Year in the Life: Lauren Gaylord, Pt. 12

It’s hard to believe that this my last post for SNAP’s Year in the Life series. So much can happen in a year. Nowhere perhaps is this more obvious than in the construction of and move into our new building. Over the course of the last year, the building was transformed from an empty warehouse into a bustling archives. One of the most satisfying projects post-move has been decorating our new space with reproductions of art in our collection, giving our rows of gray boxes and shelves some much-needed color and making the building truly feel like home.

The new archives facility under construction

The new archives facility under construction

A peek at artwork amongst rows of archival boxes


I’ve been in my position for almost 17 months now. During that time I’ve processed materials from three different productions, housed difficult items such as pastels, large rolled banners, artist notebooks, and paintings, attended professional conferences, embedded images with keyword metadata, and weighed in on the design of a new collection management database. But perhaps my most concrete accomplishment was coordinating the move of our entire collection, a job I didn’t know I would be filling when I first started a year and a half ago. Like many roles in the workplace, the opportunity came swiftly and unexpectedly, thanks to a series of unforeseen circumstances. Being thrown into this role was both challenging and exhilarating. I didn’t read any literature about how to move a collection or horror stories of moves past. I just dove into the work, preparing items to move, mastering our data, and heavily relying on co-workers who had moved our collection many years ago.

While the preparation and execution of the move could be stressful at times, it provided the perfect contrast to my daily processing duties. So much of our work can feel unending, as we eternally chip away at the backlog and create preservation housing for materials, only to rehouse them ten or fifteen years later. The move was the complete opposite—a series of straightforward tasks for a fixed duration with an easily identifiable outcome. Processing doesn’t offer the instant gratification that printing shelf labels and moving boxes to new locations did. It is a complex and ambiguous process, where nothing is definite and (almost) everything is up for discussion. But I’ve realized that at its core, my job is to make things more accessible, even if it’s at the most sloth-like of paces. My role has expanded from traditional processing as I assist in other projects, but everything I do revolves around access. That includes arrangement and description of our production collections, but also providing ideas for new features of our database, adding metadata to digital images to make them easier to find, supervising temps as they update database records for unprocessed boxes, and even moving our collection.

Remembering that my job is about creating access helps to keep me from getting too bogged down in the details. I’m a perfectionist and I could process one collection forever in the hunt to get things exactly right. But that would only marginally improve access to one collection, instead of creating access for multiple collections. Balancing my perfectionist tendencies with the practical understanding of what’s possible and feasible keeps me moving forward instead of looking back.

So what’s next? In the upcoming months, I’ll continue to process original artwork from A Bug’s Life and make it easier to find through our database. We hope to move forward on providing more and more digital access to our materials so that artists can browse our collection (or at least the highlights of it) from their desks. We’re also in the midst of a database redesign, which includes adding additional, in-depth layouts for folders and items and merging our multitude of databases into a more manageable number.

Thank you to the fine folks of SNAP for letting me contribute my half-formed thoughts to the blog this past year. I love that this forum exists to share the student and new archivist experience with our community. Happy Archives Month! Stay incredible.


Year in the Life: Lauren Gaylord, Pt. 11

It’s been a quieter month in the archives as our two temporary archives technicians completed their contracts and the studio takes a breather from the marketing whirlwind that was Finding Dory. We’ve hung art to decorate the walls of our new facility and we find ourselves giving more and more tours to groups of employees thanks to our close proximity. We have excellent relationships with our frequent clients, but raising more awareness and reaching departments we rarely interact with can be a challenge. Though the archives at Pixar were established in 1998, people both internally at the company and externally have misconceptions about what our archives contain and how we manage it all. Here are the top seven that I’ve come across.

  1.     We only have materials relating to movies

People often forget that Pixar started out as a graphics division of Lucasfilm before becoming a hardware and software company. The studio then created original shorts and animated commercials for television before finally releasing our first feature film, Toy Story, in 1995. While it’s true that the primary bulk of our collection is related to our feature films, we do have a sizeable historical corporate collection that includes documents and art from our days creating work-for-hire commercials, hardware that we produced, and other company items. We even have collections of employee-made Halloween costumes and t shirts that capture Pixar’s unique culture.

An employee-made Halloween costume of Baby Mike Wazowski gets ready to move.

An employee-made Halloween costume of Baby Mike Wazowski gets ready to move.

