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A Day in the Life: Pam Wintle, Digital Library Coordinator and Archivist

2017-03-23
Pam Wintle

A Day in the Life is a series featuring individuals working in the library and information field presented by the Indiana University Department of Information and Library Science. Current students and alumni will find profiles of professionals involved in all aspects of librarianship. If you are an alumni and would like to be featured in A Day in the Life, please email ilsmain@indiana.edu or Katie Martin at martkael@indiana.edu.

“It feels like working in a treasure trove!”

Educational Background: BA in Theater; graduate work in American Studies

Previous Experience: Secretary at the American Film Institute

Pam Wintle serves as the senior film archivist at the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Film Collection. She earned a B.A. in theater and took graduate-level courses while working at the Smithsonian. As there were no film archiving programs when Pam graduated from college, she had to create an entry for herself. She took a job as a secretary at the American Film Institute in Washington, D.C. and learned necessary film archiving skills through apprenticeship training. David Shepard, a giant in the field of film preservation, served as a great mentor to a number of people, including Pam. Shepard arranged for her to serve as a teaching assistant to John Marshall, a renowned ethnographic filmmaker.

In 1976, Pam was hired to work in a new anthropology film production center and archives, the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Film Center. The Center created, produced, and collected film, and Pam served as the film archivist and editor. Eventually, the National Anthropological Film Center became the Human Studies Film Archives, no longer creating film, but instead, collecting others’ work. Regarding her career path, Pam says, “serendipity had a lot to do with it” and that she was “just lucky.” Today, the NAFC is located at the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland and its collections are stored in environmentally controlled storage areas.

As the senior film archivist at the HSFA, Pam does everything. She processes new collections, determines preservation priorities, writes operational policies, works with researchers, and promotes and maintains the film collections. With so many responsibilities, Pam says, “never, never, never, have I been bored.” She enjoys the collaborative nature of the work and often collaborates on projects with archivists from the National Anthropological Archives. In Pam’s work, it’s always a surprise to find out what is actually on the film and what you can learn from it. The hardest part is accepting that with a collection of 8 million feet of film some projects cannot feasibly be completed. However, she says the field is becoming more dynamic with the rise of digitization as both a preservation and access strategy and this is both terrifying and exciting.

Pam enjoys working with researchers and donors. Her favorite moments are when someone connects with a film or when someone finds a hidden jewel. She says it is powerful for people to watch their culture’s past. In one instance, a teacher who worked with the Wauja, a Brazilian cultural group, came to the NAFC and could still recognize people from a film taken 40 years previously. When working with donors, Pam sees how her work validates people’s lives even when it might be hard for them to let go of their materials.

One of Pam’s favorite experiences in the HSFA was working with a contract archivist, Karma Foley, to process the John Marshall Ju/'hoan Bushman Film and Video Collection, 1950-2000. The films provide a 50-year record of relationships with individuals living in the Kalahari Desert in Namibia. The collection contains over 700,000 feet (332 hours) of film and 435 hours of video, and documents how Bushman have been influenced by contemporary life. The films also document an endangered language. In 2010, the collection was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Registry.

On top of Pam’s work for the HSFA, she is a member of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) and a founding board member for Northeast Historic Film. She is also involved in the Smithsonian’s AV archivists group (AVAIL) that is attempting to survey all AV materials across the Smithsonian. The initiative is modeled after Indiana University’s own AV survey.

Pam’s advice for current students: A successful librarian or archivist is someone who has a desire to work with people and make things accessible by going beyond what is asked of them. Even when processing it is best to keep the user in mind. You can make of this work what you want. It can just be a job or it can be a calling.

Media Contact

Ken Bikoff
Communications Specialist
Phone: (812) 856-6908
kbikoff@indiana.edu