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Interview with Barbara Mathé & Kathleen Maguire at the American Museum of Natural History

Interview with Barbara Mathé, Museum Archivist and the Head of Special Collections, and Kathleen Maguire, conducted by Kara Van Malssen, February 1st, 2010, at the American Museum of Natural HIstory, New York City

Kara Van Malssen (KVM): This is Kara Van Malssen, I’m here with Barbara Mathé and Kathleen Maguire. We are at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Today is February 1, [2010] and we are here to talk to Barbara and Kathleen about moving image collections and moving image specialist positions in the library here at the museum. So, good afternoon! I’ll just ask you both to introduce yourselves briefly—what’s your name and what’s your job title?

Barbara Mathé (BM): My name is Barbara Mathé. I’m the Museum Archivist and Head of Library Special Collections.

Kathleen Maguire (KM): My name is Kathleen Maguire. I’m Public Programs Coordinator and former Research Associate in the library.


KVM: Ok, and for both of you: are your appointments full-time?

BM: Yes, full time.

KVM: And, ok, so for Barbara, when did you start working in the library?

BM: My work history is a little complicated, but basically I started here in 1987 as a Senior Clerk in the photographic collection. I immediately found that this is where I belonged. I’ve always loved the museum and I was just fresh out of [a] one-year graduate study at the Royal College of Art in Photography. I walked in here and saw the photographs and said, “I wanted to stay here and what do I have to do?” And within a couple of months I was a student at Columbia University’s program in Library Science, which unfortunately is now ended. And basically I was here for quite a few years and then I wound up going over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for four years, where I was librarian in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. There’s obviously a link in terms of subject areas. That library was originally with the Museum of Primitive Art and then subsequently taken over by the Met. While I was at the Met I curated a photographic exhibit here [at AMNH], and subsequently came back here in 1998, and I’ve been back ever since. I came back as Head of Special Collections, and my title has subsequently changed, and my staff has gotten smaller. [laughing] But this is not unusual.

KVM: And so, when you first came and you really wanted to work with these photograph collections, you basically went out and pursued a degree that would allow you to do that?

BM: Yeah. Well, I knew I’d either have to go study archives or go to library school. Library school made more sense. I was working in a library and am still working in a library.

KVM: Great. So now you’re the Head of Special Collections.

BM: I have been for twelve years, something like that.

KVM: So then, you don’t exclusively work with moving image collections?

BM: No, no.

KVM: What other types of special collections can be found here?

BM: Special Collections in this institution does not include…I’ll start with what it doesn’t include because often in a library, special collections will include the rare book collection. That’s not under my authority here, which I’m very grateful for because I am responsible for a million photographs, the moving image collection, the museum archives. There is no records manager in the museum, so it’s kind of up to me to see about material that should be coming in or arrives at my door. But it’s photographs, film, archives, the art collection and the memorabilia collection. So in addition to that, the library’s special collections act as a stock photo and film agency. So there are a lot of reference questions in terms of people requesting images for publication or for broadcast. As Museum Archivist I have…I don’t have the authority, but I do have a responsibility to work with collection managers in other [departments]— mostly the science departments— where there are archival collections. And basically I try to coordinate with them. We have people working in the Paleontology Department right now helping them move their archives. So they’ll occasionally come and ask some questions. My long-term goal is to get all of the collections dispersed throughout the institution in the library catalog so that they can be searched in one place. So creating a unified access point. But at the same time, the administration would remain within the department.

KVM: How many departments have collections outside of the library?

BM: Well, there are five science divisions, and I actually hold them as the highest value in terms of long-term research value. But the last time I counted there were fifty-five departments in the museum, and I suspect there are probably more. So we’ve got departments like Business Development and you know, of course the usual administrative departments, and Education and Exhibition are also huge, huge issues in terms of museum history. So not only is there a lot of history to be kept, but there’s a lot of coordinating to do in terms of what is being produced in the museum and how it can be kept. And more and more—and I’m not just saying this because [this interview is] about moving images— but it’s true: more and more of the materials being produced are now moving image. We’re moving into this audiovisual world. And also moving into a digital world, even more so.

