by Robert Johnson
My internship at the WGBH Media Library and Archives came about when I was unable to take a course on moving image collections so someone suggested I set up an independent study with the WGBH. After a few e-mails and a preliminary meeting in May, starting in early September I began taking the T and a bus to WGBH twice a week.
Growing up in Connecticut, I am sure I occasionally watched WGBH or at least saw programs it produced, like The New Yankee Workshop. But I have never been a big follower of public television. These days I watch History Detectives (produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting) and Hometime (produced in part by WHYY, Wilmington/Philadelphia) on whichever PBS station is running them. Not that it really mattered. The opportunity to intern at a television station’s archive was thrilling.
Having never worked with moving images before perhaps the biggest challenge was shifting from a mindset of finding aids (documents best used to describe collections of manuscripts) to one of databases. WGBH does not use finding aids. They use databases. They have one very big one and a number of smaller, more specific ones for individual projects/collections. The big one is actually four separate databases that often overlap. Or at least that is the way I understand it. It has been difficult at times trying to understand how anyone can keep track of anything when information is spread across four interrelated databases but somehow everyone here manages just fine.
I was given a tour of the “Vault” when I first started. It is a secure, climate-controlled room with movable shelves that holds a portion of WGBH’s films, videotapes and related documents. There is also an off-site storage area that I have been told is an interesting place to visit. Much of what goes on here is a bit of a mystery to me, particularly the media library portion of the Media Library and Archives. I have been able to sit in on quite a few meetings and even participated in a few, albeit briefly and probably not all that helpfully. I get to work in my very own cubicle, which is a first for me, and I have a nice WGBH security card that opens a good number of doors. I hope I get to keep it when I finish.