Conducted by Kara Van Malssen, MISL Project Coordinator, on October 6, 2009 at Fales.
Kara Van Malssen (KVM): Can you just tell me what is your, well, where do you work, first of all?
Brent Phillips (BP): I work in the Fales Library and Special Collections at New York University. Fales Library is the primary special collections repository at NYU focusing on literature and art.
KVM: And what is your title?
BP: I am the Media Specialist & Processing Archivist. I have an ampersand in my title, yes.
KVM: Ok, and can you just briefly... is that a full time position?
BP: Yes, our hours are Monday through Friday, 10-6 and Friday from 9-5, so yes, it’s a full time position.
KVM: And that’s permanent?
BP: Permanent, correct.
KVM: And, can you tell us how that you came to that position?
BP: Sure, actually this position was created for me 2 years ago. When I first came here which was in 2002 I was the Media Preservation Project Archivist and it was a grant funded position. [The position] grew out of the vision of Marvin Taylor, who is the director of Fales. He began what’s known as the Downtown Collection, which basically chronicles the art scene that was happening in Lower Manhattan from the early 1960s, pretty much to the present. As you would imagine, there was a great deal of media in this collection. It’s various artist papers, dance troupe records, theater groups, public access TV, so its a hodgepodge of Downtown art. Since we’re talking the second half of the 20th century, there was a great deal of media coming in in these papers.
In 2001, Marvin Taylor, with Senior Archivist Ann Butler, working in collaboration I believe with Howard Besser and the MIAP [Moving Image Archiving and Preservation] program, got together and wrote a three year grant to the National Endowment for the Arts. And it was a three year grant in which the first year would be to hire an archivist, which would be me, it ended up being me I should say, to go through and look at just the videotape holdings that [Fales] had accrued so far. I was to prioritize them, assess them, give the unique identification numbers, and come up with a preservation plan for these tapes. At that time I believe when we finished that project it was 1,788 videocassettes of all formats: open reel, one inch, U-Matics, you name it. The second and the third year was to take that preservation plan and begin preservation on the tapes that were deemed most at risk based on format obsolation, year, uniqueness. But even though my job was supposed to be just for a year, Marvin Taylor realized that there was a great deal of other media that we hadn’t gotten to. I should say the way that we look at media here at Fales is not -- we don’t separate it [intellectually] from the papers, we consider it to be the same sort of documentation [and has the same value as] the paper manuscript materials. So an interview that’s on paper or an interview that’s on audiocassette, we don’t differentiate. The only problem is, up until my appointment, all this material was not being given access to. Researchers were not given access to it because we could not make surrogate copies, we could not reformat the material, and about 90% of our material is unique material, so we couldn’t just hand over an audiocassette to a researcher and say, “Here, enjoy it.” So Marvin continued making the case for a permanent media specialist here [at Fales] who could continue to assess the rest of the media, and by making that case actually were able to start bringing in a lot more media-heavy collections, which is what we’ve done in the past few years.
KVM: And then, you said initially you were only looking at video...
KVM: And then you moved into... How quickly did you start moving into other media after your initial...?
BP: By the second year we were looking at the great number of film holdings we had, and audio kind of was lagging behind because of the type of materials that we collect, artistic works, it was a little bit more difficult for us to find funding, grant funding, to preserve audio. With video and film, there’s, you know, there’s the National Endowment for the Arts, there’s New York State Council for the Arts, the Delmas Foundation, National Film Preservation Foundation. All these [organizations] were giving us money to help us preserve. Audio we had a little bit more trouble getting. So by the second year of my being here, which was still under some soft money, we were beginning to look at all the other material.
KVM: Ok, so now do you work exclusively with moving image and audio or do you deal with other types of collections?
BP: My job entails assessing media when it comes in and doing all the assessment and prioritizing and the basic cataloging, and everything for media when it comes in but I also [work with] the paper and manuscript material as well. Normally we try to, if there’s a collection that’s paper and media, it’ll kind of fall under my jurisdiction to get that entire collection done. But I’m not solely media, although I will say a majority of my time is taken up with that.
KVM: Ok, and just a little bit about you before we go back into the collection. What is your background and what training prepared you for this position?
