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Interview with Siobhan Hagan, Audiovisual Preservation Specialist, UCLA Libraries


Sarah Resnick: This is Sarah Resnick and I’m here with Siobhan Hagan, we’re talking via Skype. Today is January 19th, 2012. We’re recording this interview for the IMLS Moving Image Specialists in Libraries project in the Moving Image Preservation and Archiving program at NYU. Thanks so much for agreeing to do the interview.

Siobhan Hagan: You’re welcome.

SR: Why don’t you start off by telling me your job title, and where you work, if your position is full-time or temporary, and when you started working at the library.

SH: My title is Audiovisual Preservation Specialist, which has changed since I started. I started in July of 2011, so I’ve only been here around six months. [Initially my title] was Audio & Video Preservation Engineer, but I was a little intimidated by it. I work in the Preservation Department of UCLA Library. I’m full-time, but I’m temporary—it’s a one-year position, [and we’re working on a renewal for year two right now.]

SR: So what about the original title intimidated you such that you changed it?

SH: The engineer part. I don’t have an engineering background. If I was introduced to a television engineer, or a recording engineer, they probably would have assumed a lot of things that I don’t necessarily want people assuming.

SR: That makes sense. So nothing about your job itself actually changed?

SH: No, no. Plus it was “Audio & Video” specifically and I find that I work with a lot of film as well, so I thought if we put “Audiovisual,” it would be more general.

SR: That makes sense. So let’s talk about which department you’re in the library, and what your job duties and responsibilities are, and a typical day or week in your job.

SH: I work in the Preservation Department of the UCLA Library, which consists of multiple libraries. We act as an in-house service to the library. I was hired on a[n Arcadia Fund] grant for the Performance Capture Project, [which] deals with capturing events that happen within the library, usually put on by the library, or the campus, but mostly we’re focusing on library events. We’re capturing them on digital video or audio and then preserving the captured content. So that raises questions like, How do we capture things? How do we get rights to these events with all the different people that attend them? And it’s my responsibility to work some of these issues out.

But then [this project] also brought up the fact that there is a huge amount of legacy material in the library collections—really unique, really interesting material, and on so many different formats—that they haven’t been dealing with. They haven’t been able to because no one was there [with the right expertise] to do it. Part of what I’m doing is figuring out what to do with this legacy moving image material. I’m [thinking about] what we’re going to do in-house, and then what and how we’ll send material outside of the library, for different services.

My typical day? There’s nothing quite typical yet. [One thing I do regularly] is answer emails and meet with people, because there are so many different libraries and so many different aspects to the people that I work with. So that’s been a constant thing: meetings, and emails, and phone calls. Basically I’m setting up these meetings, and we figure out what we want to send out to vendors to get rolling on at least that part of the project. [This way] I can [start to] establish relationships with different vendors, and work out the different problems. I work with the collection managers in the libraries and act as ambassador, the middleperson, between them and the vendors, so that I can communicate with and explain things easily to both parties.

SR: Right, so that was part of my follow-up question. The part of your job that deals with the legacy material—How does the material come to you? Who decides which collections are in need of attention?

SH: Right now there’s no real policy set for [selection]. It’s based on meeting with collection curators and managers. It’s just things that they’ve been putting on the back burner—like, oh, this is frequently researched, people always want to get at this, so let’s do that first. That’s where we’re at right now, because that’s the scale—it’s really small. But part of my job is also figuring out how things are going to be done in the long run. We need to conduct a survey of our collections; we don’t have one. But that’s going to be pretty epic.

SR: To establish complete clarity here: You can deal with any of the various libraries on the UCLA campus? You’re the central location where people from different libraries can come to you with their audiovisual material and you give them advice on what to do.

SH: I give them advice or I tell them that I’ll handle it and will contact them with any big, glaring questions [and] people have been really open to that. Before AV was something they pushed back; they didn’t feel comfortable dealing with it because they felt that it required expertise.

SR: Okay. Moving along. You kind of answered this already, but do you deal with moving image collections exclusively, or do you deal with mixed collections?

SH: It’s moving images and a lot of recorded sound collections. I only work on those types of things; I don’t spend my time working on photos or anything like that.

SR: And do you know the quantity of moving image media that’s found in your library?

SH: No.

SR: Because you haven’t done a survey …

SH: Yes, we need to do a survey. It’ll be really epic because not all the collections are processed. And even if they are processed, the audiovisual material is sort of looked over. [There’s] a box of film here, a box of film there. There’s no easy way to figure this out. But it’s definitely in the thousands and thousands of hours of moving image and recorded sound materials. And every kind of format you could possibly want.