KVM: Is it difficult to answer the question of what percentage of the collections are moving image related? Maybe starting with the library and then your estimate for the whole museum?

BM: I mean, in terms of shelf space in the library right now, I could ballpark, out of Special Collections, not including the books…25-30% maybe. That might even be a little high. But how do you compare, because, my prop [holds up videotape]… There’s a lot of information spooled up. So linear feet doesn’t really count. So it’s really [comparing] apples and oranges, and it’s hard to say. But we have a huge growing collection of HD tapes that are being produced by a department in the Education Department called “Science Bulletins.” And that’s just an enormous gold mine of material. The material is actually being licensed to other institutions now, and as a historical document later, it’s going to be pretty amazing. And every time, well, I don’t know…Every time there’s a public program is it recorded?

KM: More so. They just got a new Digital Manager and she hired an assistant to specifically create online content. So he’s filming a lot. But at this point in his job (I think he started in the summer [2010]) it’s unclear what he’s doing with all the content he’s creating.

KVM: So there’s no one specifically taking care of that material necessarily?

KM: As far we know right now, it’s just going in to that one person. Even for our education programs we have a podcast created, and it goes straight to him. So, the new stuff is going to be complicated, it seems.

KVM: So let me shift gears just a little and ask Kathleen what your role here has been? And when did you start, and what did you work on while you were here?

KM: I started in November of last year. And the description was basically to come in and inventory all of the un-inventoried moving image and sound items, which ended up being about 2000 un-inventoried films, 4000 videos, and probably 2000 or so audio items. And then, the first thing I did was sort of see what there was for everything and how much I thought I could get done. So I put all the films on cores and re-housed as many as the budget would allow. And then, I also tried to create collections, particularly within the audio and the video, because those were a little harder to manage than the film. And then, also, the museum has an archival film collection that [underwent] a large re-formatting project in the 80s. But after they re-formatted, [the museum staff] put everything back on rusty reels and rusty cans. And that collection was never actually properly inventoried to [identify] what elements there were. So I started doing that and I have about a month left, but I was drawn to my other job before I finished, so that’s what I’ll finish when I come back.

BM: She’ll be doing catch up, which I’m glad for. But I mean yeah, this is what made Kathleen wince at the thought of “preservation,” because it was re-formatted onto what somebody referred to as the “8-track of video,” these U-Matic tapes.

KM: Half of which have false timecode imprinted on them.

KVM: So, that sounds like fun!

[laughing]

KVM: You mentioned that you had looked at the un-inventoried items…how many film, video, and audio are now inventoried?

KM: Well, everything is inventoried now.

BM: Thanks to Kathleen.

KM: Yes, before that, 300 items had been fully [inventoried]….The project was mainly re-formatting for access and then cataloging so 300 of [them]…and they did do a good job of picking the most important things within that section. So 300 of the most important films are extensively cataloged and accessible via U-Matic.

KVM: So then, total number of items in the collection?

KM: Including sound it’s probably just over 10,000.

BM: And that probably doesn’t even include the Science Bulletin.

KM: That’s without Science Bulletins, yes.

BM: Because basically we’re acting as a storage area for [the Science Bulletins]. I mean we’ve got a climate controlled storage space, but the [Science Department] manages the inventory and the content, and it’s a collection in use. They go back to materials and re-use some of the segments. So I mean, that’s fine.

KM: And they also store everything digitally. They have several RAID systems within their…

BM: Oh, do they!? I was wondering about…Oh, good.

KM: Yes, within their studio. They’re a pretty well-funded portion of the museum.

KVM: So they’re shooting on HDCAM, and then you keep the tapes, but they keep the digital…

KM: Yes.


KVM: All right, I have a question for both of you. And I guess I know the answer for Kathleen. But Barbara, how much of your time do you think you spend with the moving image and sound collections?

