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A Gem of a Conversation: An Interview with Siobhan C. Hagan

By Benjamin Parnin

I recently had the opportunity to interview Siobhan C. Hagan, founder and CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Moving Image Archive (MARMIA) as well as the Project Manager of the Memory Lab Network at the Washington DC Public Library. MARMIA provides preservation, digitization, and access services to the Mid-Atlantic area as a nonprofit organization. The Memory Lab Network is a project at the Washington DC Public Library (DCPL) funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) through a National Leadership Grant to build Memory Lab digital preservation programs in public libraries across the U.S. based on the DCPL Memory Lab model. During my interview with her I learned about her goals and accomplishments during her 12 years working in audiovisual preservation.

Siobhan always had an interest in film and home movies growing up, from watching classic movies on AMC and Turner Classic, to even basing one of her high school AP chemistry projects on the degradation of film. Deciding that she wanted to pursue a career in film, Siobhan attended Loyola Marymount University and graduated with a degree in film production and a minor in history. After graduating she worked at a small company in Burbank, California, doing product placement on TV shows. Wanting to explore a different career path and facing the reality of the Great Recession, Siobhan enrolled in New York University to complete the Tisch Moving Image Archiving and Preservation MA program. Here, learning about audio visual preservation, her interest in home movies and regional moving image materials deepened as she connected school studies with her own family’s home movie collection. She further developed a curiosity for her own regional audiovisual heritage through completing an internship at the University of Baltimore.

After graduating, Siobhan accepted audiovisual archivist positions near and far. Her first position was with the UCLA Library back in 2011. Here, she worked to create an audiovisual preservation program for the UCLA Library, which at the time, had its own collection separate from the UCLA Film and Television Archive. After a couple of years working at UCLA Siobhan’s concern and interests for her own regional audiovisual heritage brought her back to the east coast, “UCLA had [a] regional collection that was great, but I wasn’t scratching that itch of my region and where I’m from. I would return home to visit family and I was always looking around and asking around about the audiovisual [preservation situation] in Maryland and kept asking why no one is doing anything.”

In response to this feeling, Siobhan accepted a new position as the University of Baltimore’s first audiovisual archivist.  At the University of Baltimore, she curated and preserved two news collections, WJZ and WMAR, which she previously handled during her internship. Afterwards, Siobhan worked with the National Aquarium audiovisual collection before being hired as a manager of the 1930s Old Greenbelt Theater. Siobhan was tasked with gaining intellectual control over a collection of 16mm films from the local library which the theater wished to regularly screen to the public. Her many job responsibilities at the theater included being the house manager, grant writer, staff manager, and collection manager/preservationist. She then worked at the Archive of American Art at the Smithsonian doing film inspection and description before starting her current job at the Washington DC Public Library, where she provides audiovisual and digital preservation training for the public and other librarians.

During 2016 Siobhan started MARMIA to address the lack of attention towards the preservation of Mid-Atlantic audiovisual heritage. Through her career, Siobhan would receive emails and calls from schools, institutions, and historical societies asking for help with their audiovisual collections. Concerned parties lacked the expertise and funding for proper audiovisual preservation, and did not know what to do with the materials on hand. After the third similar request, she realized the need for a regional audiovisual archive. The lack of an existing organization to do this work, combined with her interests in regional audiovisual materials, were the two driving factors behind the creation of MARMIA. 

At first MARMIA consisted of completing digitization contract work for institutions in the area, but Siobhan envisioned a different path. She didn’t want MARMIA to become just another vendor or consultant. Siobhan secured a nonprofit status for MARMIA and looked for guidance from other regional audiovisual archives, including California Revealed, the Texas Archive of the Moving Image, Northeast Historic Film, the Chicago Film Archives, and the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound. Transitioning MARMIA to a physical archive became tangible in 2017 when the archive received the WJZ collection from the University of Baltimore. Siobhan recalled that it was a stressful period for MARIMA, as she had to find a place to store the massive collection in addition to fundraising and providing access. In 2021, MARMIA achieved the milestone of hiring its first part-time employee, Joana Stillwell. Siobhan’s future goal for MARMIA is to have multiple full-time staff that are well-paid and professionally fulfilled.

To better understand her passion for encouraging the archiving of the Mid-Atlantic region’s audiovisual materials, I asked Siobhan why she thought these materials were receiving lukewarm treatment. Siobhan stated that the cost, storage concerns, and expertise associated with digitizing audiovisual materials could be intimidating. This is especially true for small organizations which may lack the stated resources and thus not embark on digitization and preservation projects. Moreover, the payoff of finding a gem of an item can be arduous and thus discouraging, “It is amazing stuff, and every once in a while I would find a gem to show them [an organization], but the time involved in finding that gem that might bring the money in or get attention would take a lot of time because we have to digitize it and then you have to search it.” Even with digitization, content (and that possible gem) remains hidden without intensive time devoted to the work, says Siobhan, “To describe it takes time. The content is still mostly hidden unless you have a human watch it”.

Leveraging Siobhan’s experience in several moving image archiving positions throughout her accomplished career, I asked what she thought is one of the greatest challenges facing the audiovisual professional. Siobhan responded with a warning to aspiring professionals that institutions hire moving image archivists with big financial and professional expectations, “I feel I should warn new people in the field. Sometimes we [audiovisual archivists] are expected to have a magic wand and institutions will think that hiring an AV archivist will earn them all this money through licensing of footage or writing grants.” Another challenge she sees is the lack of adequate pay for positions and finds it out of alignment with the valuable skill set audiovisual archivists bring. Siobhan sees potential in new conversations about the value and pay of audiovisual archivists, particularly within the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), “I’m excited about people in AMIA talking about how we can’t be paying people so little.”

My final question for Siobhan was what she wants to accomplish in the next few years. Siobhan is looking forward to continuing her role at professional conferences and other spaces to increase outreach for moving image preservation and the value of audiovisual archivists. Siobhan envisions that her efforts will culminate in new interest in preservation work and our profession, hoping, “To get people to know that, first, this work needs to be done, and that it’s pretty time sensitive. I want to keep bugging people that AV preservation needs to happen.” 

One thought on “A Gem of a Conversation: An Interview with Siobhan C. Hagan”

  1. Ben,

    Siobhan is facsinating and this is a remarkable interview!

    Thank you so much!

    ~Christine

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