SR: Let’s talk about the staffing in your department and the lines of authority.

SH: I’m the only one in the Preservation Department that works on AV material. Hopefully I’m getting an intern in the spring quarter from UCLA’s Moving Image Archive Studies program. And from there, in the actual preservation department, I believe there are only four or five full-time employees, including myself. I report to Jake Nadal, who is the Preservation Officer. And he reports to Sharon Farb, who is the Associate University Librarian for Collection Management and Scholarly Communications. And she reports straight to the University Librarian, and [then the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost].

SR: Do you have any other responsibilities in the library, or do you play any other roles? Are you on committees and that kind of thing?

SH: One thing that I didn’t focus on too much [in my previous answer]—and it’s actually taking up a lot of my time—is building in-house capabilities: for film inspection, [and] hopefully we’re going to be able to transfer or reformat various formats for audio and video within the next six months. I’m collecting equipment that people find in the library, like record players. I found a [Keith] Monks [Record] Cleaning Machine, which is awesome—it’s never been used; some open-reel decks; a TV monitor. I’ve just collected all these things, whatever people offer me. When I get out there and meet people, I ask for stuff. And I take anything, even if it doesn’t work, because I like to be surrounded by these types of things.

What else do I do? Communication. Communicating what I do—and what I need to have to do what I do—to people that don’t have any previous experience with this. I tend to be doing that a lot, which is really necessary. And I think it’s good to have a sound byte, a pitch that you say to people. This is what I do, and this is what the goal is.

I just did a bit of grant writing. We’re writing an NFPF grant for a film or two in one of our collections. That was fun. I really enjoy grant writing. And I play the red tape rodeo a lot. I feel like anywhere there’s probably a lot of red tape…

SR: Especially with an institution as large as UCLA…

SH: Yes. And the fact that a lot of the funds I’m using are grant funds, so there’s a lot of wrangling there. Which is really interesting, but it takes up time. And I help to process collections. Even though I feel like I have a solid archival background, I watch exactly how they process collections here, and then try to figure out how I can insert myself in that process.

And then [I participate in] committees. There’s the digital library committee that I’ve gone to a couple times. And there’s a video-producers group within the library that pertains to the performance-capture element [of my job], because there’s librarians out there making their own videos and those kinds of things tend to disappear. And I’m hoping to create a committee or group that handles UNESCO’s Day for Audiovisual Heritage for next year.

SR: Are you finding that there’s a lot of excitement and support? You talked about how you have to have your pitch, but do you find that people are excited to have you around?

SH: Yeah, it’s pretty much been great. When I first got here, people [told me how] excited they were that they’d no longer have to deal with AV questions. The most tangible difference I see is in our [collecting policy]. [The Preservation Department is] not affiliated with the Film and Television Archive at UCLA; that’s something I repeat constantly, and that I say with relish. Because people hear “UCLA” and “audiovisual preservation” and automatically think of the huge archive. And the library has worked with them in the past, where, if [the FATA] received papers with a collection, the library would help them deal with papers and manuscripts. And then when the library would receive someone’s papers, and [the collection contained moving images], UCLA Film And Television Archive would help, and sometimes even acquire those things. So collections would get split up. And that’s [developed] since I’ve gotten here [because I can say] we’re going to be keeping this stuff. So it’s had an impact on the collecting policies.

SR: So, let’s go back in time and talk about your training and what prepared you to work in this position.

SH: I got my undergraduate degree in film and video production. I was also a history minor. I’ve always been a film buff and a history nerd, and those two elements combined at the NYU MIAP program. While I was there, a lot of my projects and internships and my thesis were based around various libraries in Baltimore, Maryland, which is where I’m from. And I did my thesis at the University of Baltimore in their Special Collections department. In MIAP, I got a lot of experience at lots of different places—archives, museums, libraries. But I most enjoyed working with libraries and special collections, and I felt like that was where my passion lied.

SR: So was this your first job after graduating from MIAP?

SH: This was my first big-girl, paying job. I worked for a little bit at Bobst at NYU during the summer [after graduating from MIAP]. And then I moved back to Baltimore and did a lot of volunteer work at the places that I had already been working at. I wrote a grant and got money for the Maryland Historical Society, so I got a lot of really good experience. But then I also worked at a tanning salon—but you know, you gotta do what you gotta do. And I was doing what I loved most of the time anyway. And I got to watch Wagon Train while I was cleaning tanning beds, so it was fun.