BM: Not very much, and the truth is I’ve been really relying on Kathleen. And I’m so happy she’s still here, because I can sort of throw little quick emails in her direction and she gets back to me right away because her heart is really with the preservation aspect.

[laughing]

KVM: They’ve taken you away, to somewhere else.

KM: Yes.

BM: But, so as a result I’m very happy to pass on as much as I can to her at the moment. I also do not have her technical expertise. I start getting really confused when dealing with the different formats. I mean, there’s a new one in the [New York] Times today: HTML5 might be replacing Flash. There was a story in the New York Times this morning. And that’s purely digital, but it’s not even something you can grab and wave in front of the camera. And more and more, I think that things are going in that direction. But unfortunately I don’t spend that much time [with moving images materials]. I’m concentrating on an image database. We have reference questions. We have researchers who come into the institution. I like to say we because it makes me feel like we have a team. There are some part-timers here who help with scanning images and cataloging images and providing reference. And there are gifts, there are donor-relations, and then there’s a lot of grant writing. So that’s kind of how I spend my time, juggling all of those things, and trying very hard to focus on one thing at a time.

KVM: It sounds like you do have a lot to deal with. So before Kathleen came, you [spent] a little more time with those moving image materials, and then her…

BM: Basically very little was done, except for the other [NYU] Moving Image Archiving and Preservation [masters degree program (MIAP)] interns over the last, I guess, five years, which has been really, really good because we did a lot of shifting and putting collections together. There were just collection assessments done, one for film and one for video. So—and again, basically I’m familiar enough with the collection to know what needed to be done— the students came in and did [the assessments]. And then the only thing that remained were the few reference questions we got each year for the film collection for possible licensing.

KVM: How did researchers know about the availability of those materials?

BM: Well, the 291 films are cataloged in our lLibrary catalog in our library catalog. Also, one of the first things that I had a MIAP intern do was to create a browsable list, because with 291 films you can actually kind of skim through pretty quickly. We put that on our website because a lot of times people would say, “Well, what do they have?” So this sort of was an instant access point where you could go to the website (http://library.amnh.org/special-collections/moving-image-collection) and just have a quick look and see what kind of materials we have. So that’s how people find us for the most part.

KVM: Ok, now Kathleen, I’m assuming that your time here has been spent 100% with the moving image collection. Is that true?

KM: Yes.

BM: And sound.

KM: And sound.

KVM: And sound, sorry.

BM: She found some radio programs. I was so excited! I didn’t even know we had them at all.

KVM: Wow, that’s great!

KM: And the associated manuscripts of which there were a lot. But also, contextually, the moving image and sound collection here [ranks]lower in triage of[because] what of the content is. The photographic content is much more valuable and deserves much more of Barbara’s time and deserves more of the grant monies overall.

BM: Well in terms of sheer size I think.

KM: Sheer size. And I think, even value, there’s a lot of stability to the film collection and how it’s stored. It’s not stored in the best way but at least it’s in a stable temperature controlled room, and that’s not always the case of the photographic….Well, the photographic materials are in a stable room, but some of those are in worse condition and deserve more care.

BM: Well the other thing is that our history goes back to 1869, and the first photographic stills that we have are from 1880. And you know, our first motion picture’s 1907 or 1911, something like that?

KM: I think we showed one in 1911 or 1912.

BM: That funny little John Burrows film.

KM: Yes.

BM: But it wasn’t really until the 1920s, I would say, that moving pictures were used as part of the museum’s work. And then [their use] was huge. Then [their use] exploded for a long time, and people were fascinated. And our history includes references to expeditions that basically inspired King Kong and…

KVM: That’s amazing.

BM: Yeah, I mean there’s just all kinds of funny historical facts.

KVM: I’d like to spend some time doing some research myself.

[laughing]

KVM: I’m just going to go back to Kathleen for a second. Barbara, you mentioned a couple things that I think not everyone [will] know what we’re talking about. One is the training that Kathleen has had, and the second is MIAP – what are those things? So can you just talk about your training and what has prepared you for this kind of position? (I’m being sneaky.)

