Archives Fever

“Popular perception looks for simplicity. Hence, the archivist is the person who looks after archives, retrieving the papers or files. The librarian is the person behind the loans desk or putting books on shelves. The sound archivist or film archivist does not yet, perhaps, present so obvious or distinctive an image.”
Audiovisual Archiving: Philosophy and Principles, Ray Edmondson, UNESCO report, 2004

“Librarians and archivists are experts at project management. They routinely process groups of materials in selection, processing, cataloging, and preservation workflows.”
– Stephen Chapman, Harvard University Library

“[On Processing] …Both computational foundations and processing activities have endured, but other platforms, tools, and infrastructures have also developed to support curation, analysis, editing, and modeling. These depend upon the basic building blocks of digital activity: digitization, classification, description and metadata, organization, and navigation.”
– Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner and Jeffrey Schnapp, Digital_Humanities

“Maybe my passion is nothing special, but at least it’s mine.”
– Tove Jansson, Travelling Light

The Heart of It

We live in an age when “archive” is a hot word. The fever, the buzzword, is exciting for someone who has committed their professional years to being an archivist. But what role does an archivist have, especially when s/he is also a historian or an artist, a writer? Sure, archivists (not only librarians!) can point out some “cool stuff,” and perhaps now more than ever the term “archivist” has a bit more cachet. What is less recognizable is that they can be sought out to assist others in their research, rather than simply act as curators or rigid guardians of our cultural heritage.  Know a filmmaker who needs assistance finding material in the South? Send him/her my way.

My personal approach to history and cultural studies is interdisciplinary. American Studies enriched my understanding of our visual cultural which, in turn, helped me immensely as a professional; and my professional training itself combined film/television history, information science, and archival practice. Consequently, my aim is to help promote and contextualize archival audiovisual materials as primary historical and cultural documents to laymen and practitioners in other disciplines beyond film and media studies — meaning the students, exhibit curators, artists, and the general public. There are many methods to employ, thus, it circles back to an interdisciplinary approach that comes so natural to me.

Current projects include “Show Your Work” that will explore and illustrate archivists’, librarians’ and researchers’ labor inherent in documentary works, and I am doing my dissertation on one-time female travel expert for Shell Oil, Carol Lane.

Experience & Education

I begin my journey as a PhD student in American Studies in Fall 2016 at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I earned my M.A. in Moving Image Archive Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and my B.A. in American Studies (Visual Studies/Art Practice) from the University of California, Berkeley.

I was trained to be an audiovisual archivist and cataloguer; and most recently have been finding much pleasure in my roles as a freelance archival footage and image researcher for documentary filmmakers, and a content services consultant. I co-developed and implemented this exhibit and related film screening about on Raleigh-based nontheatrical filmmaker O.B. Garris at North Carolina State University (NCSU); and co-taught a graduate seminar “Film and the Archive” at NCSU that covered a history of media archives and research skills. For over five years I was an audiovisual archivist/cataloguer at The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library for the History of Women in America at Harvard University, where I processed audiovisual collections; chaired and co-programmed a yearly film series; curated audiovisual kiosks for exhibits; and contributed audio and video (edited clips and wrote text) social media posts to the library’s blog, Facebook page, and relevant Wikipedia articles.

95% of the audiovisual materials I have processed or researched have been unpublished, non-fiction or non-theatrical (home movies, oral histories, event coverage, interviews, and advertising.)

Reaching back eleven years in the field, I worked for Discovery Communications as a Library Information Specialist (mostly involving technical metadata and traffic coordination), the Women In Film Foundation in Los Angeles as a fellow, and have interned or volunteered as a descriptive cataloguer, collections processor, curator, and researcher for a number of archives including the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Academy Film Archive, the Pacific Film Archive, and the State Archives of North Carolina.

I have also presented at numerous conferences and symposia on issues encompassing improving access to moving image materials, public/cable access television history, a local Raleigh filmmaking couple, women in advertising, and women’s history in America generally. I have published short pieces in the journal, The Moving Image, and a chapter on privacy and home movies in the forthcoming  Amateur Movie Making: Aesthetics of the Everyday in New England, 1915-1960 (2017).

For more specifics see Professional Experience and more via the menu above.

CONTACT: msdollman [at] 

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