languages.  The Archives also maintains a complete file of domestic comics strips, books and magazines, along with most international titles, dating back to 1932.  We also have preserved a practically complete collection of Disney recorded music – CDs, phonograph records and cassettes as well as digital files.  We also have printed sheet music, production cue sheets, and song folios to round out our musical documentation.

The Archives also houses a vast collection that traces the history of all twelve Disney Parks, from Disneyland in Anaheim to Shanghai Disneyland in China.  The research collections for those parks and resorts include correspondence, films, ticket media, employee publications, menus, Guest collateral and ephemera, and special event project files.

Dimensional Collections

Since the late 1920s, tens of thousands of merchandise items have featured the likeness of Mickey Mouse, and millions of items have featured our film, television and park properties.  While we have never attempted to collect every item ever produced, we do maintain an excellent sample collection, catalogues, correspondence files, licensee materials and photographs that tell the story of our merchandise endeavors since the 20s.

Dimensional assets from our films, television and streaming properties, as well as theme park attractions, are one of our most interesting collections.  Some of our thousands of props and costumes include the ornate prop storybooks that open Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Annette Funicello’s Mickey Mouse Club sweater and mouse ear hat, the 11-foot long Nautilus shooting model from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Davy Crockett’s ‘coonskin cap’, Mary Poppins’ carpet bag and the 20 foot -long “miniature” model of the Black Pearl from the Pirates of the Caribbean series.  Our dimensional collections also include awards, animation models, live-action film models and maquettes, artwork, blueprints and drawings, park attraction vehicles, set pieces and much more – it’s a true treasure trove!

Our exhibition program was conceived with the intention of sharing these fabulous pieces of dimensional Company history with the world.  To that end, we have been creating and presenting exhibitions for Disney fan events across the U.S. for the last decade, and even expanded to Japan and Hong Kong in recent years. This year we are launching a new traveling exhibition program that will let us share some of our favorite assets and stories with new audiences around the globe.

Photography Collections

With the addition of the incredible photo library collection of the Fox Studios in 2019, our Photo Library collection of physical and digital media now numbers over 20 million items.  The various types of negatives and color transparencies preserved in these collections cover all aspects of Disney history, from its beginnings to the present day.  We have built and are constantly adding to a new online digital asset management system which is available to Disney employees (and outside researchers with approval from the Disney Legal Department.) This is a continually growing digitization program that uses state-of-the-art equipment and processes to capture all parts of our collection – some even in 3-D!  It is one of our major initiatives and an accomplishment we are very proud of.

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

As with any Archive, our main challenges are always space and staffing!  Even with what seems to be a large staff, when you look at the magnitude and various types of materials in our collections and the scale of our outreach programs – exhibitions, fan events, publications, historical lectures, training, internal orientations – it doesn’t seem like nearly enough staff.   We also have to create and maintain proper storage facilities for everything from paper documents, original art, and fragile negatives to ride vehicles, automobiles, sailing ships, Audio-Animatronics® dinosaurs, and even Cinderella’s ornate coach!  Our other main challenge is one that just about every other archival collection faces today, too, and that is the collecting and processing digital history.  What used to come through the doors as paper is now digital and that requires a whole new set of skills to find, process, store and share.  In our case, it is massive amounts of digital imagery and audio material.  We are working through these issues with our new digitization programs and are seeking to implement a new and upcoming internal collections management system to not only help keep track of catalogued materials, but also to help with our knowledge management – with half a century of institutional knowledge at our fingertips, we want to make sure we’re doing all we can capture why and how we work the way we do here at Disney, for future generations, and archivists!

What is your favorite part of your job?

I must say I have a fantastic job that I love dearly – I get to work with wonderful, iconic historical assets, but my favorite part has to be working alongside the amazingly talented people here at Disney.  I’m very blessed to have the opportunity to meet and share our history with the best and brightest filmmakers, artists, actors, musicians, animators, authors and creatives in the entertainment industry.  I also get to share what I love so much with the millions of Disney fans out there in some pretty great ways – through our exhibits, events produced by our official fan club, D23: The Official Disney Fan Club, historical presentations at theaters, parks and cruise ships, and even on film and television.