BP: I am a graduate of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, so that was my training going into this, going into this position. It was a certificate program at the George Eastman House in Rochester. While it’s very much focused in film preservation, it runs the gamut and also teaches magnetic media preservation, audio, video, etc.
KVM: Ok, and do you continue to do some type of professional development?
BP: As much as I can, certainly. We are a very small staff at Fales and we have extensive collections. I should say, Fales right now there’s four full time positions. There’s Marvin Taylor who is the Director of Fales. We have a Senior Archivist, Lisa Darms. We are currently looking for a Curator of Rare Books, that position’s been empty now for a while. And then there’s my position, the Media Specialist and Processing Archivist. So its basically us overseeing all the processing and management and incoming collections, so going off to a conference sometimes throws a sort of a wrench in the whole thing. That being said, I certainly try to get to the AMIA [Association of Moving Image Archivists] conference every year and there’s the AMIA listserv, and whenever something is being held close [to or around NYC], especially if its around something like cataloging media or copyright issues or things that I have to deal with and want to keep abreast of, I certainly work to try to work it into my schedule.
KVM: And you mentioned at the beginning, I think you said that the position wasn’t...am I correct in hearing that you said the position wasn’t created for you, but it was created and then you were the one to fill it?
BP: It was a matter of the fact that [Fales] had me here in this grant funded position and [Marvin Taylor] knew that actually we had to try to create more of a permanent position here for media.
KVM: How did you get the job?
KVM: Yeah. Initially, that first position.
BP: Initially, it was literally a matter of answering -- I don’t remember where I saw it, it may have been on the AMIA listserv -- and applying for the position. Since I was working with downtown media... my prior professional history before this was that I was a professional dancer, so that may have had something to do with it. I think they were looking for somebody who had gone through a training program, who certainly understood and respected the material and was able to bring forth the deliverables, so that’s how I got the job.
KVM: That’s a big career shift, from dancing to media archivist.
BP: Actually it wasn’t so much! Basically, when I left dance I kind of thought: “What do you want to do after doing a career like that?” And my thing was I wanted to make sure that this illusive profession did not just disappear. You know, you do a performance, unless it’s videotaped it disappears. And you can look at a photograph or read a review, it doesn’t [show] the same thing as film or video, so especially when I started here at Fales, we have a number of dance collections, I see the way that dancers come to use them because if you can’t watch dance you can’t really know what happened that night on stage. And the same with theater, and the same with all the other performing arts collections that we have here.
KVM: So you’re a perfect fit.
BP: Well, yeah.
KVM: In many ways. That’s cool. Ok, so moving onto the collections a little bit here. What is the extent of the types of media that you have here? You mentioned film, video, audio, but can you just kind of run off types of formats.>
BP: Sure. Running off formats, we basically have every type of format at this point, in professional and home media formats. Our figures right now I would say for video we have about 20,000 video elements, about 7 or 8,000 film elements, and audio probably about 30,000 audio elements at this point. So you can see how much more video we have acquired since the 1,788 videotapes that I started with just in 2002. Formats for video range, since we’re talking 1960s through the present, everything from 1/2” open reel, which became the big thing especially for artists with the [arrival of the] Portapack being able to document their work, through 3/4” U-Matic. We have a lot of broadcast tapes because we have a lot of public access television here, up through Hi8, mini DV, all the latest formats. We tried staying in an analog format for preservation of analog [material] for as long as we could, in other words when we first started doing analog preservation we transferred to Betacam SP hoping to keep analog-to-analog. And we basically had to look at the times and say “That’s not feasible anymore.” So we have switched to preserving our media on Digi Beta. And with film, primarily 16mm, Super 8 [mm] and 8mm. We do have some 35 [mm], not that much because we don’t have too many feature films here. A lot of the films are production elements so we could have hundreds of film elements just for one particular title. And then with audio it’s the same thing. It’s pretty much everything from professional 1”, 2” Quad all the way up through whatever they are using today.