[laughing]

KM: My training is in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation.

BM: Hence the MIAP.

KM: Hence the MIAP, yes. [MIAP] gave me the technical knowledge I needed, but more so an overarching understanding of collections. This understanding was needed to not only look at a collection and identify what things were, but also to identify the organizational needs in the context of the institution. I think the impulse as a moving image image archivist is to want to go into a collection and say like say, “Everything needs to be preserved! Everything is important!” But one thing you do get from MIAP is that, in an humongous institution with five scientific research departments, and a library [with] a million photographs, you can’t preserve every 1970s video of an exhibit and things like that, no matter how important it might be to one researcher. I think a lot of this project was figuring out how to balance the impulse of seeing the importance in things and also seeing the importance of things I wasn’t able to work with. And also to figure out how to use my year sufficiently, because obviously the amount of work that could be done to this collection would require a full-time position permanently, but…

BM: One of the things that we’re going to finish together—it might sound a little backwards—but we’re going to put together an appraisal policy. I have a sense, but I thought it would be very useful to have Kathleen’s perspective as a relative newbie. But also having spent the year in the collection, it’s a different point of view from me who’s been here for a long time now. And it’s also good to have somebody to sort of bounce ideas back and forth with, because….appraisal and selection are really difficult. And for us to try to codify that….it’ll be interesting to see what we can come up with. I mean, to get a paragraph will take a couple of hours of us sitting down and talking. I think it will be very interesting to see what we come up with.

KVM: Yeah, that’ll be a big challenge but hopefully you’ll have something really useful.

BM: It’ll actually work backwards in terms of being able to use it for the rest of our collection as well.

KVM: Oh, ok. Sounds great.

BM: Because, for the most part, the moving images in this institution very much are related to institutional history. Whether it’s expeditions or exhibitions, it’s about the institution. And there are a lot of cross-references to still photos, to field books, to all kinds of materials.

KVM: So the moving images are really situated in this larger context.

BM: Yeah.

KVM: So, now back to what you were saying about MIAP and you… I mean you do feel that the training there had really prepared you to look at collections in a broader sense?

KM: Yeah. Speaking of appraisal, one of the major things we were thinking about getting in motion was de-accessioning some portion of the film collection. Because there’s a large circulating collection that was circulated by the Department of Education from around the ‘40s to the ‘70s, which will never be transferred or accessible because it’s not directly related to the institution, even though the institution circulated it.

BM: There were a lot of commercially produced films.

KVM: Of Encyclopedia Britannica.

KM: So what’s important here is really just having a list of what was circulated, because [researchers are] not coming here to [watch, for example], “How Water Flows.” That’s not why they’re going to come. They’re going to come to see what the AMNH was [circulating] to New York City school children in 1947. So, we’re going to discuss giving that to an archive that specializes in educational films, where a researcher will go specifically to see “How Water Flows.” So it’s understanding things like that; that even though it’s [materials may be] related to the institution, it’s[they’re] not directly.

BM: Yeah, I mean given the choice of spending considerable amount of money to preserve a film like that as opposed to preserving original unique footage from various parts of the globe, there’s no question.

KVM: Yeah, you have to situate [a film] in the [institutional] context, really value and appraise it. So that does take a keen understanding of moving image materials and how they can be valued.

BM: In terms of Kathleen’s training though, what I think that I was really impressed with, and…I spent an entire day composing that three-page letter to IMLS [Institute for Museum and Library Services] because the idea of getting someone here for an entire year to work with the film collection….it was the best day I ever spent!

[laughing]

And Kathleen submitted, along with her resume, a detailed OCLC MARC record, which in library talk is pretty high-level. And the other thing that I actually mentioned in the letter was that when the students would come in they would ask questions about whether we used controlled vocabulary or not, and this is just, it’s library talk! You know, I mean it’s important to understand how access is created to the materials and I think the MIAP program does that in addition to the technical training, and then all of the philosophical issues that come up as well.