  1.     We have animation cels

This idea comes out of a misconception about how animated films are made. Many people not in the animation industry picture traditional hand-drawn animation like Snow White when they think of our field, but computer-generated animation does not actually use animation cels. While it would be awesome to hold a final still from our movie in your hands or display it in a museum, that’s not quite how our process works. There’s a great overview of what it takes to make a computer-animated film for Pixar in a Box, our collaboration with Khan Academy.

  1.     Everything is digital

While some people might assume we’re dealing with animation cels, it’s much more common for people to assume that the Pixar archives only contain digital items. Outsiders assume that our films are made directly in the computer and forget the physical component of design that happens before the first model is built. Though our movies are computer-animated, they all start out on paper, from character design, to storyboards, to handwritten notes on a script. We are still actively receiving artwork on paper or board from current productions, so don’t let anyone tell you that paper is dead! Our artists also work with clay to sculpt 3D representations of characters or sets. These maquettes (French for “scale model” or “little model”) help the artists and director visualize the movie during the design phase. They are cast in urethane resin and preserved in the archives for future reference once a film has wrapped. Because of the scope of our collection, we also do not have all of our physical artwork digitized, much to the chagrin of our artists. Plans are in place to digitize our most heavily used art, but the sheer magnitude of the archives means it’s unlikely that every piece of paper will ever have a digital surrogate.

In addition to 2D artwork, the Pixar Archives also contains maquettes, such as this one of Remy from Ratatouille.

  1. We collect moving images

Because Pixar is known for its films, many people assume that the archives is responsible for the actual renders or code or models from each movie. In reality those assets are managed by another department at Pixar with the technical knowledge and expertise. The archives focuses on the materials that help movies get made, especially original artwork and department files that can provide a window into the creation of a film. We’re even more interested in how we created the final product than the final product itself. Context is everything.

  1.     We keep only the best drawings

Often our artists will be shocked at the types of materials we’re interested in keeping, asking “You really want that?” or “Oh you saved that?” A crude marker scribble might look unimportant, but it was the first conception of Archie the Scare Pig for Monsters University, or the first time we saw what Mike Wazowski could be. Because we’re interested in the evolution of a character or story or set we want all the context we can collect. There are legal reasons for this, but also important inspirational and historical ones, as many years later other artists at the studio might want to know exactly how and why that decision was made and where it started. We also can’t always anticipate the secondary uses of our art. For instance, artists often have gag sessions where they draw humorous ideas for scenes or character interactions, a small fraction of which actually make it into the movie. If the archives saved only the successful gags from these sessions, we wouldn’t have been able to contribute unseen artwork to the newly published book Funny!

This seemingly inconsequential table scrap was an important step in the development of Archie the Scare Pig.

This seemingly inconsequential table scrap was an important step in the development of Archie the Scare Pig.

  1.     We organize materials chronologically

This misconception often stems from ignorance about the computer animation process and what that entails. While the time at which a piece of artwork was created is important in knowing the evolution of design and proving original creation legally, it’s not our most important organizing principle. Our arrangement often depends on the type of material (e.g. storyboards vs. concept art), but date of creation is never the most important detail or principal organizing category. For instance, within concept art we organize items by subject and artist, as future requests are likely to center on how the design of a character or set evolved and what a particular artist contributed. Story materials, on the other hand, are more likely to be organized by scene or sequence, with different groupings for final or out of picture storyboards.

  1.     Everything is already organized

Whenever I tell someone that I’m processing an older film, such as A Bug’s Life or Monsters, Inc., I without fail get the question: “That’s not done yet?” Unfortunately, it’s not. As any archivist can attest, backlogs in archives are, to an extent, permanent. We are constantly receiving new items, both from old and new films, and that means that we’ve had to prioritize collections and at times accept incomplete processing. Before I started 15 months ago, no one in the department was able to focus solely on tackling our backlog because of our other obligations such as answering requests, preparing art for exhibition, and receiving new materials. While I’ve made some good progress in rehousing art and updating our database so that records are accurate and detailed, a lot of work remains. We dream of a day when we are all caught up and only processing materials from new films, but that future is a long ways off. In the meantime we make compromises and prioritize our collections so that we can service requests from the studio and keep forging ahead.


SAA 2016: New Member Coffee Break and Plenary I, Getting Our House in Order: Moving from Diversity to Inclusion

In advance of the 2016 Annual Meeting, we invited SNAP members to contribute summaries of panels, roundtable and section meetings, forums, and pop-up sessions. Summaries represent the opinions of their individual authors; they are not necessarily endorsed by SNAP, members of the SNAP Steering Committee, or SAA.