Upcoming celebrations

We open our new traveling exhibit, “Inside the Walt Disney Archives: 50 Years of Preserving the Magic,” at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CA on March 7, 2020.   With lots more to follow, be sure to keep up with us on social media – we have some exciting plans in the works!

 

There’s An Archivist for That! Interview with Krü Maekdo, founder of the Black Lesbian Archives

Krü Maekdo wearing t-shirt that says "Black Lesbian Archives Grassroots Tour 20[??]"

Photo of Krü Maekdo (courtesy of Krü Maekdo).

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 Krü Maekdo, the founder of the Black Lesbian Archives.

Krü Maekdo has been an innovator in community organizing, gracing stages around the world sharing, her charm, wit, and presence, while contributing to the exciting LGBTQ+ renaissance in many of our communities. CEO of Maekdo Productions, a multi-media and event planning company for women in the LGBTQ+ community as well as the Founder of Queer Black Creatives and Black Lesbian Archives. She works to diplomatically build and connect the world in creative ways. A Creative Director specializing in, Multi-Media, Event Planning, Kosmic Rootwork and Astrology.

For info, visit: krumaekdo.wixsite.com/info/about

How did you get your gig?

I created the Black Lesbian Archives June 2017 after realizing that the stories of our lives were not being documented online, in our local libraries, institutions, collection departments, etc. I felt it would be a great way not only to bring awareness, but to build our communities through experimental storytelling. As well as educating ourselves through our own generational linkages and experiences.

Tell us about your organization.

The Black Lesbian Archives idea started after spending some time in Williamsburg, VA then moving to Chicago, IL. The first exhibit was created after attending an exhibit about Lesbian herstory in Chicago of the 60s, 70s & 80s. I noticed there was a lack of Black Lesbians in the exhibit and everything truly sparked from there. The first exhibit was held at Affinity Community Services in June of 2018 through July and the rest is herstory!

Table top sign that says "Black Lesbian Archives. These archives are on loan. Please feel free to look through, but leave them here! Thank you! With Affinity and logo on the right.

(photo by Law91Media)

Describe your collections.

The Black Lesbian Archives collections I would describe them as having a whole lot of personality! So raw, so honest. They come in all different shapes and sizes. Mostly physical but eventually transferring into digital so we can make them available globally in a way that’s more accessible to all.

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

One of the challenges is figuring out an innovative way to preserve archives without having the largest set of funds/backing and to keep it going. The more I learn about archival preservation, the more I understand there’s so much you wouldn’t expect that goes into the backend of archival preservation. We gonna make it work for us though.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of this project is the collaborative effort. Hearing and learning the ways in which we archive. Also the storytelling aspect of archiving which is my favorite! We have created a whole community about how we are growing and preserving the stories of the past, present and future interweaves our destines.

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With the new year comes a new opportunity to participate in the Black Lesbian Archives Grassroots 2020 tour. The Black Lesbian Archives Grassroots 2020 was created to bring awareness, educate, preserve and bridge generational gaps within our communities so in turn, we can understand ourselves and the communities beyond us.

Krü Maekdo sitting on steps with tee that says "Black Lesbian Archives Grassroots 2020 Tour"

Photo o Krü Maekdo. Promo for the Black Lesbian Archives Grassroots 2020 Tour (courtesy of Krü Maekdo).

For more information check out blacklesbianarchives.wixsite.com/info/grassroots-tour and email: blacklesbianarchives@gmail.com or call 469-430-8568. Leave a voicemail and we’ll get back.

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 archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!

There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Christine “LadyBee” Kristen, Burning Man’s Archivist, Art Collection Curator and Photo Gallery Editor

Photo of Christine "LadyBeen" Kristen standing outside on asphalt with tall grass in the background.