KM: It’s also translated well into my new position where we’re doing a lot of tracking. I work for the Margaret Mead [Film and Video] Festival, and they get over 1000 submissions every year and they only recently got a database. So controlled vocabulary is working in there, as well as exhibition standards that are sort of…trying to understand exhibitions standards and how quickly they’re [changing], and things like that.

BM: The Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival is, I don’t know, in the 30th year?

KM: 34th year.

BM: 34th year. And it’s named in honor of Margaret Mead. And it has traditionally been a film festival of mostly anthropological film, but I think they’re opening that up a little bit.

KM: Yeah, more documentary. And experimental documentary. And experimental animation.

KVM: It’s a good festival. It’s very exciting that you get to work on that. Speaking of staffing, you had said that you have some part-time staff. Are you the only full-time staff member in Special Collections?

BM: In the archive, yes.

KVM: And how many part- time people?

BM: Three part-timers. One basically supervises our digital lab, which means supervising volunteers and interns, which is quite a challenge considering she’s only here half the time and we try to keep them…We have three scanners and we try to keep them going all day everyday. We’re about maybe 60% successful with that, but we’re accumulating a lot of scans for our image database. And then we have another 20-hour a week person who’s a librarian, who is cataloging the images from the image database. And then there’s a third 20-hour a week library school student, who basically works on a lot of image requests, and will also coordinate with some of the archival researchers, people who come in here and look through the documents and the photographic print collections and the films. So that’s what we’ve got. This is just day-to-day structure; there’s no support other than interns and volunteers for the organization of the collection. We have the most amazing volunteers who come in here. We have one woman who’s 75 years old. She came in quite a few years ago now and said she was interested in this particular collection of photographs taken by Carl Lumholtz in the 19th Century and she basically did data entry in Excel spreadsheets for about 3000 of these photos. And she has subsequently scanned all of them. And gone on her first camping trip to the Northern Mexican desert, two years ago I think.

KVM: Fantastic!

BM: And she’s going to be writing…contributing to a book about Lumholtz. We have another volunteer who has been here for 26 years and has been doing nothing but finding aids for all of our important manuscript collections. And many, many others besides. The man in charge of the photo lab and studio at Time Life is now scanning for us a couple of hours a week. I don’t have anyone except for the MIAP students working with moving image collections—[they’re] just a little bit too specialized. At one point I had an intern who did do some physical arrangement and some very early inventorying but at this point, I’m counting on [the MIAP students].

KVM: So you find that it’s better some more trained people working with those collections?

BM: At this point now, yeah. Because we’ve gotten to the next step.

KM: And [when] I used some of those inventories that were done by non-specialized interns, they were not as helpful as they could have been.

KVM: How many MIAP interns have you had?

BM: More than I can remember.

[laughing]

BM: Probably about four or five.

KVM: I’ve been around MIAP for years now, but it’s hard to remember where everybody’s gone and how many people have ended up here. I know that people have really enjoyed their internships here. So, speaking again of positions…Well, actually I want to ask Kathleen what do you feel has been your biggest impact having worked here with the collections?

KM: I think there’s definitely a visual impact, organizationally. The films especially were pretty unorganized. [They] were in a state that would make an archivist recoil.

[laughing]

BM: Yeah, that’s kind of why I said maybe we should go upstairs and photograph because there’s an aisle of perfectly labeled film cans, and of course it’s all in Kathleen’s handwriting and it’s all very neat. And you look at it and go, “Wow!” And we have these Excel spreadsheets to match! So we know what we have.

KVM: So organizationally it’s been a huge impact.

BM: Yeah.

KM: And I think the biggest intellectual impact was more in the video and especially the audio collection, because there really wasn’t a sense of what the [audio] collection had. And now we know and there’s some incredibly valuable stuff in there.

BM: Radio programs with.… I recognized every name, all of these esteemed AMNH scientists over the years. Their voices are on those tapes and it’s just incredible.