BP: Yes, that is our newest thing that we’re wrestling with, and I don’t have too much to say about it right now, but we are working... We have a great Digital Library Technical Service Department, and its a matter of realizing that material now is being born digital. We have received some artist papers in which the [collection was mostly] born digital, and [we are] now trying to find server space and working inter-departmentally now between the special collections and the Digital Library Tech Services Department in order to preserve this material.
KVM: Interesting challenges with the digital. Now just in terms of the whole library here, because you are just one special collections in a larger library, what other...
KVM: What other areas of the library can moving images collections be found in?
BP: Here, at Bobst, Fales is one of three special collections. There’s the Tamiment Wagner Labor Archives, and there’s also the New York University Archives. Both of them have media, especially Tamiment Wagner Archive has extensive film [and audio] holdings. One floor below us is the Avery Fischer Media Center, which is primarily a media library for students to come and use. It’s not so much special collections material, it’s a lot of published videotapes, recordings that students can come and listen to.
KVM: And you mention a minute ago that your primary duties are assessing and prioritizing the incoming collections. Would you say that’s the extent of your primary duties, not going to secondary duties, but the main ones?
BP: Without going to secondary duties?
BP: When we get a collection that has 5,000 videos, we have to immediately, or I have to immediately, work with Marvin Taylor in trying to try [to process it with] our student staff -- we have a great graduate assistant staff -- and trying to get a handle on this media as much as possible: organizing it, giving unique identification numbers to it, checking it for mold, other contaminants to make sure where we’re storing it is not going to harm the rest of our collections, trying to find a place for it. We’re over capacity right now so space is always an issue. And then usually as soon as we do a press release on a collection that we get we start getting researchers contacting us, and so we try to work as quickly as possible to at least get the collection processed so that researchers will know what we have. And the preservation aspect will come secondary.
KVM: And then you allow access to media before you have done preservation?
BP: No. We will... we try our best to work with researchers if something, if a collection isn’t 100% processed or … the media isn’t preserved yet. But we would never give original elements to a researcher. We have, and I don’t know if I’m jumping ahead, but we have a really fantastic media preservation and reformatting laboratory here at Bobst so a lot of things we are able to do in-house depending on the video format. For example they can’t do 1/2” open reel because we don’t have that equipment. That we have to find the funding for. Sometimes researchers will pay the funding if it’s something they really need and then we would send that out to a preservation house before we would be able give access to it. And the preservation department here is just beginning to … doing beta testing on the audio laboratory which they are implementing so we should be able to start doing in house reformatting of audio material very soon. Exciting!
KVM: It is exciting. And so then what would you say your secondary or additional job duties or responsibilities are?
BP: Everything else that’s related to a special collections. Even though I came in with basically all my knowledge about media preservation and media archiving I have to... I work with researchers on queries, I have to help process paper collections, I have to know about rare books, that’s one of our main things here is that we have the Fales collection of British and American Literature. So there’s dealing with book issues, and anything else having to do very much with the running and the maintenance day-to-day of a special collections. And so this is stuff that I was able to pick up more or less on the job, with my primary focus still being on media. That beings said, one of the things that, now that media has become available a great deal of my time, not a great deal, but a lot of my time, besides just helping researchers with viewing the material or just looking at the manuscript material here, is dealing with … people who are making film documentaries, exhibition, special events. Many people want this material now that it’s preserved because for the longest time they’ve just had a photograph of it, now its actually moving image of events, or a dance performance, or anything. So we’ve been getting a lot of queries from film documentaries lately. A lot.
KVM: So how long has that been happening?
BP: I would say since we started doing [consistant] preservation, which was in about 2003. We were able to start doing our first batch of outsourcing material to a preservation house because we didn’t have the in-house facility yet. As soon as that stuff came back and we were able to get that put into our finding aids, which are online, we started getting hits from, actually around the globe, people wanting the material. The interesting thing about the Downtown Collection, it’s very heavily used here, for some reason in Europe, say in the past two years, it has becomes this...people have been obsessed over it, and they’ve never been able to see this sort of material. So we get, at least once a week, we get [a request for] an exhibit or somebody coming to us saying “Oh, we would like so-and-so’s films” or “Do you have a videotape of this?” or “I heard” you know “I’m interested in something from the Downtown Collection.” So...yeah...and it’s exciting too.