SR: You didn’t graduate that long ago …

SH: Right—2010.

SR: Right. But thinking into the future and even the recent past, what will and/or have you been doing to continue your professional development?

SH: Well I went to AMIA to the annual conference in Austin, which I feel like is really important even when I didn’t have a job—it was my sabbatical, I like to call it. I went to the one in Philadelphia. I feel like it’s really important to go to the annual conference, just to see people you haven’t seen in forever.

But I’m also lucky as being in LA [presents] other opportunities. Since AMIA is based out of LA, they have the Reel Thing in August, so I got to go to that. They have the Digital Asset Symposium, too. And then there’s tons of screenings. Like tonight, there’s a screening at the Paramount of Wings, the 1927 movie; it’s just recently been restored, and I’m going with some colleagues. So there’s a lot of opportunity in LA to meet people that are in the production, people that are in the non-profit-archival world, and the people who are in the super-corporate-big-studio executive archival world.

SR: One question—and if you feel like you haven’t been working long enough to address it, that’s fine; or you can reflect on some of your internship experiences—if you noticed anything that’s changed in the past few years, or even if you’ve heard stories about UCLA, just in terms of the culture of appreciation of moving images within a library context.

SH: Well from what I’ve heard, things have definitely changed a lot here at UCLA within the last couple of years because the Preservation Department itself is maybe only five or six years old. And then Jake, the preservation head of the department, has been there about three to four years. So before that, it was case by case—people would try to handle things themselves. It wasn’t as regulated. It was still important, but there was less action taken than there is now that it’s clear who deals with preserving collections. So in that area, in the UCLA library, it’s changed a lot. There’s a lot of support, from what I’ve noticed.

In general, in the moving image archiving field, it’s pretty much the same as when I graduated. From what I see from my friends who were the year behind me…it seems to me that most people don’t get their first real job until a year after they graduate. And even then it’s a temporary or part-time thing. But it takes a while. I think that’s really important to put out there for those who are [considering this field]. It’s totally worth it once you get it, because I think is just so much fun! You have to go with the flow, and not be too high and mighty to work at a tanning salon. So you just got to do what you got to do.

SR: I think it’s also a particularly bad moment, all around.

SH: And I want to add that you have to be willing to relocate.

SR: Absolutely. There are not enough jobs in New York….

SH: That actually pay anything that you can live off of.

SR: That’s very, very true.

So, before you were appointed at UCLA, if someone had an issue with media they would maybe go the Film & Television Archive for help, or they would maybe go to Jake.

SH: Yeah, they would probably go to Jake, but before he got here…. And poor Jake has so many things on his plate anyway. But even before that, they would either go to the Film & Television Archive or look it up and try to do it themselves to the best of their ability. Most of the time, since it’s a library, the focus for collection managers and curators is access. They would just want to get a quick-and-easy listening copy for researchers. So that’s also where things have changed; [this shift toward thinking that we] need to have these materials accessible not just now but in the future too.

SR: Even in your short time at the library, how would describe your impact? What are some of your accomplishments so far?

SH: What I mentioned about the Film & Television Archive no longer being a place where collections are split up. And I’ve been really happy [we’re] taking that turn.

But also, for instance, we were just at this meeting the other day for an NFPF grant proposal that we’re writing. And I brought several boxes of film from my office into the meeting. I wanted to physically show that, for instance, these are two different elements from the same production. I am a visual learner and so I thought that would be good. And Jake said, “I don’t think you understand how big of deal this is to even have film on a table in the meeting. That’s a really big accomplishment.” So I said, “Great! I’m done then, right?”

I think it’s also just the fact that I’m here bugging people. I need access to this room, I need this space, we need this for our climate control…. I’m just here to bug people and remind people about stuff, so I think that’s probably where my biggest impact is so far. Just keeping people thinking about AV.

SR: Excellent. And in your opinion, what leads to the creation of positions such as yours in libraries?

SH: Well, definitely support from higher-ups in the administration. There has to be the kind of support where people say, yes, we’re committing to this. But also, there has to be a huge sum of money involved. In my experience, in Baltimore too, it’s not going to come from the library itself, it’s going to come from an external funder. And I think that in some ways you need to have money to get money. Or you need to have the infrastructure to be able to write a really quality grant, you need to be able to have consultants come in and talk about the different things to put into that grant so that you can get that huge amount of money that you need to even start a preservation program, which is how they did it for me. But in lesser-known university libraries, or special collections, they don’t have that infrastructure. They have it on a smaller scale, but it’s a lot more difficult for them, because they have less staff, and less expertise, and less money to even hire consultants to come in and work on a grant.

