Lauren Gaylord is one of our participants in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. We will be following Lauren for a year. You can read her previous posts here.
People often ask me how my work at Pixar differs now compared to before school. That’s a tough question, because on the surface it looks (and sounds) like I’m doing exactly the same work in the archives as I was before I moved to Texas for graduate school. All that’s changed is my title (Archives Technician vs. Processing Archivist) and compensation.
In a way, the work is indeed similar, just more complex. Whereas three years ago I was arranging Cars 2 artwork with the help of supervisors and coworkers, now I am processing complicated backlog collections like Monsters, Inc. on my own and tackling more difficult questions about organization, arrangement, and access. Both projects were heavy in processing, but I had significantly less authority and institutional knowledge in the earlier instance. In my new position I also have become much more involved in larger conversations about what processing looks like for our archives and how we can efficiently process and provide access through our workflow.
I started at Pixar as a technician, originally hired with the intent of processing full-time. Staff turnover and leaves of absence soon meant that I was wearing many hats while the department searched for a new Collections Archivist. During this time I processed a little, but the majority of my work was concerned with assisting the exhibitions program by tracking data, managing framing and condition reporting, and coordinating details for internal exhibitions. I also kept a few digital projects afloat during my coworker’s maternity leave.
Each archivist’s path looks different, but as someone who successfully moved from a paraprofessional role to a professional role in the same institution, I thought I’d share a few of the key ingredients in my story that facilitated this transition.
- Getting my foot in the door in the first place
As a large and high profile company, Pixar receives thousands of applications every year, a fact that can make it difficult for candidates to stand out. I first applied to Pixar for an internship, and then an Archive Coordinator position a month later. A former supervisor encouraged me to pursue the position and her sister, an executive assistant at Pixar, happily referred my name to HR. I was soon contacted for a phone interview, which turned into two onsite interviews. While Pixar moved forward with another candidate for the position, HR reached out to me two weeks later to say that a short-term position would soon be available if I was interested. That position turned out to be my role as an Archives Technician, which I started in July 2012.
- Proving myself
This one seems a little obvious and perhaps patronizing to point out, but it bears acknowledgement all the same. I worked incredibly hard to prove myself during my first few months at Pixar. There’s nothing to dwell on here, except to say that first impressions are extremely important in the working world and building on them daily is even more valuable.
- Getting the necessary qualifications to advance
The decision to quit Pixar and pursue my Master’s degree was a tough one. Pixar is one of the most delightful places to work, and the various associated perks make life very comfortable and easy. I knew I would never work at such an awesome place again, or at least one with free cereal and a pass to Disneyland. But I left because I wanted to get better at what I did and grow as a professional. I couldn’t accomplish those things without a graduate degree, and my personal preference for an in-person education experience meant I had to leave the Bay Area.
- Maintaining relationships with my former coworkers
Even though I moved away from California, I kept up with the archives department at Pixar through email and social media. When personal trips took me to the Bay Area, I always reached out to old coworkers and met up with them for coffee or lunch. I wasn’t consciously angling for another job at Pixar, although that ended up being a bonus. I was (and am) genuinely friends with people in the department and eager to hear how they were doing. This contact kept me up-to-date with the department’s needs and helped them know what I was up to professionally.
- Being in the right stage of life at the right time
As I entered my final semester of graduate school, I reached out to various contacts in the field to let them know I was graduating soon and looking for work. One of those people was my former supervisor at Pixar, whom I asked to be a reference. When a processing position became a possibility, she kept me apprised of the situation. I received an official offer to be Processing Archivist a few months later.
I think the biggest two takeaways from my experience are the importance of timing and having a network. In both my first and current positions at Pixar, timing was everything; I was looking for work and Pixar had openings. If the timing hadn’t worked out in this way, I might not have returned. Maintaining my network was also incredibly valuable. While the word “network” might draw up images of fawning over people and using them only for their power or connections, for me it means keeping up with old coworkers, professors, and supervisors with whom I already had a great relationship. As is natural in any friendship, I love to know what’s going on in their lives, and vice-versa. Our correspondence might not always result in a new professional opportunity, but it’s important to me all the same because I treasure my relationships with my mentors and my peers. In both of my experiences at being hired at Pixar, my network was instrumental—first in getting me the face time to prove myself as an applicant, and second at hiring me for a position because of my continued relationship with the studio.
My experience at Pixar, with its blurring of the boundaries between paraprofessional and professional work, is so common in archival settings. Many institutions leave a majority of the processing to interns, yet others have professional Processing Archivists who do the same work, just with less supervision and more training. Where are the lines, then, between professional and paraprofessional?
I struggle with these issues, as I know the rest of SNAP and SAA do. In my case, I was a paraprofessional at Pixar, often doing the work of a “professional.” I left Pixar because I knew that if I wanted to advance, whether there or at another institution, I needed a degree to give me a theoretical foundation and lend me an air of authority, among other things. My career path led me back to Pixar, where I’ve taken on similar but more challenging projects and begun to play a larger role in the development and evolution of archives policies. While from the outside it seems like nothing has changed, on the inside my work feels richer and more significant, and I feel more prepared and fully informed to do my job as a professional archivist, thanks to my degree and additional years of experience.