Christine “LadyBee” Kristen.

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 Christine “LadyBee” Kristen, Burning Man’s Archivist, Art Collection Curator, and Photo Gallery Editor.

Christine Kristen (a.k.a LadyBee) is Burning Man’s Archivist, Art Collection Curator and Photo Gallery editor. She was Burning Man’s art curator from 1999 to 2008, where she dealt with all things visual and aesthetic, including managing the art and the art grant program, photo-editing the Image Gallery, writing art content for the Burning Man website, working with the ARTery, managing the archives, and lecturing and writing about the art of Burning Man. She is the co-author of “The Jewelry of Burning Man,” with Karen Christians and George Post, and the curator of the exhibition “PlayaMade: Jewelry of Burning Man,” which debuted at the Fuller Craft Museum near Boston in 2017. It opens at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Seattle in January 2020. She has an MFA in sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago.

How did you get your gig?

I was an art-world dropout who left New York City in the early 90s, disgusted with the art world I experienced there; I stumbled upon Burning Man in 1995 and was instantly at home, attracted to the intelligent, creative outsiders who were doing radical creative acts in the Black Rock Desert. As I had an art background (MFA Sculpture, School of the Art Institute of Chicago) I was hired by Larry Harvey in 1999 to run the new art grant program; for ten years I did that as well as several archival tasks, like starting our Material Culture archives and our (at the time) physical archive of press articles, books, and magazines.

 

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I’m not trained as an archivist; I developed my skills by doing, in an environment that encouraged outside-the-box thinking. I left in 2008 to work for an arts startup which ran out of funding, and did some independent curating but realized that I only wanted to work for Burning Man, so I returned in 2012 as the art collection curator and archivist.

Tell us about your organization.

That’s a BIG task; Burning Man is complex and layered; basically it’s a temporary community in the Black Rock Desert that lasts for eight days each year — a city of 80,000 people characterized by art, creativity, generosity, gifting, and radical inclusion. This year we had over 400 art installations, scattered across a flat, barren desert. We have an airport, medical services, a DMV (our Department of Mutant Vehicles), several radio stations, two newspapers, a center cafe and performance space, ice sales, and lots of portable toilets. We do not have stages, hire bands, or put on entertainment; our community brings its hundreds of interactive theme camps, costumes, performance, and art. As Larry Harvey, our founder, said, “We create the hive, the participants bring the honey.” But it doesn’t end there; we are actively engaged in bringing art from the desert to cities; in addition to our art grant program for work on the playa, the prehistoric lake bed where Burning Man takes place, we fund temporary interactive art all over the world via our Global Arts Grants. We now have Regional groups in 35 countries all over the world who put on their own versions of Burning Man, with our guidance; there are over 100 such events annually. Within the Burning Man Project are two groups that do good in the world year round: Burners Without Borders, a disaster relief organization that helps out wherever they’re needed, and began when Hurricane Katrina struck during Burning Man 2005; and Black Rock Labs, which originally gave free or low-cost solar panels to schools within the desert event site area.

 

Burning Man is guided by our Ten Principles:

  • Radical Inclusion
  • Gifting
  • Decommodification
  • Radical Self-Reliance
  • Communal Effort
  • Civic Responsibility
  • Leave No Trace
  • Participation
  • Immediacy

They were crafted not as a dictate of how people should be and act, but as a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception. We are a global community of creative souls, doers, makers, gifters, artists and free thinkers.

Describe your collections.

I manage five archives; our press archive is now created digitally via the Meltwater Feed, a service to which we subscribe. Each week I archive domestic and international press, YouTube videos and TV and radio spots; all of these files are stored digitally. We also archive a few hard copies of magazines when it’s beneficial to do so. The second archive I manage is our library; Burning Man has allowed me to release my inner librarian! There are now 175 books in our library; these are books entirely about Burning Man, or with significant content about us. Our library also contains many magazines which have featured us, including National Geographic, Raw Vision, Wired, Leonardo Journal, Time, Architectural Review, Smithsonian, Rolling Stone, Forbes and Art Forum.

