Reflections on Participating in TIFF’s Connecting Communities + Cultures Symposium
March 12, 2018
On November 20-21 I had the incredible opportunity to participate in Connecting Communities + Cultures: The Vital Role of Libraries, Archives, and Museums in the Arts, an initiative of the TIFF Reel Heritage programme. The symposium brought together 23 participants from across the country with the aim to “educate about the importance of the preservation of the film medium”. Though the Reel Heritage programme is in its 4th year, this year was the first time (and very hopefully not the last) that it took the form of a symposium for students and young professionals. As someone who was drawn to completing my MLIS (Dalhousie 2015) because of an interest in media librarianship and film archiving, participating in the TIFF Reel Heritage initiative was very exciting.
I first heard about the symposium through the ARCAN-L listserv and was thrilled when I realized that it welcomed applications from students AND new professionals. As a new professional with a few contract positions under my belt, I have found it can be difficult to find professional development opportunities like conferences or symposiums. New professionals are unlikely to get funding to attend conferences or are not eligible to be included in professional development opportunities and paying for all these on my own dime isn’t an option. I enjoyed putting the application together because it gave me the opportunity to think critically about some of the larger questions facing the profession that I grappled with in an academic environment but that can sometimes get lost in the day to day tasks of work.
We were hosted in the TIFF Bell Lightbox by the incredible Higher Learning team and the TIFF Library and Archive. The first day of the symposium schedule included a great mix of ice-breakers, tours, speakers and screening. At our first session we were encouraged to use an object that was personally important to us as we introduced ourselves to the group. The symposium keynote was given by Ry Moran, Director of the Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, who shared with us the importance of acknowledging what institutions represent and the responsibility not just to the records but to the people the records serve. In the afternoon we made site visits to the TIFF Lightbox screening rooms and reference library, as well as off-site visits to the Ryerson Image Center or the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Edward P Taylor Library and Archives. These visits offered us the opportunity to learn about some of the challenges such as digitization, physical locations, and funding constraints facing these organizations, as well as the innovative solutions being created. The evening ended with a presentation of the incredible film Dawson City: Frozen in time by Bill Morrison, which chronicles the discovery and preservation of 500 nitrate silent films that were found buried in Dawson City, Yukon. By using footage from these reels and photographs and other archival material Morrison tells the story not just of these reels but also the history of the Yukon. The Q and A with Morrison and Paul Gordon, Senior Film Conservator for Library and Archives Canada, that followed the screening offered us a fascinating look at the process of digitization and preservation and what can be created and explored through archival material.
The second day focused on building leadership skills, and began with a workshop that encouraged us to think about our own motivations and how our priorities can have a positive impact on how we interact with others. We used a card sorting exercise to consider how our priorities and motivations influence our attitudes and had the opportunity to discuss our findings with each other. As someone who considers themselves fairly in tune with my motivations it was interesting to learn how sometime my sense of self—though great for listening to new ideas and perspectives—can keep me from being inventive in my own approaches.
The panel discussion—Providing Access to Cultural Heritage: Public Services, Digital Collections—which followed showed us how different challenges are being met by leaders in the LAM professions. The panel brought together Merri Fergusson, Acting Manager; Museums of Mississauga; Ananya Ohri, Executive Director; Regent Park Film Festival and Heather Mathis, Manager, Learning, Innovation and Resource Planning; Toronto Public Library. Each panelist spoke about how their organizations identified needs in their communities and explored how those needs could be met. It was an interesting variety of budgets, mandates, and approaches which really got me thinking about how important it is for organizations to be open and curious about hearing and understanding community needs rather than imposing programming or ways of interpreting collections. Memory institutions are faced with challenge to acknowledge and be critical about how the artifacts, documents, or information in their holdings may have been used in the past and what they represent in the present and the role they can play communities by supporting and engaging minority, marginalized and disenfranchised voices. I really appreciated hearing about the Regent Park Film Festival and their project, Home Made Visible, which aims to facilitate the sharing of Indigenous and Minority Voices through preserving personal histories by digitizing home movies. This includes minority voices not just in contemporary interpretation of what heritage represents but also giving opportunity to have representation of marginalized voices through their own records.
Following the panel we had a chance to bring together our individual experiences and skill sets and the things we learned during the last two days to a Collective Skills Building exercise. There were 2 scenarios – one where we were meant to tackle the issue of a donation of audio visual records to a small library and the other were we were to assess which programs to support in a rural public library. The scenarios encouraged us to think of the various factors influencing decisions in memory institutions—such as mandate and budget—and innovative ways of serving the communities they are a part of. It was so interesting to hear from each other and build on each others knowledge and experiences. I learned about some new library service assessment techniques and enjoyed the discussion about the complexity of wanting to support activities but knowing that they aren’t the right fit for the institution or organization.
During the debrief (which involved an exercise of throwing yarn to each other and created a cheesy but poignant visual representation of how we are now all connected to each other) and the hangout and reception that followed I was so struck by how communities are formed. Geography, common interest/concerns, professions, skills – are all potential attributes around which communities develop. What I’m curious about now is intention: how can community members challenge themselves to welcome new people and ideas in order to fill the needs of their community. And importantly, how do we in the memory institution field go about learning from the community? What are the actual steps involved?
I was drawn to the profession of library and archives because of my love of the moving image and its power to convey information, ideas, and emotions. Film is often considered a passive medium, one where you sit back and watch. But it can engage and challenge and welcome the viewer to consider not only their own feelings and interpretation but also those of others. To me, this space to share and space to listen is what community is about.
Many thanks to:
Asiah, Jessica, Michelle, Keith, Theresa and the rest of the team in the Education division; and the rest of the Library and Archives team; as well as the presenters, speakers, tour leaders, and the funders who made this opportunity possible.
A graduate of the School of Information Management at Dalhousie University, Andrea has always been interested in how people engage with information, regardless of medium, and is excited to work in a field where she gets to explore her curiosity and learn from others everyday.