KVM: Yeah! So it’s great that you have all this new interest, but I guess that kind of makes your job a little bit more challenging?
BP: Yeah, yeah. I mean the whole thing...I very much enjoy... If I was on the technical aspect of media preservation, being just sitting there and dubbing the work, I don’t think that I would be as fulfilled doing it. There are some people who, that’s their great skill and thank god for them. I very much enjoy my position because of working with researchers and whether it’s student here at NYU, another university, or a film documentarian (sorry my mouth is getting kind of dry) its wonderful because they get excited when they start saying, “Oh I can’t believe that you actually have this footage.” And not that we want to become a footage house, but as long as its used with a scholarly reason, it’s great to get that material out there.
KVM: Yeah, cool. Ok, so you did mention a minute ago that the preservation department, the in-house preservation department in the Library, wasn’t here when you first started.
KVM: Ok, can you talk about how things have changed? And you just mentioned a little bit about how the access has increased a lot but, can you talk about what things were like before vs what they are now?
BP: Yeah, I should say that the Media Preservation Department was in development when I first started here, but we weren’t ready to begin actual reformatting. That didn’t happen until a few years in to my time here at NYU. So all of our reformatting, even if it was something simple, a recent VHS which somebody needed to look at, it had to be outsourced. And that was time consuming, it was extremely expensive. I think of the first group of tapes which we sent off, which was about 100 titles, this was the second year of the NEA grant, there was about 100 titles and they were sent to a preservation house and the price to transfer them to Betacam SP with access copy surrogates, it was like the price of a small car. It was extremely expensive. And I remember just looking at the volumes of media that we had here and just were like, “Oh my gosh, we will never...we will never be able to give access to all this.” And we didn’t want to start “selecting” what we would be able to do preservation for because then we’re kind of negating material that may or may not be important to somebody else. We didn’t want to have to make those decisions. Ummm (I’m trying to think...I had a point and I just lost it because someone walked by, sorry.)
KVM: It’s ok.
BP: So basically, what we’ve been able to do now with the in-house reformatting is entire collections can be reformatted at the drop of a hat and if a researcher comes in and says, “Oh hi, I’m from London and I really want to listen to / see this videotape.” If it’s not preserved, its something that can go into the queue downstairs. And the turnaround that we have here is really quick. So as far as saving money, and not having to “select” what material we were preserving, it’s helped us tremendously. The material that, like I said that we first sent off, it was prioritized by, primarily by age, factors of decomposition and format obsolescence. That doesn’t have to be our criteria. Obviously we want to get to those first, and we’ve kind of gotten a handle on most of those. But we wanted to...we were now able to give more complete holdings to the researcher.
KVM: So it’s been enormously advantageous to have this lab.
BP: Yeah! And the exciting thing is that we, now that the audio is, the audio lab is also beginning. It’s discouraging when a researcher would contact us and be like, “We’re interested in hearing such-and-such a tape.” And I’m like, “Well, we did some preservation on some of these tapes, they’re from the 1960s...” they were in really bad condition. And now knowing that we’re going to have in-house help in getting us this material reformatted and accessible it is very exciting.
KVM: And it’s a nice lab.
KVM: So, since we’re talking about the larger Library in general outside of Fales, do you play any additional roles in the Library in general? Are you on committees, or...
BP: You know what, I’m really not. As I said at Fales right now we are a very small staff and we... just the day to day of trying to keep up with the researcher queries coming in, overseeing the processing of the collections, and the acquiring of new collections, and then dealing with all the preservation elements that are always coming in that need to be quality checked and everything, it really is a full time job. So I’m not so much on other committees here within the Library.
KVM: But you work closely with the [Barbara Goldsmith] Preservation Department...
BP: Work very closely with the Preservation Department. And not just on the preservation of media, but also on the conservation of paper, photographs, if we get a piece of artwork in, which we don’t do that often, but it’s sitting down with the Conservation and Preservation Department and saying “What can we do with this?” And so I do work greatly with them. And like I said now that we’re beginning with born-digital media, we will be looking at that with the Digital Library Technical Services [DLTS] department a great deal. And the good thing is I do kinda think since my time here there really has been a melding of departments, and so the preservation and us being able to get this material to researchers, is really an interdepartmental blending between the Preservation Department, the special collections, DLTS, and so that aspect of it at first, it wasn’t difficult but you know, everyone was in their own … different sphere, and now there really has been this melding, and the workflow is just phenomenal.