Shelves, that look like cubbies, with books.

Burning Man Library.

The third archive is our Internal Print Production collection, which I started in 1999; it includes the materials we hand out to participants on arrival in Black Rock City —  a city map, our What Where When, a guide to all playa events; an art map, and some logistical information. Also in this archive are the dozen stickers we produce each year, based on a design contest that participants enter; postcards/posters for our local events; tickets; programs from our annual fundraising events; and years of annual journals which are no longer produced.

 

The fourth archive is our collection of photographs and videos; we have flat files full of photographic prints back to our first year, 1986, and a large collection of digital files. Our Documentation Team is given assignments and covers all aspects of the event and related events; these are submitted digitally. We have VHS tapes from the earlier years, which have been digitized, and many DVDs of more recent videos; all of these have been digitized and archived.

The fifth archive is our Regional Archive, which contains printed materials from the 100+ events that occur worldwide including Afrika Burn in South Africa, Mid-Burn in Israel, KiwiBurn in New Zealand, Tropical Burn in Brazil, and the original regional burn, Burning Flipside, in Austin, Texas. They produce an event map and guide, like Burning Man, and also stickers, buttons, t-shirts and other memorabilia.

A wall of images from the 1990s, depicting history of Burning Man. Includes magazine covers and photographs.

The History Wall – images from the 1990s.

Large painting by JennyBIrd Alcantara , small painting, center, by Josh Coffy, organ and sheet music from the Church Trap by Rebekkah Waites, 2013

Large painting (left) by JennyBIrd Alcantara , small painting (center), by Josh Coffy, organ and sheet music from the Church Trap by Rebekkah Waites (art installation to the right), 2013.

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

Much of Burning Man is ephemeral and experiential, living on in participants’ memories, and in videos and photographs. Some of the art installations are burned at the event, never to be seen again. We are fortunate in that the Nevada Museum of Art maintains an archive donated by one of our founders; they created a historical exhibit that was included in the Smithsonian’s wildly successful show, No Spectators, which traveled to the Cincinnati Museum of Art, where it broke all previous attendance records, and is now at the Oakland Museum of California. Artists were asked to create work for the exhibit, which also features films, photographs, jewelry, costumes and an outdoor Temple.

What is the favorite part of your job?

My favorite task is curating and producing art for our World Headquarters (HQ) in San Francisco. Each year, post-event, I identify the best photos of the most interesting art, and a local burner and muralist prints and mounts them for us. I also seek artifacts from art installations, posters and items from our theme camps, and gift items from the event. I design the displays at HQ, and hang the art. I co-wrote the book, Jewelry of Burning Man, and I have a travelling exhibit, Playa Made: Jewelry of Burning Man, which I guest curated for the Fuller Craft Museum near Boston, and which will open at the Bellevue Art Museum near Seattle, this January. Each year I create a display at HQ of the jewelry I collect on playa; I have a maker group of over 90 people, and we meet each year at the event. My jewelry collection goes back to 1995. My style of display is far from minimal; I like to cover every available space with the art and objects from our madly creative community.

 

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All photographs in this post courtesy of LadyBee.

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 archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!

There’s An Archivist For That! Interview with Jacqueline Seargeant, Global Archive Manager, John Dewar & Sons Ltd

This is the latest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. In this entry, Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachel Seale brings you an interview with Jacqueline Seargeant, Global Archive Manager, John Dewar & Sons Ltd.

Jacqui Seargeant in the Scotch whisky archive

Jacqui Seargeant in the Scotch whisky archive. Photograph courtesy of Bacardi.

