Archivist Career Interview
Lance Watsky has worked as an Audio-Visual Archivist for over 15 years and is also the program coordinator for the Moving Image Archive Studies Program, at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has never lost his passion for the preservation of music and film.
Archivist Career Path
Lance stumbled upon his career by complete chance.
“After completing my undergraduate degree, I was working as an assistant curator at a museum of art, and someone accidentally knocked over a large and important sculpture,” he explains. “I was asked to take some photographs of the damage, in order to report the damage. After I documented the damage, I became interested in objects conservation.”
Lance then became aware of a need to preserve film and video as there wasn’t much of a market for this important step in maintaining our culture at the time. He spent time working in the United States Holocaust Museum at Washington, D.C., where he became interested in audio restoration. And the rest is history (a history that an archivist might preserve one day).
Lance received his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida in Fine Arts, specializing in Cinematography, Photography, and Video Production. He ultimately earned his master’s degree from the California State University, Chico where he had the opportunity to design his own degree track.
“My degree was an interdisciplinary study in preservation and restoration of sound recordings and motion pictures,” he says. “There weren’t any schools that offered a program within the United State, like that back then, but now there are a few programs that do.”
Lance worked in a number of different venues that utilized his talents, including at the corporate archives at Warner Bros. Studios, media storage companies, and the State of Georgia Archives.
Archivist Degree Programs
“Audio-visual archiving is such a young field,” Lance explains, “that there is no straight path. It really depends on how you want to approach the field, and what you want your role to be with the audio-visual material.”
He continues, “You should consider getting a master’s degree in library science or moving image archiving, but beyond that, your education should point you toward the kind of collection you want to preserve. Archivists of medical films may want to consider studying medical history. Archivists of specific historical subjects should be knowledgeable in that topic.”
Experience in the field is also a must, so internships at a place that has collections are highly recommended.
Archivist Job Description
Lance has been the program coordinator of the moving image archive study program at UCLA since 2006.
He also works as an Audio-Visual Archivist for Point 360, a digitalization company in Burbank.
“With my background, the company can now provide digitalization and restoration services to museums, corporations, and other archives,” he says.
Archivist Daily Routine
“The days that I’m at UCLA,” Lance explains, “I’m focused with helping students learn about the field or our graduate program, discuss the classes they are considering, and help put together internships for them.”
“As an Audio-Visual Archivist, I also have to seek out museums and archives so that I can help them develop strategies to preserve their films and videos.”
While many people think that moving image archiving is only for Hollywood films, the importance for visual preservation is apparent all over the country. However, there are a lot of skills required, including understanding media and how it decays, handling the media, and proper storage techniques, and many libraries and institutions don’t know how to properly care for their audio-visual materials.
“A lot of the time, museums and archives don’t have much information about their audio-visual collections,” says Lance. “You are dealing with a record that you cannot necessarily see easily, or listen to, and this can make its preservation a challenging endeavor.”
He adds, “You should be focused on saving the original material, as long as possible, and help make the content available to the public.”
Archivist: Steps to Success
Above all, a successful archivist needs to be persistent and focused, as this can be mentally rigorous work.
“You also need manual dexterity and the ability to think outside of the box,” Lance advises. “Have a strong knowledge of what you’re getting into in the first place – why is this material important to preserve?”
Archivist Job Opportunities
“The job market depends on what you want to focus on and what you want to do with that focus,” Lance explains. “If you want a position at music or film studios, it’s going to be difficult to get your first project. But there are collections all over the country. If you develop the skills of learning how to work with the material, it’s easy to get involved.”
However, just because you have a passion for archiving, don’t think that the jobs will fall from the sky.
“There aren’t many jobs specifically called ‘audio-visual archivist,’” says Lance. “You have to become a detective and find places that have collections in which you are interested. Explain how they could use your help to preserve the material, organize and make the material accessible.”
He continues, “For instance, I have a colleague who works with police departments. They have films, videos, and audio recordings that document crimes, and some of these cases never close.” My colleague showed them the importance of working with an archivist for this very reason.
Archivist Favorite Aspect
As any archivist should, Lance enjoys working with material that is important to history and society.
“I’m glad to help preserve the stories of many different people,” he says.
Archivist’s Future Ambitions
Although Lance loves the track that he is currently on; he would like to see some changes for the archivist career in general.
“There needs to be a higher awareness of the need to preserve material,” he advises. “Academic degrees should also be better suited for the need, including undergrad classes to younger students get involved and a PhD program to help educate the future educators.”
Advice for Prospective Archivists
“First, you need to understand the field and its importance,” Lance explains. “Go to places that have audio-visual collections and network with the people there. See if you can help them in the preservation of their collections.”
He adds, “No matter how strange a topic is, even if you think that you’re the only one interested in that material, there will be others, and there will be a way to help preserve the topic for the future.”