KM: There’s a full run of an NBC program from [19]50-55 that NBC doesn’t have copies of, and they only gave one sample copy to the Library of Congress. So that was a pretty [big find] because [ours are] probably the only copies, and they’re in really good condition and they’re studio recordings.

BM: Yeah, it’s great.

KVM: So then what are the next steps for the moving image collections here? You’ve said that you’re doing an appraisal together, an appraisal policy. But down the road, what do you see as the next steps?

BM: Well, I think we’re in (we, the world, speaking for the world)…There’s just an incredible paradigm shift going on right now And even that’s a cliché but it’s...I don’t think it’s really hit anybody, either the people who have grown up with the web, or the Internet immigrants like my generation, just how different it is now in terms of information. Librarians still often think in terms of books. I have my Rolodex, you know. I just went to a workshop last week on digital preservation and more and more the information — if its not born-digital—is going to be made digital. And [this digital content] has to be managed, it has to be preserved. And I think — I hope — that the person who follows me in my position will have a lot more technical training not only, for example, in moving image material, but in digital preservation.

Some archivists might dispute this, but I would say there’s a certain…. In this institution we have somewhat of a handle on our printed material. I mean, the lack of a records manager is a problem and something that will have to be addressed. And timely deposits and departments of record have to be established so that we don’t get [for example], 18 copies of the annual reports from 14 different departments and the same correspondence about exhibits from 4 different departments. That sort of thing winds up being incredibly time consuming and space consuming on our end. But the institution now has a chief digital officer—who, by the way is a librarian—and last time somebody counted, there were 140,000 web pages associated with the museum. And [the chief digital officer is] gathering together a lot of different people in the institution and working to share expertise and resources, which I think is a really good idea. And I think that sort of internal collaboration also reflects a growing external collaborationthat’s going to be necessary. I think the funders are already seeing that funding for collaborative projects is looked upon more favorably than funding for individual institutions. And it’s all, you know, it’s all because of the web. Because we’re not stand-alone anymore. The information doesn’t start or stop at the brick and mortar of this institution. It’s about pushing the information out, not simply making it available for those who are looking very specifically here. So that’s the access side, and the preservation side. And just for preservation issues, shared cloud storage, that’s not even preservation, that’s just access really.

But there are a lot of things that have to be addressed that just weren’t dreamt of ten years ago. And it’s all moving so fast. So I think – I hope – that the newer people coming in here will be able to do that. And I think with programs like MIAP and library schools also emphasizing digital preservation that will happen. I certainly hope so.

KVM: So, do you feel that there’s less of a need for, well maybe [less of] a need for a moving image specialist position, or more of a need for a media specialist who has a very good sense of digital preservation as well?

BM: I think archivists have to become media specialists. Or know enough to be able to find out what they need to know. Know what they don’t know. Because there’s a lot to know. But you have to be aware at least. It’s like being able to talk to your electrician. You might not actually know how to do the wiring but you understand that you can’t overload the circuit breakers. So you ask and make sure they’re paying attention to that. It’s that kind of thing. You have to sort of understand the overview so that you can then get somebody who can do the job. And it also requires…it’s really, really important to try to keep up. And that’s a full-time job. I mean, thank god for people like Howard who do that. And you know he passes the information on.

KVM: In terms of the material that you are acquiring, are new things coming in, AV materials, in born-digital formats?

BM: Not yet. In fact, the digital still-photography is kept in the photo studio on a RAID array. I do not know if they’re backed up offsite. There are hundreds of thousands of images that were produced over the last 10 years I guess. Because they don’t have time to talk about…they don’t have time and they’re shooting with motor drives. So they just keep it all. And you know, I mean, the time it would take to decide which of the 72 photographs taken at a party should be kept…just keep it all!

KVM: Yeah, just keep it all. Too much selection to do in the digital era with so much production going on.

BM: So I really see a definite link between the moving image world and the digital world because that’s where everything’s going.