Jacqui graduated from Glasgow University with a Master of Arts in History in 1994, followed by a postgraduate Master’s degree in Archive Administration from the University of Liverpool. Her earliest archive work included cataloguing and managing collections at Herriot-Watt University, the Scottish Brewing Archive, and Allied Distillers.

Jacqui started working for John Dewar & Sons in 1999 as the Company Archivist. Her role has developed substantially since then and today Jacqui is the Global Heritage Manager for all historical collections owned by the Bacardi company, including unique business archives, family archives, museum and art collections.

Over the years she’s been instrumental in creating and developing many of the heritage elements for the Scotch Whisky brands, including the heritage exhibitions at the Home of DEWAR’S based at Aberfeldy Distillery. Other projects have included the development of the heritage elements of various brand visual identities, marketing initiatives, product packaging and new product development as well as historical brand education. It’s Jacqui’s meticulous curation of our extensive archives that allow Dewar’s to lay claim to being the World’s Most Awarded Blended Scotch.

How did you get your gig?

I came to the company on a one-year contract in 1999, to help them create a heritage exhibition at the newly created DEWAR’S brand home visitor center at Aberfeldy in Scotland. 20 years later I’m still with the company and the role has developed gradually from Dewar’s Archivist to the Global Archive Manager for all brands with archives. I joined the year after the Bacardi company acquired DEWAR’S Blended Scotch Whisky and with it an amazing business archive collection. I had already worked at the Scottish Brewing Archive and for Allied Distillers, so I understood the business and record types and was able to demonstrate the power of the collection for their business. I had, however, never managed my own archive collection, I had always been part of an archive team, so that was exciting for me and my career development. Within a very short time I was providing images to revamp office spaces, getting involved in the brand education program, helping to defend legal claims and providing heritage inspired ideas for new product developments. It was a steep learning curve for me and a bold move, but my previous work in the drinks industry gave me a foundation that allowed me to jump right in.

Bacardi prohibition era postcard email, has Florida at top and Cuba on bottom, with people drinking rum in between. Bacardi logo then text below "Flying to Heaven with Bacardi"

Bacardi prohibition era postcard email. Courtesy of the Bacardi Archive.

Tell us about your organization

Bacardi is the largest privately held spirits company in the world. What is most remarkable to me is that it remains a family-owned company after seven generations. The company was founded more than 157 years ago in Santiago de Cuba and has incredible stories made for the movies! Our company founder, Don Facundo Bacardí Massó, revolutionized rum making with the creation of the first light-bodied rum which transformed the rum industry. Since those early days the company has grown massively to cover more than 20 production sites across the globe. Today the Company owns more than 200 brands and labels, including the core heritage brands of BACARDÍ rum, DEWAR’S blended Scotch whisky, MARTINI vermouths and sparkling wines, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE gin, BARON OTARD cognac and NOILLY PRAT vermouth. Some of our brands, like BÉNÉDICTINE, have a 500+ year old history – we have a lot of heritage to preserve!

Describe your collections

We have amazing historical resources within our Company, including business archives, brand advertising materials and objects, bottles full of spirits and actual museum collections.  More than fifteen of our brands have a long history, and we have four main collections in five different countries – Bermuda, the USA, the UK, France and Italy. In total, we care for more than 3000 linear meters (3km) of archives which, if stacked up, is thirty two times the height of the Statue of Liberty. The archive collections are fundamental to our brand identities and brand developments. We are not just about preserving the past, we are about building the future by inspiring brand teams, mixologists and others who help craft new legacy cocktails and new campaigns.

 

 

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The Bacardi Archive is at our north American Regional Headquarters in Coral Gables, FL. Bacardi was founded in Cuba in 1862, but on Oct 14th 1960 the Company’s Cuban assets were illegally confiscated by revolutionary government forces. As you would imagine that has affected what is in the collection, although the business did have a geographical reach beyond Cuba by that date including plants or offices in Spain, Mexico, the USA and Puerto Rico. The Bacardi Archive was created just over 20 years ago in Miami by a family member, passionate about preserving the story. Over the years, the collection has grown from a tiny shoebox of slides, to a room of more than 400 meters of shelving. It includes over 30,000 catalogued assets dating back to the 1850s, such as the early documents of the founding of the company, medals awarded since the 1870s, the company’s earliest advertising campaign from the 1890s, photographs of distilleries and family members, trademarks and promotional items as well as many rum bottles, including one from the pre-Prohibition Era.