KVM: That’s great (lost my train of thought too)..
BP: Well, I would say, and also, the good thing, not to toot everyone else’s, you know horns, but it’s just wonderful because the Conservation and Preservation Department and DLTS, we have these wonderful workers here who have so much knowledge, and they’re so learned in whatever area that they specialize in that it all kind of works together. Whereas if I’m good about dealing with researchers and prioritizing media, and somebody else is good for the inspection of it and the reformatting of it, and DLTS for the migration and the moving it onto digital servers and all that, you really have, not to say utopian, but it’s really marvelous to work with so many really bright people. Professionally, it keeps me stimulated.
KVM: Yeah. Well it sounds like a very exciting and like there’s a lot of different things going on.
BP: Yeah, there’s never a dull moment here. We … never know what researchers are going to want. And we really see the ebbs and flows of when an artist is hot and people are really wanting this material. Or... So, no two days here are ever alike, they can be exhausting. You have long-term projects, short-term projects, and then the day-to-day, and between all of it, it can become taxing.
KVM: Yeah, I can imagine. So then I want to shift a little bit to just more of your opinion questions. What in your opinion leads to the creation of a position like yours?
BP: It takes... Well, I can tell you what it, what happened here is it really took a visionary, which I will say Marvin Taylor is. Somebody with a vision, and someone who understands where special collections are moving to. They are no longer just “ye-rare-oldie-bookie” things or some letter of George Washington. That if we’re collecting material, especially, as I said, from the second half of the 20th century, there’s going to be media. And we know that our students are, that they’ve been brought up in an audiovisual world. And that when you have somebody in a position or understands that audiovisual is every bit as important as paper and books, and then beginning to be able to make the case. And the good thing is is that this all started happening around the time that the Moving Image and...Moving Image Archiving... finish that, the program...
KVM: Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP).
BP: ...Preservation program. MIAP. The MIAP program was starting. So we already knew that there … was a need for media specialists or we wouldn’t be having a program in place training people to be media specialists. And of course our Dean [Division of Libraries Dean Carol Mandel], she understood the problem right away and the fact that by not giving this material to researchers we were withholding valuable information, which we try not to do as much anymore.
KVM: And then on the flip side, what do you think are the obstacles to creating such a position in libraries?
BP: I think it’s frightening. I think I can... I think other institutions, especially if they don’t have somebody who has media knowledge, it’s hard for a librarian just to take a course or two in media preservation and really feel autonomous and really know what to do and how to do it within a budget. And so there probably is still that whole faction of libraries who [are] like, “Oh yes, we have all these videotapes in our closet. We don’t really know what to do with them and let’s just keep on ignoring them for a little while longer.” Which I think a majority now realize that they can’t because if I’m preserving something, a videotape from 1990, that doesn’t seem that long ago but (a VHS from 1990), but actually it is, it’s 20 years almost at this point. So it’s already outlived its shelf-life. So I think the obstacles are if you don’t have somebody in place who can really devote their time to helping libraries with media, it’s a large challenge for somebody to sort of learn just as a one-off workshop once in a while.
KVM: So you think that ideally people should be coming in with training specifically in media preservation?
BP: I think there’s a need for it. I don’t know if it always has to be a masters degree or what. But you should have an idea of archiving and conservation and media and cataloging. In the same sense that you wouldn’t h... We have these designated professions for books and for archives and for every other part of the library, so if a place doesn’t have a media specialist or a media archivist, they’re not treating it in the same way. They’re not … on an even playing field. And I think people are getting that idea. I think I see a lot more trained media archivists or specialists [are] being put into universities or academic institutions but in the same sense I can’t speak for ... I only know certain institutions, so...
KVM: So do you think that the status of the moving image specialist or audiovisual preservation specialist is being changed in general from what you’re seeing?