KVM: And there’s a lot of moving images in digital form in the world, and on the web. But you’re dealing with a lot of legacy stuff here in terms of audiovisual media – do you feel that there’s a need for a full-time person in Kathleen’s role?

BM: In the ideal world, sure. Yeah, but I’m still trying to get the analog collection cataloged. We have them on spreadsheets now…we have them inventoried. And it would be….We’re so close to doing so many things. The same thing with the image database: I’m not going to walk out the door and say, “Well, we’ve scanned and cataloged a million photos and now I can quit.” But I’d really like to see a system set up that would make the ongoing process work. And for that we need positions for the cataloging of the personal papers and manuscripts and museum department records and the photographic print collections and the slide collections. We need people full-time for a certain period of time. And that’s a finite scenario. In terms of [the] preservation of the motion pictures, it needs a lot more work, and of course, an incredible amount of money. But some of the issues are that you have to make those economic decisions along the way. And so, I could foresee—again in an ideal world—someone working full-time in our moving image collection for quite a few years, and then possibly moving in on everything else. I mean, it’s shift sands right now. There’s a lot of work that has to be done, but if that work were done, if there was a risk assessment done based on a good record of what we have in what form and where it is so that things can be flagged for reformatting if necessary, then we wouldn’t have to have somebody all the time looking at that. But you can only hope that when that risk assessment is accomplished that it doesn’t wind up being buried in a file cabinet or in a file on a computer where the next person coming in doesn’t even know that it existed, because that happens too.

KVM: Yeah. Another question that’s sort of related: is moving image or media preservation in general supported within the library, or within the museum as a whole? Do you feel that there’s a drive for preservation of media items?

[laughing]

KM: We went on a tour of paleontology recently, and I feel like this is a good sort of contextualization. We were going through their collection….They have hundreds of thousands of things collected in the field from the turn of the last century that have never even been opened. So, contextually, these films…if you have the most important paleontology collection in the world and hundreds of thousands of things that were collected by the most important [researchers], like Carl Akeley in the ‘20s, haven’t been opened then it feels like….Obviously we all love everything here but….That’s just an economic example, I guess.

KVM: But at the same time, there’s a lot of new production going on that’s involving moving image or audiovisual productions. So then, do you think that’s changing the way people think about wanting to preserve things or is it more related to access?

BM: I just think….When you asked me about the library I tried to put it in the context of the other library collections and again, I haven’t even been talking about books or electronic journal subscriptions and all of those things that have to be handled. But then if you back out into the museum collections….I mean invertebrate paleontology has millions of specimens, and the last I heard they have 30,000 cataloged. So there are priorities and there are also ways of dealing with things. The museum has now been working on trying to do projects strategically. There’s been a lot of risk assessment done within the science collections, and we’re hoping to get funding to do risk assessment for the library and archives in the science [department] and in the library. So there is an awareness. The people in charge of the collections in the science departments are also the people who are in charge of the archives, so they are aware of certain issues. But it all comes down to, on the one hand, institutional priorities, and then see if there’s funding for them within the institution; and on the other hand, you wind up just dealing with whatever opportunity might come by in terms of funding: if a funder’s interested in something, or if you think another funder might be interested in something. You can go to the government for a certain project and you can go to private foundations. Or private foundations might come to us and say, “Hey, this is what we’re interested in, we’d be willing to give you a little money.” And it might not perfectly fit into the strategic plan but you’re going to go for it because you have an opportunity.

KM: And for moving images being created, the Science Bulletins I think are the best at recognizing the value of what they have and trying their best to make sure it lasts.

BM: And there’s an economic value to that too. So that helps, of course.

KM: Then, [the] exhibitions [department] is definitely very time-based. [With] museums initiating traveling exhibits based on old exhibits, they sort of got a sense of needing to keep track of things and needing to archive things.

BM: Having worked on an exhibit I can tell you it’s just to the very last minute, and at the end everything is in shambles. I mean, it’s the nature of deadline work. And then they catch their breath and then there’s another one. So unless they have someone there who’s assigned to manage the media, and they do, but it’s still….