 

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The DEWAR’S collection is housed in Scotland where our whiskies are made. Here you will find one of the best advertising archives of any brand, including a copy of the first cinematic advert for a drinks products. The ad was made in 1897 and was the brainchild of one of the Company’s founders, Thomas Dewar, who was an early pioneer of new advertising techniques. You can see his influence in our many old adverts and promotional objects including numerous old ceramic flagons made by Royal Doulton which would have originally held the company’s whisky. We even have an 1897 patent in the archive for branding the tires of bicycles and cart wheels so they left your brand name in the dirt and mud of the street. Essentially if something could be branded, Thomas Dewar probably branded it.

The Martini Museum of Wine

View of the Martini Museum of Wine courtesy of the Martini Archive.

In addition to our many business archives, we also own two incredible museum collections. The Martini & Rossi collection, which is located near Turin in Italy, includes the Martini Museum of Wine, which has 16 rooms of artefacts dating from the 7th Century BC onwards, relating to the production and enjoyment of wine. Our French brands archives in the north of France include the brands of NOILLY PRAT vermouth, BARON OTARD cognac and BÉNÉDICTINE liqueur. The Bénédictine collection incorporates a museum collection of religious antiquities, relating to the origins of the liqueur’s recipe and the Bénédictine order.

I love the fact that every item and object tells a story which relates to not just our own company and business, but also to local, national and international history and culture. For example, during the time of 1920s prohibition in the USA, Bacardi produced postcards in Cuba which featured a dry America and ‘wet’ Cuba, with a caricature of Uncle Sam having a cocktail in Cuba. Alcohol advertising was banned in the USA at this time, but American visitors to Cuba would be given these postcards for free, and send them back to friends in the USA and so they found their way in anyway and encouraged people to come and try BACARDÍ rum in Cuba!

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

As a spirits company we of course want to preserve and showcase old bottles and storing them has some fairly unique challenges. There can be a lot of evaporation from old corked bottles, so the atmosphere in the bottle archive can be quite humid, and caps may get moldy. For that reason (and due to the flammable nature of the liquid) we do attempt to keep the bottle collection separate from the paper collections, and we keep a close eye on evaporation and mold development. Some people would argue that the liquid could be thrown away, but that would significantly decrease the value of the collection, and a great deal of it should still be drinkable. Keeping the full bottles also allows us to potentially analyze the contents of blends of the past in our laboratories, in cases where the recipes no longer survive.

Products like BACARDÍ & cola kept in a can will eventually leak as the cola is quite acidic and will  work its way through the metal, so we need to remember to empty those before archiving (we learned this the hard way!). As if the bottles weren’t tricky enough, we also have some real bats in the archive, obviously long dead and preserved, but none-the-less challenging to keep in good condition! The bat has been the brand icon for BACARDÍ since the early days of the Company, when the founder’s wife discovered fruit bats nesting in the roof of the original distillery. According to Cuban and Spanish culture, they are a symbol of health, good fortune and family unity and the fruit bat has been a part of the Company logo ever since. The rum became known as ‘El Ron del Murcielago’ or The Rum of the Bat. More than 150 years later, the bat remains an icon and such a recognized brand symbol.

What is the favorite part of your job?

