The following is a guest post by Kelly Chisholm.
Hello! When I tell people I work with the Library’s film and video collections, they’re often curious about what my job as a Processing Technician entails and how I trained for it, so I thought I would try to answer both those questions here.
I discovered that film preservation and archiving was an actual professional field when I was a chemistry major at the University of Delaware. I have always loved classic films and I was peppering film studies courses in amongst my schedule of courses for my chemistry degree. After seeing a documentary on film preservation, I decided it seemed like the perfect mix of film and science, and with the help of a wonderful film studies professor, I set about researching the profession and tailoring my course load to get me ready for attending the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. I threw myself into that year-long program and was lucky enough to be granted the Kodak Fellowship, which took me to Los Angeles the summer after graduation to learn more about the commercial side of film preservation.
I eventually found a job at the UCLA Film and Television Archive in Hollywood, where I worked for six months before moving up the street to the Academy Film Archive; you probably know the Academy as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the organization that awards the Oscars. At UCLA and then at the Academy, I specialized in working on nitrate film, which was the film stock used from the birth of cinema until roughly 1951 and which you have read about previously on this blog. This meant winding through reels of aging 35mm film, checking condition, repairing damage, creating records for the films in our database, and in general making sure the films were well cared for. In my five and a half years at the Academy I held a few other positions, which included duties like organizing paperwork for donors and depositors who were putting their film collections into the archive, tracking those incoming collections and preparing them to be processed and added to the archive’s vaults, as well as ordering supplies from quickly-disappearing specialty film supply retailers and figuring out how to repair equipment that was no longer being manufactured anywhere or serviced by anyone. I also helped organize an internship program, so students who were aspiring film archivists could come and learn some practical skills while also helping the archive with numerous, unending projects. And when a position opened up at the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, I jumped at the chance to work with one of the largest collections in the world and move back to the east coast.
I have now worked at the Library for just over five years, and my duties include working on a variety of projects, which I hope to detail in future blog posts. I spend a lot of my time adding brand-new things to our substantial collection: there is a cart full of videos sitting next to me right now that are all television shows that aired over the last 6 months. I will catalog and label them so they can be put into our vaults, and I do the same for 35mm film prints of newly released movies. I also work on older collections both large and small on video and film. The J. Fred and Leslie W. MacDonald Collection has been mentioned on “Now See Hear!” repeatedly and undoubtedly will be again, and I have spent a significant chunk of my time here winding through the educational and industrial films in that collection, adding them to our catalog, and trying to solve various mysteries that pop up. I’ll have a post tomorrow with a specific example–one film, three language versions–from the MacDonald Collection.
I’ve also worked on a collection of dance performances on 35-year-old video formats and a collection of home movies from one of the Andrews Sisters. My least-easily-explained project involves correcting old cataloging records for items in our collection so that the data from those records can be migrated from an older cataloging system to a newer database, thus allowing them to be put in the preservation queue.
The nature of the collection here is so all-encompassing that in one day I can easily work on films and TV shows that were made 80 years apart from each other, with issues ranging from physical damage to the actual item to incorrect data about the item in an old cataloging system. We all juggle a range of projects in a variety of areas, and my colleagues and I look forward to explaining our work in more depth on “Now See Hear!”