Guest Author: Blake Relle, Archives Specialist at the Louisiana State Archives

New Member/Coffee Break

On Thursday morning, I attended the New Member/First Time Coffee Break. I know this will surprise you, but I had Green Tea instead of coffee. Unlike at my last SAA conference, I walked around the room and introduced myself to several people. One person I spoke with was Erin Lawrimore. She is the council liaison for the SNAP Roundtable and she is writing a blog regards to her experience on the SAA Council. You can read her blog here. The topic of her blog is a great idea. The blog will give SAA members insight into the workings of the council as well as inspire people to take on leadership role in either SAA or another archival organization. I ran into Myles Crowley, who I met in Pittsburgh as well as came to the REPS meet up at Max Lagers.

Plenary I

After the coffee (more like tea) break, it was off to hear the Plenary Speeches. They were two speeches.  The first speech was made by David Ferriero, who is the Archivist for the United States. He spoke about diversity and inclusion. He reminded us that we need to foster a culture promotes inclusion and diversity. He reminded us the our nation derives its strength from being open to diversity and including everyone. We need to educate our workforce about the importance of having a workplace that values inclusion. He also reminded us to interview candidates for job openings through an inclusive lens. Continue reading

SAA 2016: SNAP Roundtable Meeting

In advance of the 2016 Annual Meeting, we invited SNAP members to contribute summaries of panels, roundtable and section meetings, forums, and pop-up sessions. Summaries represent the opinions of their individual authors; they are not necessarily endorsed by SNAP, members of the SNAP Steering Committee, or SAA.

Guest Author: Michael Barera, Archivist at Texas A&M University-Commerce


After a brief welcome and chair report by Samantha Winn, the Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Roundtable session began in earnest with a short speech followed by a question and answer session with Society of American Archivists (SAA) President Dennis Meissner. He began by stating: “All of us in Council and across the leadership of SAA really value SNAP…there is more innovation, energy, and good ideas in SNAP than in many other parts of the organization.” He also explained the transformation away from the current sections and roundtables into the “affinity group” structure “with equal weight and identity”: they will all be called sections, will be unlimited in terms of participation for SAA members, formal bylaws and annual reports will be required for all sections, and non-SAA members will be allowed to belong to up to 3 of the online discussion lists for these new “sections”. He also noted that the new direction on this change has largely been informed by member feedback, including that of SNAPers. Furthermore, Meissner stressed that SAA is “doubling down in the area of diversity and inclusion…in the next few years”, that “diversity is an important goal of the organization”, and it is becoming an even more crucial goal that is “baked into the firmament of the organization”. In his conception, cultural competence will be the starting point, and SNAP will play a crucial role in increasing SAA’s diversity: “I think this is really going to be something that consumes us.”

After his speech, Meissner answered a couple of questions from SNAP members. Firstly, when asked what would be a successful version of SNAP for all of SAA, he responded: “SNAP is recognized by the rest of SAA leadership as almost a ‘skunk works’ within the organization that pushes up new ideas…I think SNAP can be effective when it pushes on the organization…it can serve as a weather vane for the organization, showing where things ought to be going.” He also argued that not being “encumbered by legacy thinking” is a core attribute of SNAP, and that it helps SAA itself be a “more nimble and agile organization”. Secondly, he was asked about what are some of the ways that SAA at large addresses the issues that particularly affect members of SNAP, such as unpaid internships and unpaid loan debt. Meissner responded: “I don’t think that Council has any particular way to address them…we look to guidance from all the sections and associations for more innovative ways to do this…I certainly don’t have any answers in my back pocket, these are things that work themselves out in the workplace and archival education over time.” More optimistically, he noted that “good paid internships that mean something…are a good starting place.” Continue reading

Year in the Life: Lauren Gaylord, Pt. 10

The SAA Annual Meeting was a whirlwind, but one moment in particular has stuck with me. When Sam Winn asked everyone at the SNAP Roundtable Meeting who had experienced “imposter syndrome” to raise his or her hands, mine quickly shot up in the air. I had felt like an imposter just a few hours earlier at the Business Archives Colloquium. During the session the attendees had broken up into discussion groups to talk about the particular challenges of preserving unusual objects in our collections, such as cosmetics, food, textiles, and movie props. While every topic was fascinating, I chose the paintings/art group since I deal daily with the challenge of housing these items. I’ve previously written about the problem of preserving unfixed pastels, and I was eager to hear if my colleagues had any solutions or found themselves in a similar situation. I quickly discovered, however, that though I was there to learn, the group turned to me as an expert on how we at Pixar tackled artwork in our collection. I wasn’t a student—I was a teacher. All of the reasons that I wasn’t qualified to be talking about Pixar’s methods ran through my head—I’m young, I’m new(ish), I’m low in the hierarchy, I’m not trained in conservation—but ultimately I realized that I did have something to share. Pixar is in a fairly unique position with the volume of artwork we handle in an archival way, and as processing archivist I have a lot of experience with managing our materials both intellectually and physically. I might not have all the answers, but I had to accept that I do know a few things about art in archives.