Hands on archive work, without a doubt – cataloguing, organizing, making order out of chaos and along the way discovering something new about our history. The best moments are when you uncover something new that you know is going to help your business – those moments are great. While researching one of the DEWAR’S founders, Thomas Dewar, I accidentally found a newspaper article from 1905 in which he claimed to be the first person to create the Highball cocktail during his first trip to New York in the 1890s. My further research revealed that the company had trademarked the words ‘high ball’ a few years later. We are now using this story as a major sales and marketing approach which is helping drive the popularity of the DEWAR’S Highball cocktail in Japan and other markets. It doesn’t get any better than that, feeling like you are keeping the history alive, at the same time as contributing to the current and future business.

The new Martini Archive with Anna Scudellari our Archivist

The new Martini Archive with Anna Scudellari, our Archivist courtesy of the Martini Archive.

I think that example also reflects how we are a live part of the business, contributing to our brands’ successes and identities, as well as driving company culture. A series of oral history interviews with retired family members inspired our company’s effort to reignite our culture with the 3 Fs – Fearless, Family, Founders. These words simply came out of what the people were saying to our interviewer when talking about their time working for the company, it was a very clear and natural direction and links heavily into our heritage. Our contributions can therefore be unexpected and pivotal and we are lucky enough to work in a company where people listen to our ideas and discoveries because they understand the power of our heritage and how it contributes to who we are today.

Finally, I have to say that my role is especially privileged because as the Global Archive Manager I periodically have to visit our archives all over the world, including our brand homes and visitor centers which have heritage exhibitions, to oversee physical projects and develop exhibitions. The brand homes are where we enable the public to experience our brands, products and rich histories, usually in the historical place or ‘home’ where they are made. For example I was recently at Casa MARTINI, our brand home for the MARTINI brand to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the archive and the inauguration of our new archive storage there, with the Mayor of Turin attending our special reception. This is one of my favorite places, where you can enjoy a MARTINI Bianco and soda with a twist of lime (well that’s my favorite!!) in the Terrazza MARTINI, explore the origins and development of the beautiful MARTINI brand and even experience the Museum of wine with ancient Roman amphora and beautifully carved centuries old wine presses. For someone who loves history, this job ticks every box!

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 archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!

THERE’S AN ARCHIVIST FOR THAT! INTERVIEW WITH JENN PARENT, REFERENCE ARCHIVIST, THE MUSEUM OF FLIGHT

This is the latest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect. In this entry, Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Anna Trammell brings you an interview with Jenn Parent, Reference Archivist at the Museum of Flight. 

[Reference archivist Jenn Parent in front of mural by Henry at T

Jenn Parent, Reference Archivist at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA

How did you get your job?

I came to archives and The Museum of Flight as my second profession, having spent well over a decade working as a bookstore manager. I loved helping people find books but at the same time I always felt limited in how I could help people. So, I went back to school to get my Masters in Library and Information Science with the goal of becoming a special collections librarian or an archivist. I did two internships at The Museum of Flight during grad school (one in the library, one in the archives), and due to the positive internship experiences I had, I added the organization to my “watch list” for jobs. About a month or so before graduation I saw an opening for a part-time Processing Archivist and applied. I got that job and started in July 2017. Then, in late December 2017, I was promoted to Reference Archivist, and I’ve been doing that since.

[Group portrait of Pan Am flight attendants]

Group portrait of Pan Am flight attendants, circa 1960s-1970s || The Denise (Babcock) Schmidt Pan Am Flight Attendant Collection/The Museum of Flight

Tell us about your organization.

The Museum of Flight is the largest private non-profit air and space museum in the world. Contrary to popular thought, we are not part of Boeing and never have been (although we enjoy a good relationship with Boeing!). With over 150 air and spacecraft, dozens of exhibits and experiences, and all kinds of programming and educational offerings The Museum of Flight (TMOF) is devoted to the preservation and sharing of aviation and aerospace history and technology. 