BP: Yes, I think so. I think that it comes from many different groups. I think a lot of it is sometimes student driven, that students want to see this material and they don’t understand why they can’t. This is the age of YouTube where you get things as instantly as you can. YouTube allows people to see things and to see archival material and people are beginning to understand, especially students who were brought up, as I said, very much in this audiovisual world, that they understand the importance of seeing AV material. And when they’re not getting it at their own institutions, you know... Students are a motivating factor I think. And faculty.
KVM: Do you feel like the students are speaking out and saying, “We know these collections are here, we would like to have access to them.”? Or do you think the administration is recognizing the different ways that these students do research?
BP: I think it’s a little bit of both. But I will say at a special collections you are working with primary source material so the first thing is to educate a student on what primary source material is. They’re probably used to, you know at high school or something, working with secondary sources. Coming in and actually looking at production elements, or whatever primary source material we have for them audiovisual-wise, they first have to be trained in how to do that, which I think our faculty here at NYU very much is teaching the students to do their own research and not rely on somebody else’s, which means you have to get down to that primary source, you can’t be relying on a secondary source. And so it all snowballs from there: our faculty teaches it and then the students, I think they grasp on to it and are just like, “Oh my gosh, you mean I don’t have to listen or rely on something that somebody else told me, I can actually see this myself.” And events, I’ll just use as an example, events that I don’t think of, because of my age, as being that old, if it’s documentation of -- we just received the Gay Cable Network Archive, which is thousands of videotapes of events -- but if they’ve never actually seen just raw footage of [an activist] demonstration they don’t really know what that is. They may have seen a photograph, they may have read an article, but for them to sit there and watch [a demonstration] for two hours [because] somebody who is just holding a camera [was] taping this event, they actually are being given an opportunity to step back in time, and that’s basically what they need to understand to really do primary source research.
KVM: Have you seen the students sort of have these eureka moments when they see some of this material and go, “Whoa, I didn’t know”?
BP: Yes. And also (I guess I can give this as an example) as far as there’s that eureka moment with the researchers but also sometimes with an artist. We had, I won’t use her name, but a very famous choreographer kept on refusing the rights for some dance performances to be shown, and somebody wanted to show them, and they brought this very famous choreographer in and she was just like, “It was so long ago and I’m embarrassed by them.” And there she was watching herself in these videotapes from 1972, laughing hysterically, just going “I never knew these were as good as they were.” And she was like, “Of course, give access to this material, this is fantastic.” So even the artist gets to, once the stuff is preserved, which they haven’t been able to see for years, it gives them a whole new dimension on their own histories as well. So, yeah, I see it a lot, which is gratifying. I hope to see it more as we get more preserved.
KVM: I think there’s like another interview in this idea of bringing in artists and getting them to think about how they would like things accessed but that’s like another story.
KVM: But I like that, I like it a lot. And then, you also mentioned the support that you get from faculty, can you talk a little bit more about that?
BP: Yeah, when we start looking at collections, media collections, when they’re brought to our attention, they cost a lot of money. We know that once we get a media collection, to make it accessible, will cost us the money that it takes us to preserve this collection. So, it’s not so much the same as a paper collection, where, yes you need the folders and the boxes and the time to process it. So sometimes when there’s media collections there might be like, ok, “Well, it’s going to cost us this much to get the collection -- hopefully it’s a donation but sometimes it isn’t -- and then on top of it we have the thousands of dollars that it’s going to cost to preserve it and make it accessible. So we see this giant price tag hanging over our heads and sometimes in order to rationalize with us and sometimes with the higher ups who really make the decisions on acquisitions, when we really get a rallying cry from faculty, and they’re just like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that these tapes exist,” and how much they would help them out with their own teaching, how much their students would need this, and how much it would help their departments. We do get faculty support a great deal, and they sometimes are part of the rallying cry, like “Yes, yes, grab this media. We know it might not be accessible for another 5 years, it might take you this long to process and preserve it but grab it because this is what our students need to fully understand,” whatever it is they need to understand.
KVM: So then in general do you feel that aside from the faculty that the lines of authority, or that the administration is supportive of your work.
