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Career Spotlight: What I do as Senior Manager of the TIFF Film Reference Library

Career Spotlight: What I do as Senior Manager of the TIFF Film Reference Library

May 16, 2019

Michelle Lovegrove Thomson
Senior Manager, TIFF Film Reference Library

First of all, tell us a bit about your current work and how long you’ve been at it.

I am the head of the TIFF Film Reference Library, a free resource for filmmakers and everyone who loves film! The Library is committed to preserving Canadian cinema heritage, promoting scholarship on Canadian cinema, and providing educational resources via our reference and special collections.

I have worked at TIFF since 2014, and oversee a small team of 4 full-time staff and two part-time library clerks, and work with a delightful growing roster of co-op students, research residents, and volunteers. My role at the library is dedicated to connecting patrons with our unique collections by implementing innovative services, policies, and outreach, and to ensuring the maintenance and preservation of the materials held in our care. Specifically I manage our library, archives, and film archive collections, and reference services, to ensure the team is on track in meeting our goals.

The Library is an integral part of TIFF’s Learning team, and we collaborate closely with our colleagues across the org in offering training and educational opportunities that draw on library resources and expertise. In my five years at the library I have had the opportunity to lead several initiatives, including our Reel Heritage Symposium for emerging information professionals “Connecting Communities + Culture: The Vital Role of Libraries, Archives, and Museums in the Arts”; the launch of our online catalogue; annual screenings and talks for UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, and most recently we collaborated with community partner Black Youth Pathway 2 Industry to provide training sessions on archiving audiovisual materials, and working with archival footage in a film production context.

I am particularly excited about a brand new initiative we are rolling out this month: Archival Jolt! This two week experiment provides an opportunity for members of the public to see artifacts up-close, and chat with the archives team about our collection and the archival profession.

What drove you to choose your career path and how did you go about getting your job? What kind of education and experience did you need?

I completed a BFA in Film Production at York University, an MA in English at University of Alberta, and an Master of Information from the UofT iSchool. I completed coursework on the care and handling of audiovisual materials, as well as a balance of both library and archives courses.

Although I initially aimed to work in an Academic library, by following my interest in filmmaking and media archiving I have been able to etch out a burgeoning career that combines both of my passions: libraries and filmmaking. Having a strong background in filmmaking with an interest in Canadian cinema has been essential to my current role.

I have worked as a Media Archivist & Producer for Greenpeace, Digital Librarian for Cineplex, and also created a grant-funded position at a local art gallery archiving audio-visual materials.

What kinds of things do you do beyond what most people see? What do you actually spend the majority of your time doing?

The majority of my work week is spent in meetings, in decision-making and problem solving, and planning projects to maintain and preserve our collections.

I often feel like the Captain of a ship, and I work closely with the team to keep us on our journey. I put a lot of energy into improving the efficiency and services of the library, and finding ways to ensure that everyone on board knows how they and their efforts fit into the larger picture. My goal is for everyone on the team to know they are contributing something exceptional to an already unique collection. Often planning and brainstorming can be a hidden process, but I think the results are in the day-to-day achievements of the team. We really accomplish a tremendous amount!

What misconceptions do people often have about your job?

I think it would be the same as most librarians or library managers: people assume I read books and watch movies all day. That *does* sounds like a dream job! (In fact, we do have the perk of attending film screenings during the Festival in September). In addition, the majority of people who are discovering the Film Reference Library believe it is an archive of films that have shown at the festival. While we do maintain TIFF’s corporate archive, including coverage of the festival (programme guides, film schedules, photographs, screeners, and posters, etc) we offer an abundance of library materials and archival artifacts beyond TIFF-related items.

What are your average work hours? Typical 9-5 thing or not?

Pretty typical 9-5 work week, with some flexibility for running special events and educational activities.

What personal tips and shortcuts made your job easier?

I was very fortunate to attend NELI within the first year of starting my position at TIFF. One of my fundamental learnings is that the key to departmental success–and the happiness and fulfillment of any library team–is everyone must understand their role and their responsibilities. It is incumbent on me as a manager to have a clear plan, and to articulate and communicate this info to the team. I have found that almost all stress within a team derives from a lack of clarity on who owns what, and how specific workflows are to be accomplished. Making it a priority to consistently and openly communicate with the library team about roles, responsibilities, and expectations, has helped us all hone our positions and portfolios.

What’s the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?

The most difficult/stressful part of my job is feeling that there is a lack of time, staff, and resources to complete our mountains of work in collections management and cataloguing. As with so many cultural and heritage institutions, we have a wealth of materials as well as ideas about improving outreach, but a small staff and budget. My current strategy is to implement both short-term and long-term projects and be highly collaborative with the team in project-tracking and problem-solving. Even if a project takes five years, at least we know we are working towards a goal, everyone has a chance to feed in, and we can measure our successes year over year.

What’s the most enjoyable part of the job?

So many things! I love providing access to the collection through events and outreach, class tours, and reference services. There is nothing more fulfilling than helping a patron uncover a special artifact or article that helps them get to their research discovery!

Is there a way to “move up” in your field?

I believe that there would be a way to move up in terms of obtaining a higher level of responsibility and creative leadership both within my organization, and also with other GLAMs.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?

Follow your passions! If you love health information, or metadata schemas, or rare books, or art history, go for it! Take an array of courses while in library school to gain a broad knowledge base, but don’t stray too far from what you truly enjoy and could see yourself doing on a daily basis.

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