I work as part of the Collections team, which includes the Harl V. Brackin Library, The Museum of Flight Archives, and our small object collection. As the Reference Archivist, my main job is (you probably guessed it!) to answer reference inquiries, which are mostly related to photo requests and general research/reference. If an inquiry requires in-depth curatorial knowledge, it gets assigned to our Curators. On average, I personally handle 30 to 40 reference inquiries per month. We get requests from all over the world and our researchers vary, from students of all ages to authors to model makers to aircraft restorers and more. 

When I have time, I also still process and catalog archival collections because I love processing. It adds to my knowledge of the collection so I can better assist researchers, but also I just love making collections accessible for folks to use! In addition, I contribute to outreach efforts, such as participating in our monthly “Coffee with the Curator” (a themed presentation with materials on display from the library, archives, and objects), writing articles, leading Library & Archives tours and/or giving presentations about the Archives, and contributing to our team’s Instagram (shameless plug for @tmofcollections)! And of course, I help with “other duties, as assigned.”

[African-American Rosies with Boeing B-29 Superfortress]

African-American “Rosies” with Boeing B-29 Superfortress || Credit: The Museum of Flight Collection

Describe your collections.

The Museum’s collection contains over 25,000 small objects (classified as anything smaller than an aircraft), over 90,000 books and periodicals, over 18,000 aircraft manuals and technical reports, and nearly 5,000 cubic feet of archival materials. 

Our archival collections contain materials that document the entire evolution of manned flight, from the Wright Brothers to modern jet travel to space exploration. We have an estimated four million images, including photographic prints, film and glass plate negatives, slides, and transparencies. Our paper-based materials include maps, charts, drawings, blueprints, log books and diaries, manuscripts, research and technical documentation, correspondence and philately, and airline ephemera such as tickets, timetables, brochures, and luggage tags. 

What’s really awesome is that we’re becoming more publicly accessible, which is fantastic! We’re always open to the public via the Dahlberg Research Center. You do not need to be a Museum member or pay admission to visit us but we do recommend/prefer an appointment! But we can also be accessed via our Digital Collections, which went live December 2017 and currently has over 6,500 digital images and 100+ oral histories with more content being added on a regular basis. And in April of this year (2019), we also launched our public research portal, where folks can browse finding aids from our collection. We add to it weekly, and it currently has just shy of 300 collections, which is about 10% of our collection. We also encourage folks to reach out and ask if they don’t see something online, as these are just fragments of our collection!

[Convair (Theodore P. Hall) 118 Convaircar]

Convair (Theodore P. Hall) 118 Convaircar || Credit: The Peter M. Bowers Collection/The Museum of Flight

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

I don’t have an aviation or aerospace background so describing the technical aspect of many of the aircraft collections can be a bit daunting. Luckily, our Curators are great at helping me understand things so I can correctly explain it in a finding aid or to a researcher.

I’d also say our building is a bit wonky. It was originally meant to be a hazmat storage facility but was never used in that manner that we know of (at least I haven’t grown a tail yet). The building has very thick concrete walls and floor and a very thin aluminum roof, so in the event of an explosion, the roof would be forced up and (in theory) the walls and floor would withstand the blast, leaving only the roof to replace. Additionally the floors are very slick and slightly sloped (in case spills needed to be hosed into the also-present drains that happen to have gaps the exact width of a library cart wheel). This makes adding shelving quite a chore, as you can imagine. 

JennStacks

Jenn Parent at work at the Museum of Flight

What is your favorite part of your job?

 That’s a tough call. I really like continuously learning and encountering material that sparks an interest or moment of “Wow!” (so many rabbit holes to go down – like did you know Goodyear made a plane out of rubber? Look it up – the Inflatoplane!). I also enjoy that my days can be quite varied based on what I’m up to that day. From answering a photo request about the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy to giving a tour to students or from making “frankenfolders” to house oversize materials to helping relocate a missile in our storage area, it’s never dull. 

But I think my real favorite is simple – being able to successfully guide a researcher and help fulfill their information need, especially when they reach out to me with what they may think is a long shot. I recently had a researcher ask me if it was fun being both useful and magical. A resounding yes!