BP: Yeah, we have very diverse collections and we get support. We get a lot of support. As I said, I can only speak for what happens here at Bobst, but because we really have a Dean [Division of Libraries Dean Carol Mandel] who understands the importance of media preservation and that sort of trickles down through the whole upper echelon down through the special collections, that we really do have support for this. We wouldn’t have this amazing preservation department, the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Department (I should try to remember to say the whole name) but we wouldn’t have this wonderful facility if we didn’t have the support. So we do, we have a great deal of support.
KVM: Ok, and so then do you ...this is a little switching gears again... Do you feel that your placement in your institution and the lines of authority are appropriate to accomplish the goals of moving image archiving and preservation that is necessary here?
KVM: Ok. Did that question make sense?
BP: Yes, I think collections come in and since we’re a small staff here at Fales we’re able to discuss the bringing in of a collection before we get it. And normally, the wonderful thing that’s happened at Fales is that everything has sort of snowballed. We started with a few collections and somebody tells somebody, somebody wants to donate something, then it’s become this amazing one of a kind collection for the study of the Downtown Art scene. So I have my input, Marvin has his input, the Senior Archivist has her input. So the lines, there’s not really a hierarchy. And then faculty hears about things and they give support and then the authority (I’m trying to remember what that whole question was) I think we all contribute in a very even way. It’s very much a group effort to make these collections come to Fales, or just come to NYU, and then to make them accessible. It’s a very much, it’s a group effort.
KVM: So within Fales and within the Library in general you have the support that you need and the kinds of collaborations that you need to do the job?
BP: Yeah. And even with the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Department, being able to if we need something quickly, there’s very much a “We’re here to help special collections get this material to researchers.” There’s an understanding of the need for it. Yeah, so, yes.
KVM: That’s great! I think you have a really exciting job.
BP: Yeah, it gets more exciting all the time because as collections get preserved, I mean, I remember when the first group of 100 tapes came back from the preservation house and there they were, and we were just like, “Wow, now we just have to wait for the people to come!” And they did, not for all the collections, but at least you know its there. And I think once audio starts getting done, I’ll be able to sleep a little bit easier because I know how old a lot of these [audio] tapes are, and some of the material that we did reformat through an NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] grant, audio-wise the tapes were in worse condition than we had anticipated. So I think there’s always going to be a mixture between doing things in house and also having to find the money to give these sort of deteriorating tapes over to a preservation house that really can take the time to either bake the tapes or do whatever they need to do to make it accessible.
KVM: I had a question and then I forgot it...
BP: It’ll come to you.
KVM: But I think we’re pretty much done with the interview, unless you have anything else that you would like to add.
BP: No. If anybody is, would ever listen to this (I don’t know if anybody ever would) but if they ever kind of thought, “Oh we’re not NYU, we don’t have that kind of money. We’re not NYU we don’t have an in-house formatting facility,” those should not be deterrents. A lot what Fales, especially in the first years [of my coming here] before we had the in-house reformatting, it was done, not on a shoestring, but it was done through grant funding, a lot of it. So there are ways [for other archives] of not neglecting … their media. There is grant funding out there. The climate might not be the best today, but hopefully it will get better soon. And so I think yeah, we are NYU, we do have money, but that’s not the reason why we are able to do what we do. I think it became a meeting of a bunch of people who really understood that there was a need and trying address how to do it. Whether it’s on the budget that we have or a smaller budget, either which way, it can be done.
KVM: So libraries need, and should have moving image specialists if they have these collections.
BP: I think so. I mean … like I said the Avery Fischer Center, which is primarily a place where students go to check out [videos] that were...published isn’t the word... You know, they’re not rare one of a kind videos...
BP: Circulating videos, yes exactly. But they’re on VHS and Laserdisc. So at this point in 2009, that already is an obsolete...both of those are obsolete formats practically.
KVM: Very much, really.
BP: So there’s going to be that element to it. And at the same will happen at some point with DVD. So even if your collection isn’t unique “unique” material, there should be somebody on working to make sure that all of the AV material, whether it’s unique or its circulating material is able to continue to be used by researchers.
KVM: Well Brent, thank you very much for your time, and we will stop.