After 25 years in service to the Library of Congress, Moving Image section head Mike Mashon is retiring. Before sailing off to the sunset…or, at least, off to Austin, Texas, Mike looks back and answers some questions.
Tell us about your background.
I’m from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and graduated from Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology in 1982. I went to grad school at the University of Texas at Austin and was hired by the Texas Department of Health in 1985 to perform a newly introduced test designed to detect the presence of antibodies against the AIDS virus (HIV) in serum. I adored my colleagues but grew to hate the job. I was never able to shake the fact that behind the positive results I was seeing in anonymized samples were people with dreams and loved ones being issued death sentences. The survival rate in those days was abysmal.
I always loved movies, and Austin in the 1980s was an epicenter of film culture. My boss at the health department allowed me to work nights and weekends while pursuing a master’s degree in radio, television and film at the University of Texas, which I completed in 1989.
The next year my wife, Kristi, and I moved to the Washington, D.C., area for grad school. I got a Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, and she earned a master’s degree in library science.
What brought you to the Library?
I aimed for a career in academia, but in 1994 a broadcast history collection at the University of Maryland suddenly needed a curator. So, one month before our daughter, Madeleine, was born, I started that job. Four years later, in February 1998, I came to the Library as moving image curator. In 2005, I was named head of the Moving Image Section.
What achievements are you most proud of?
It’s been such a privilege to serve this institution, and I use the word “serve” quite deliberately. I enjoy being of service to my colleagues and to the collections entrusted to our safekeeping.
Thankfully, I have never lost the sense of privilege that comes with ensuring that our audiovisual heritage is preserved and made accessible for future generations. I get to work every day with people who have forgotten more than I’ll ever know about media archiving. We’re bound together by a shared sense of commitment and, truly, a love for what we do.
Because of that camaraderie, we’ve been able to accomplish some mighty things, not least of which was moving our collections from four states and D.C. to Culpeper, Virginia, as the Packard Campus was nearing completion.
In some ways, the years 2005 to 2007, when the move occurred, were my most stressful–weeks of 70-plus hours, redoing vault layouts on the fly, feeling fortunate to work with brilliant GS-8s who oversaw the move. Today, those of us who remain take a lot of pride in what that small team accomplished.
On a personal level, I’m grateful that I ran our film loan program before the move to Culpeper, because now I have friends all over the world. I’m thankful for all the various co-conspirators with whom I have engaged in friendly anarchy over the years, which led to mostly valuable outcomes like the National Screening Room. It was truly born of a “Hey, kids, let’s put on show” spirit. I feel as if I’m getting out just in time before they catch me!
What are some standout moments from your time at the Library?
It’s been enormously gratifying to have participated in so many events–Madison Council presentations, congressional dialogues, the National Book Festival, random VIP tours and especially the Gershwin Prize. Talking early boxing films with Sly Stallone? A dream. I spoke to Smokey Robinson for so long I nearly ran out of things to say. I was so tongue-tied when meeting Dionne Warwick, all I could blurt out was “hey.” But my greatest day ever? June 1, 2010, when I gave a presentation to Paul McCartney. You think about the one person in the world you’d most like to meet? I got to meet mine. Still can’t believe it.
Last story. For the Library’s bicentennial in 2000, I was Caroll Spinney’s escort. Caroll was “Sesame Street’s” beloved Big Bird, and I got to watch him climb into the suit, which was wild. At the end of the day, I asked if he would record my voicemail announcement as Oscar the Grouch. People found out, my phone never stopped ringing and finally someone in authority called and told me to take it down. I didn’t keep a copy! Regrets, I’ve had a few.
What’s next for you?
Kristi and I are heading back to Austin for now. We’ll live a seven-minute walk from an Alamo Drafthouse and a seven-minute drive from the Austin Film Society Theater. So, there’s my retirement plan. But I’ll always treasure my time at the Library.
For more information related to this blog or any Library of Congress holdings, please see Ask a Librarian, and if you plan to come in to view or listen to any collection items, please reach out to our reference staff in the Moving Image Research Center and the Recorded Sound Research Center.