SR: And so, that’s how your job was created. A consultant came in and said this is what the library needs and they applied for a specific grant for content that was created within the library.

SH: Right. And to plan on how to deal with content that’s mostly created by the library, that will be created by the library, and then, legacy material in the collections.

SR: Wow. And all in one year.

SH: Exactly. And I want to say that it’s not only about creating positions, it’s about maintaining positions as well. Obviously that sort of relies on the economy, how things go, which is the same for all industries and professions.

SR: Right, but that’s a good point. Because there is this sense that these projects are finite. First of all you can’t do everything in two years, even if you wanted to. And then there’s an element of maintenance—things are constantly changing as well, especially with digital.

On the flip side then, what are the obstacles to creating positions like yours?

SH: Again, it’s just money. Lack of advocacy, lack of knowledge. If a library adminstrator doesn’t know that the AV collections are in dire need of being saved even though they were created in the 20th century, if they don’t know about it, and nobody’s going to telling them or giving them facts and figures—I think that’s a huge obstacle. So it’s going to the higher-ups, selling our selves a little bit, putting on a bit of a show, and saying our piece. As archivists, I don’t think we do that enough.

SR: Is that something that you do in your position now? Play the role of an advocate?

SH: I definitely want to. Luckily, I don’t really have to with the administrators [at UCLA Library]. So I don’t really have to take on that role. But I feel like going to any kind of preservation conference and mentioning it, just throwing AV out there. Or going to ALA and trying to keep things going there. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that.

SR: Are you planning to go to the conservators’ conferences or the preservation-oriented sessions within ALA?

SH: Well, Jake is going to the mid-winter ALA in Dallas just this week. I’m planning on going to the annual conference, which is in Anaheim anyway. So that will be good. And then there are different … there’s the Rare Books and Manuscripts seminar in San Diego in June. They want me to talk about moving image projects.

And then, Jake and I are writing an article for IASA journal, so… I mean, I guess that’s preaching to the choir, but putting yourself out there within the field and going to different areas to preach the word.

SR: I was just in a meeting with Howard and Alicia this morning and Howard was saying that he felt like conservators who weren’t in the digital working groups were unaware of the program and hadn’t really heard about it and there was a stark contrast between them and the others. He was just saying we need to do more infiltration, basically.

SH: Totally. I think something else I want to do is get out there and get to some SMPTE meetings and reach out to more production people because they have a lot at stake in these collections— they’re the ones that helped create them. Or they know the people that did. Or they are technology nerds like all of us, and invested.

And one thing about being in the Preservation Department is that we have a lot of student workers from the Information Studies school. So I get to know a lot of people studying to be librarians who want experience doing preservation work. And that’s another fun way to spread the gospel.

SR: Well, the last and final question, which we probably talked about a little bit: What needs to be changed about the status of moving image archivists, and what is working well?

SH: I think that what needs to be changed is the focus on access. I don’t want the focus to go away, but I think there is room for a preservation mindset as well. I’ve often been confronted with the we-just-need-a-quick-and-dirty-copy-of-this [attitude]—where people tell me, “No big deal, we’ll just do it really quick.” And, well, what if we never get around to it again? So let’s deal with it [with a longer view in mind] instead of trying to obtain immediate gratification and satisfaction, which is of course still really important because we’re a library and that’s part of the mission. Well, maybe immediate gratification is not part of the library’s mission, but for younger generations especially, [immediacy is] expected, especially when you’re dealing with AV content. So I feel like there’s room to grow there—to move away from expecting the preservation department to just create access copies.

What’s working well? What’s great is that libraries are taking in these collections [in the first place]. I’ve seen a lot of libraries saying, “We don’t know what to do with it, but we don’t want it to get thrown away.” And I know some would argue that isn’t a good selection or acquisitions policy, but I feel like in the long run it will be. We won’t be able to preserve everything, but at least we’re providing a safe haven for these collections, more safe than being thrown in the garbage really. Recently I went on a trip to see various archives, libraries and museums, and it seems like people are doing things. People seem to be getting money to do things here and there. But we can use more prioritization on preservation.

SR: Great, thanks so much for taking the time to talk.

SH: Thank you! It was really fun.

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