KM: But they’re also assigned to create a lot of media.

KVM: Sure, so they really have different priorities.

BM: Yeah.

KVM: They need to get things out, into the exhibition. Yeah, so it does change the way that you look at archival collections, or production.

BM: Well also things become archival…in some ways they become archival a lot faster. And then they’re also, at the same time, likely to be re-used again very quickly too. We’re getting papers from scientists that are…that began in the 1930s or 1940s, and they’re finally coming to the archives. But in terms of media it’s, get it right away, hopefully. Departments do recognize our climate-controlled advantage, so that’s a big help.

KM: Currently the exhibition masters are in their production environment.

BM: We still haven’t gotten the films out of Ornithology, but they have climate control, as they tell us, so that’s fine.

KVM: Do they have a lot of films down there?

BM: A couple [laughing].

KM: Exhibitions is the biggest concern.

BM: Yeah, and the mediums are much more fragile.

KM: The have a lot of U-Matics in their production room.

KVM: So this is really interesting and I don’t want to take up too much more of your time. [To Kathleen] You’ve probably talked about this many times about the issues of staffing and placing moving image specialists in libraries….

[laughing]

But do you feel like the position you’re in now is….What is your position now, what’s the title?

KM: Public Programs Coordinator.

KVM: And does it seem like a natural move for you?

KM: There is no preservation involved. Some of it does involve film programming, so that’s related. And it does have a lot of research components to it. But it’s a very different position and it’s also [that] the library is under the scientific side of the institution and education is under the administrative side of the institution, which is much different than I had imagined it would be. So it’s been an interesting introduction to, and a different view of the museum entirely also, which was very surprising.

BM: Let me ask you about a full time moving image [specialist]. I mean I know you’d love to have the job [laughing] and I would love to have you. But in terms of the length of time, would you tend to agree with what I said in that there’s a probably a big chunk of like five years where everything could really be set to flow and then it could simply be monitored.

KM: I would say it probably is about a five-year project where the budget for the person running the project is incredibly minimal in regard to the entire budget. That’s why I was confined to doing inventories and organization: the position paid for me but [it] didn’t pay for me to do more than what I could do as a person with basic supplies. There was a very small budget, but a very basic budget.

BM: Every time I went up to the 6th floor and the elevator door opened, Kathleen was doing rewinds [laughing], which is great!

KVM: But to have a permanent, or a longer-term position, it would also have to come with some money to do work with the media. So you’re kind of at a point where it’s hard to do much more?

KM: Right. I guess cataloging could be done, but then you really don’t want to be cataloging before you’ve created access copies.

KVM: You don’t want to be giving [intellectual] access to your stuff that you can’t really give [physical] access to.

KM: Exactly.

BM: Well, in some cases you might want [to].…I mean, I don’t know we’d have to think about it, but it would be nice to have at least some notice of what we had even if it’s a collection-level record or a list on our website. Because what we often do with paper collections in archives is, we’ll catalog them, indicate that they exist, but we won’t do any more detailed inventory until someone comes along and says, “I really need this for my PhD dissertation.” And then we’ll get a volunteer in. So we prioritize ad hoc according to the need sometimes, according to research needs. And if people don’t know we have it, even if it’s not available, well, they don’t know.

KVM: So no one’s going to ask.

BM: Yeah, so in some ways it’s, ideally again…

KVM: So getting to that point where everything’s at least identified and made…

BM: Even if it’s just a registered list or something. And Kathleen has done most of that I’d say.

KM: I think everything is in a list.

BM: Which is just huge! Just huge!

KVM: Yeah, just identifying it is great. Well, do you guys have any other thoughts or questions, anything you want to add?

BM: I can’t think of anything.

KVM: Thank you very, very much for taking the time to talk to me today. This is really great.

Comments (1)

Marie:

It's interesting to hear about the project that brought Kathleen to the museum. The largest inventory I've done so far has been just under 700 items. 2000 un-inventoried items is staggering to contemplate.

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