University of Colorado Boulder Libraries and Cinema Studies Partner on Undergrad Archiving and Preservation Curriculum

The University of Colorado Boulder Libraries Rare and Distinctive Collections has partnered with the Department of Cinema Studies and Moving Image Arts on a new undergraduate certificate program focused on media archiving and preservation.

masked woman leaning over filmstrip with loupe
Moving Image Archivist Jamie Marie Wagner inspects an archival film reel
Photo by Claire Woodcock, University of Colorado Boulder Libraries

The University of Colorado (CU) Boulder Libraries Rare and Distinctive Collections has partnered with the Department of Cinema Studies and Moving Image Arts (CINE) on a new undergraduate certificate program focused on media archiving and preservation. With support from a three-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, the curriculum will offer a hands-on introduction to undergraduate film and media students interested in archival and preservation work, culminating in a certificate to be added to their degree.

CINE Assistant Professor Sabrina Negri and Moving Image Archivist Jamie Marie Wagner are currently working out details for the five-course curriculum, which is planned to begin next spring. Negri will teach an overview course on the theoretical framework of preserving media, covering the processes it entails and involving students in some lab work. Wagner will offer a class on collection management specific to audiovisual collections, familiarizing students with the CU archives and explaining how she works with them. Additional classes will include the preservation of magnetic media—audio and videotapes—which, noted Negri, are more in danger of deterioration than film; a class on the management of digital assets for libraries; and one on the creative reuse of archival materials.

Each class will be taught twice over the next three years. The library will also offer three paid fellowships for undergrads each semester starting in spring 2022, so that students can complement coursework with hands-on experience. Fellowships will be oriented toward recruitment in the field, said Wagner. “There’s been a lot of discussion and research recently about retention and difficulty breaking into the field, especially for people of color, people from low-income backgrounds, people with disabilities. One of the things that often gets recommended is more direct mentorship, paid work.” The fellowships will come with a professional development fund, which will help cover conferences, webinars, and professional memberships.

An internship program will begin during the curriculum’s second year, connecting students with local organizations—small archives that don’t have a dedicated media archivist or community groups that have material they need to preserve.

 

CROSS-DEPARTMENTAL KISMET

The program was originally sparked by a gift. Wyndham Hannaway, whose film and media lab, GWH&A, was transitioning to digital preservation, donated more than $3 million worth of preservation and archiving equipment to the university in 2016. (Hannaway will be teaching the class on preservation of magnetic media.) To make use of its windfall, CU hired Negri in 2017 to teach film history and media preservation. She immediately began thinking about how to further develop the course, “and the only way to do it was by collaborating with the libraries and the archives,” Negri told LJ. “It’s kind of pointless to teach a preservation class without actually dealing with the people who deal daily with our media collection.”

At the same time, the CU Boulder Libraries bought its first film scan station in 2018. CU’s media archives are extensive—approximately 5,000 reels of film and about 8,000 videotapes, with another 1,000 being accessioned this fall—but the material had never been preserved or digitized, so Wagner was hired as the university’s first moving image archivist in 2019. “I was able to take that position and start to build a program for what we were going to do with all this material,” said Wagner. “These two things were happening in Cinema Studies and the libraries at the same time. It was kind of kismet that we were moving in the same direction.”

Once Negri and Wagner began working together, the idea of a preservation program—and applying for an IMLS grant to set it in motion—came up quickly. The decision to make it available to undergraduate students was a game-changer, said Negri. While programs like this are customarily offered to graduate students who have an idea of what professional direction they want to move in, this will give film and media students some background in archival work earlier in their studies.

“As a cinema studies professor, I see that my students want more hands-on work,” Negri told LJ. “A lot of them are interested in preservation as an idea, but they’re still not sure exactly what it entails. It’s kind of a way to let them dip their toes into what preservation actually means before they choose whether they want to continue on to a graduate program.” Some may choose careers in preservation or decide to work in an archive, and others may decide to move in a different direction.

Making this certificate available to undergraduates at CU, she noted, “will serve communities that sometimes are left out of graduate programs, because all of [those programs], or most of them, are located in the coastal areas, and they’re expensive. Whereas we can offer these classes at a public university, and we can serve a community that is local—though of course we welcome people from anywhere—but those students might not have the means to transfer to New York and do a two-year master’s program. Let them start at CU and see if that’s something that they want to pursue in the future.”

This is good not only for students but for the profession, Wagner explained. “Even if they don’t all go on to become professional archivists, then they can go into their jobs at production companies, or as filmmakers themselves, or into their community groups, and know what to do when they have archival film and video. So many people don’t know what to do,” she said. “So as much as we’d like to have professional recruitment, we also just want to spread the skills to more people in more places.” The program could be easily replicated at public universities and community colleges with film departments, she added. “I would love for other universities to take this as a model and set up networks of people doing this type of thing.”

Also, putting together an undergraduate-level program was easier to get off the ground, Wagner noted. “It’s something that we could start,” she told LJ. “We didn’t have to establish a master’s degree program. We could start teaching classes and hiring fellowships and letting it build kind of organically.”

 

HOPING FOR HANDS-ON

Wagner hired her CINE students in the library shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and had more than 20 applicants—far more than she would usually get for archives work. “Obviously cinema studies students are really interested in getting their hands in,” she said.

Wagner and Negri are optimistic about holding classes in person this spring, but if pandemic restrictions are still in effect, they know how to teach remotely if they need to. Negri held her preservation class mostly remotely last year; the films she wanted to show were digitized, teaching theory over Zoom was not a problem, and she was able to invite a greater variety of guest lecturers than could have visited in person. Because it was a small class, the lab portions were allowed to meet in person.

The CU Boulder Libraries are mostly open at the moment, with researchers and student workers allowed in the archives. “Besides training, where we’re working closely with them, a lot of archives work is working alone in the basement and shuffling materials,” Wagner noted. “It’s pretty amenable to a social distancing environment.” Much of the work involved, she added, has to do with providing metadata and researching films, and she was able to work from home through much of the last year and a half. “If you have to do archival work remotely, it’s still real-world experience,” she said, “because that’s what my job has been.”

Negri and Wagner are still working with CU administration to finalize the logistics of how the certificate will be structured; they envision students either incorporating the classes gradually as they earn their degrees—CINE offers a BFA in filmmaking and a BA in a critical studies—or taking all five during their final year. They are considering offering the certificate to students majoring in museum studies or in other departments as well. Both want the program to prove its worth during the grant period, so that the university will be convinced to finance it going forward.

“What we’re hoping is that this grant might show that there is interest, on the part of the students and the institution, in this kind of preservation and archival work,” said Negri. “Then we need to walk on our own legs and establish something that could actually be long-lasting.” The cross-pollination has been good for both departments, sparking plans to catalog and index CINE’s teaching film collection, as well as a partnership between the archives and CU’s Stan Brakhage Center, which promotes experimental and avant garde media history and contemporary filmmakers. “One of the tasks of film archivism, besides preservation, is programming—getting people involved, making our things useful,” said Wagner. “With the Stan Brakhage center, we want to program a series of screenings of our archival material that our students can work on.”

“We’re really confident that we can use this as an opportunity to try things out, especially to gather the data and feedback and evaluations, and put together research that shows how successful the program could be in ways that will attract more funding and more direct support,” she added.

The program also makes a strong case for cross-departmental collaboration, said Negri. “Neither of us could have done it by ourselves, and it’s really cool to see what kind of knowledge comes out once you put people from different fields, but with the same goal, together.”

Author Image
Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is Senior News Editor for Library Journal.

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