Can you tell us a little bit about your background, your current position and how you got into the field of visual resources?
My work in visual resources began at the New-York Historical Society in the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections while I was in graduate school. I had thought I would become a Public Librarian but my interest in visual materials was piqued by that experience. After grad school, I went on to work as a Photo Archivist at the Rockefeller Archives Center for a few years before I accepted my current position with the City of Seattle in the Seattle Municipal Archives (SMA). I was brought on in 2005 to develop and implement a program to begin collecting the growing amounts of digital material being created in the field as well as manage the physical material on-site in our vault. The Digital Image Management program has brought in approximately 250,000 image files since 2006.
What is your favorite part of your work? Can you describe any project(s) you’re currently working on?
Aside from the very interesting visual material that I interact with daily, my favorite part of my work is engaging with the community of users that reach out for reference assistance. Also, the Seattle Municipal Archives is partnered with HistoryLink to produce a book to commemorate the 150th year of Seattle’s incorporation. The book will feature 150 items from the archives that represents each year. Digging through our unprocessed material, searching for our older and lessor known objects has been a lot of fun!
What does a typical work day look like for you?
My day usually begins with reference questions or following up on a request from the day before. We have a robust volunteer program and I oversee several projects so I usually check in with those students/interns and make sure they are on track. Several times a year I provide training to City employees on their roles and responsibilities to public records and how to use the Digital Image Management Program, so a good amount of time is spent developing training modules and presenting at meetings. If I’m not doing any of the above, I can be found processing digital image file submissions or performing quality control on the work our volunteers have done. I also play a lead role in the disaster preparedness program for our archive, so a good deal of time goes into writing and revising our plans.
What were some challenges you came across when you first started out in the field of visual resources?
Probably the biggest challenge, when I was starting out, was how tiny the field was. I’m not an art librarian and I wasn’t interested in working in a corporate archive or a non-profit, so finding work as a photo archivist in the public sector seemed like a tall order. I took internships and part-time jobs in the field and was lucky enough to be on the East coast where heritage institutions are abundant. Once I had some experience, I was clear on where I was headed and stayed on top of the job openings. I also had the benefit of not being tied to a particular part of the country, so when this job opened up I went for it.
What skills do you use for your job that you didn’t learn while in school?
So many. When I was in graduate school there wasn’t an Archives program, per se. I think I had one class that was specifically about archives and archival theory. With the exception of cataloging, indexing, and reference interviews pretty much all of my archival workflow skills were learned on the job.
Looking back, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
The success of the Digital Image Management program here at the Seattle Municipal Archives is my greatest professional accomplishment so far. I was able to write legislation (that passed!) to establish the program and its directives. I was able to gain buy-in from my supervisor who allowed me to run with my vision to build an online portal for employees to submit their photos right from their desktops. I now take in roughly 10,000 digital image files per year and after processing them make them available to the global public on our digital platform. I don’t think there is another program like this in the country (at least not that I’m aware of) so I hope it will one day serve as a model program for other municipalities.
What is one thing in the visual resources field that you think is lacking or missing?
There aren’t a lot of government records Photo Archivist’s out there so I’m excited to be part of VRA now as I wasn’t able to find my niche in other, larger associations. SMA has a robust program with 5 archivists, so I’m not a “lone arranger” but I am the only one doing my work. That can be challenging at times but I’m fortunate to work with a great team. As a relatively new member of VRA, I’m hopeful that I will cross paths with other archivists who may have some parallels with the work that I do and that with my experience I will be able to help younger photo archivists develop their programs.
What is something that most excites you about the field of visual resources?
I get excited about this field when I see all of the ways in which our materials are used on social media sites and in documentaries. I’m also excited about newer areas like geospatial mapping or hyper-spectral photography. The ways in which humans document their surroundings and experiences is ever-changing, so I look forward to seeing how those changes will be reflected in the ways those records are kept and preserved.
Where else do you seek professional development opportunities other than VRA?
I’ve received training in the past year from the Image Permanence Institute and the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (FAIC).
What other professional organizations are you a part of?
Currently, my involvement professionally has been largely regarding disaster planning and recovery. Last year I participated in Heritage Responders training through the FAIC. This training equipped participants with the skills to respond to emergency situations in cultural centers, museums, libraries, special collections, archives, and historic sites. I am currently involved with a local group called Seattle Heritage Emergency Response Network, which is a mutual aid network comprised of 20 heritage institutions in the Seattle area.
Do you have any words of advice or wisdom for emerging professionals and students in this field?
Most of us work within some kind of large bureaucracy whether it’s a university or as in my case, a large municipality. In those environments, visual resources programs are often not very high profile (or lack funding). My advice is, try to remember that you are serving the greater good. The work that we as records keepers do is good work and we work all over the world in service to humanity. There are only a handful of professions that can make that claim.
What are some of your favorite things outside of work? What are some of your hobbies?
I’m a creative and active person. Some of my favorite things are crocheting, cooking, and cycling. I love being active with my daughter, husband, and our two dogs. We go for long urban hikes, go camping in the summer, and are generally happy to be taking in the gorgeous surroundings of the Pacific Northwest.
Reach out to Julie at 📧 firstname.lastname@example.org or 👋 meet her at VRA 2019 in Los Angeles!
Feeling a bit overwhelmed or suffering from imposter syndrome in the Visual Resources field? Sign up to be a mentee in the VRA’s Year-round Mentorship Program! Learn more: http://vraweb.org/opportunities/mentorship/ or connect with other VREPS on Slack!