By Olivia Wong, Master’s student in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management
Hello from New York City! I am currently completing a six-month internship at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, as a residency requirement for my Master’s degree at Ryerson. This hands-on experience and international training on how to archive and manage a circulating audio-visual collection has been extremely valuable to support my career as a professional film archivist. This international placement required a lot of planning, but with the support of Ryerson International and the RIWEF Award, I felt confident that I could undertake this exceptional internship.
The New York Public Library (NYPL) is the United States’ largest public library system. It was founded in 1895, and has 88 neighborhood branches and four research centers. The NYPL provides free and open access to materials such as books, films, videos, educational resources and much more. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is one of the NYPL’s research centers, and the archive focuses on preserving materials related to dance, music and motion picture. Located in the Upper West-Side’s Lincoln Plaza, the library is surrounded by arts institutions such as The Met Opera, the New York City Ballet, Juilliard School, the Film Society of Lincoln Center as well as several museums.
My main responsibilities at the NYPL include processing and cataloging 16mm film prints to add to their collection in order to make them accessible to library users. I love working with a circulating audio-visual collection because anyone with a library card can borrow 16mm films to either watch on-site or to take home if they have their own projector. The films are also shown in theaters across New York and occasionally are requested for festivals internationally. For instance, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s cinematheque recently screened a selection of the NYPL’s rare archival films for the series “One Way or Another: Black Women Cinema, 1970-1991”.
The research and work I am completing at the NYPL is extremely beneficial to my academic and professional development. What drew me to the library initially was the amount of films they have from independent filmmakers, often from communities underrepresented in archival holdings. Having access to the NYPL’s collection has allowed me to expand my thesis on the Young Filmmaker’s Foundation, an organization that gave youth film cameras as part of the participatory media movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Watching these works is a wonderful way to view the city through the lens of youth capturing their neighborhood on their own terms, and I am grateful to be able to visit the same locations where these films were shot several decades later.
[A “cool” place to work – The on-site cool storage vault]
In addition to the work and thesis research I am conducting at the library, I am taking advantage of this international placement to participate in local cultural events and visit New York’s well-known museums. I have explored a lot of the larger cultural institutions, such as the Natural History Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art. That being said, there are just as many small and community-oriented museums in the city, for instance I visited the Museum of Food and Drink which held an exhibition on the history of Chinese American cuisine.
[Everyone in New York commutes by using the Subway system]
Overall, this placement has been a fantastic professional experience and academic cultural exchange. I would highly recommend completing an international placement for anyone interested in working in cultural heritage institutions or conducting academic research on a specialized archival collection. New York is not for everyone, it is a fast-paced and busy city, but the amounts of historical and culturally significant events constantly happening make it worth it!
[Taking a break to visit New York City’s tourist attractions]