I often feel like an imposter in professional settings. I’ve been out of school for a little over a year and I feel (and look) fairly young in the workplace. I’ve had years of experience in archives, but so much of that was paraprofessional that I am quick to forget about it or discount it. I still need to remind myself that I have a voice and a valid opinion to share. As an introvert who dislikes confrontation, I’m happy to stay quiet in a meeting and let my more vocal and experienced coworkers duke it out and make the decisions. Needless to say, learning to contribute, rather than sit back and take in information, has been a tough lesson.

Recently I began supervising the day-to-day projects of two archives technicians and was a little unsure if I was really the best person for that job. They were in school or newly graduated, and as a recent grad myself, it felt a little like supervising my peers. While I loved the opportunity to have people help enact my vision and prepare the collection to move, I was worried about my qualifications and the power dynamic of the situation. I was constantly second-guessing myself—how I was doing, whether they liked me, if they despised listening to me, whether my directions were clear or rambling and inane, if this was a worthwhile experience for them, etc. And the truth is, sometimes I’m making it up while supervising. I’m pretty sure we all are, but archives and processing are about a million tiny decisions that you make based on context. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach because each collection is unique and needs to be dealt with in a way that makes sense to its situation.

Accepting that I was the best person for this job was a difficult task. But, given my experience in archives in general, and at Pixar specifically, I was. As we prepared the collection to move, I was the expert on what we had in the archives and what needed to be done. As we now process our backlog, I’m the expert on what’s left to do and how things are currently being done, even if I feel like there’s no set formula to follow. I want to have all the information and defer to someone with more knowledge, but in actuality I am that person. I lean heavily on my coworkers for their institutional knowledge, but I have something to contribute when it comes to our processing philosophy. That’s scary to me. I want to still be learning, and as a perfectionist and overachiever I want to have all possible information before I make a decision, even if that’s not feasible. But I can’t sit back. It’s imperative that I weigh in. One of the things I worked on with the archives technicians was encouraging them to give their opinion when we were deciding what to do with a certain processing conundrum. They were so eager to learn that they sometimes forgot that they knew things and could help shape the decision. They might be in school or newly graduated, but their opinions were valid and existing knowledge important. I also wanted to be clear with them that I did not have all the answers and we would have to figure it out together.

As I’m learning to trust my instincts and speak up, I hope you all are doing the same, whether you’re students or new to the profession. Your take on a situation is exactly the one that your institution needs and your role is important. Be confident in what you know. I’ll always be learning, but it doesn’t follow that I can’t contribute to the conversation while learning. We all need to make the shift at some point from passively taking to actively adding. Both we and our institutions will be better for it.

#snaprt Chat Flashback: Prepping for #SAA16

If you’re heading to Atlanta next week, you’ll want to check out the #snaprt Chat Flashback from Monday, July 25. There’s solid advice for new and old attendees alike. I’m getting really excited about next week and hope you are, too!

Year in the Life: Lauren Gaylord, Pt. 9

The dust from our move has mostly settled and our team has turned to new and old projects, from rehousing fragile Monsters, Inc. pastels to processing A Bug’s Life concept art. As I mentally prepare for the SAA Annual Meeting and craft my tentative schedule, I’ve been reflecting on why it is I chose to be a corporate archivist and some of the pros and cons of this particular brand of archives. During my last semester of grad school, I found myself in an archives class defending my interest in corporate archives. My path in the field led me through art galleries, public libraries, historical museums, non-profit community archives, and university archives, but I was especially drawn to corporate archives. Most of my peers were set on the more traditional university special collections route, and a few expressed interested in government archives, but I often felt like the lone representative of budding archivists for business settings.

As I’ve spent a little more time in the professional world, I’ve come to see that this is still true in organizations like SCA and SAA. Corporate archivists get a lot less airtime and publicity in our profession, whether it’s in the classroom or at a conference, partly due to the simple fact that there are less of us than there are of our university and government counterparts. Another factor is the inherent secrecy and confidentiality involved in working at a corporation. There is only so much an archivist can share about their work and the company’s history without treading into the dangerous territory of trade secrets and non-disclosure agreements. Continue reading