Our What’s In My Pocket series offers an inside look at the interesting people who use Pocket to elevate their work and life. Know someone who fits the mold? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next up, we talk to New York-based film archivist and classic movie buff Ashley Swinnerton.
Name: Ashley Swinnerton
Bio: I am a New York City-based film archivist who misses Florida beaches and Publix subs. I sometimes think I should have been born in 1907.
Location: Queens, N.Y.
Little-Known Fact: When I was 19, my best friend and I gave a fan package of flowers, letters, and a T-shirt to Liza Minnelli as she was leaving a concert venue. We also included our contact information, and the next day Liza’s assistant called to invite us backstage after the next show!
Started Using Pocket: February 1, 2014
Can you tell us about your background and work?
I have my Master’s degree in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation from New York University. I work as the Collection Specialist in the Film Study Center at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), in New York City.
Details, please! What is the Film Study Center like?
MoMA’s film archive is one of the top five in the United States, with more than 30,000 titles in the collection. Very often there are multiple reels for each title, and sometimes multiple copies of the same film, so we have a total of more than 100,000 reels in all. The Department of Film has robust preservation and research programs, and our educational mandate means that we’re available to anyone who needs to use film for academic purposes. So we have a wide range of people coming through the door: scholars, artists, filmmakers, professors, and students writing honors theses on movies. My job, in public access, is to help make MoMA’s resources more easily available.
Separately, our curators and exhibitions staff are responsible for programming in our on-site theaters. We show films every day of the week (and I sometimes help the curators find titles in the collection). A lot of people don’t realize it, but the movies are free: if you have a ticket to the Museum, you have a ticket to the movies!
We’re a member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), a global organization for institutions and centers like MoMA which preserve the physical artifacts of film and also show films to the public.
How did you realize you wanted to focus on film archiving and preservation?
I’ve always loved old movies. In high school, well before I knew what “cataloguing” was, I made a giant color-coded spreadsheet to catalogue all my VHS tapes.
I remember reading about the painstaking process of preserving the original reels from the 1954 Judy Garland film, A Star is Born, and realizing: “This is a thing that people can do! This is an actual job!” From then on I knew I wanted to work in film preservation.
To prepare, I started out as a Chemistry major in college, with the intention of marrying chemistry and film studies. Eventually I majored in Cinema and Media Studies, which allowed me to create a custom course of study with elements from anthropology, sociology––even Japanese studies––in addition to film history and analysis.
I think film is a fascinating medium. Especially now, with emerging digital technologies, there are no firm standards for digital video. Filmmakers are always contacting us to ask what formats they should save their work in. It’s not always clear which different kinds of video will be preserved into the future, and how that will happen.
In addition to being a film fan, what kinds of things do you like to read? Are your reads all modern, too?
Funnily, no! I’m a huge fan of William Shakespeare’s works–in fact, I was a member of the on-campus Shakespeare Society in college. I love the classics, too. The last work of fiction I read was a Charlotte Brontë novel, Villette. Of course I do also read recent stuff; I just finished The Gift of Fear, and my current beach reading is Orange is The New Black, the book on which the TV series is based.
How does Pocket fit into your reading life?
I use Pocket daily, on my 45-minute commute from Queens to Manhattan. It’s so useful when I’m on the subway and can’t be actively browsing webpages.
Sometimes I also read on Pocket at home before bed, for about 30 minutes or so. During the day, I read on my phone, because I always have it with me; I only use my tablet when I’m at home.
I find the articles that I save mostly through Facebook and random web browsing. Often, I’ll click a link on a friend’s feed, then go on a browsing spiral and save three related articles from there! My Pocket is full of things that others are finding interesting that I also find intriguing.
I have a tendency to open many different browser tabs, which can be really overwhelming! At one stage I used to copy and paste links into a single long email draft. That didn’t work so well, either. The good thing about Pocket is that, at work, at the end of the day, you can quickly stash all your open tabs in Pocket using the browser add-on. It’s much less daunting to have 20 things saved in your Pocket than 20 things open in individual browser tabs!
What kinds of content have you been saving to Pocket lately?
Some of my favorite sites include The Toast, Slate, Jezebel, Cracked, Salon, and Buzzfeed. I’m quite active on a few Facebook forums, so I frequently save items that fellow members post on those pages.
I occasionally use Pocket to watch videos. They’re short clips, though, not long films, and mostly embedded videos within articles rather than standalone videos.
Pocket’s also super helpful when comparison shopping. A funny story: at one point, my dog, Judy, was messing up my floors, so I used Pocket to save links to items I was considering (from trays to floor cleaners) as possible solutions for my poor incontinent pup! I’ve also saved items I’d need for a juicing / smoothie regimen, like different herbs, bulk quantities of chia seeds, that sort of thing. In these situations Pocket helps make things more manageable, especially on my tablet, where the larger thumbnails allow me to visualize several things on the screen at the same time.
Lots of different kinds of things there! Can you walk us through your flow?
For saving, I really enjoy using the browser add-on, which makes saving very simple!
I’d also say my Pocket clearly reveals my collector/archivist sensibilities: it’s like an organized, curated library.
I Archive items that I don’t need right now but want to come back to, recommend to someone, or reference again in the future, like things that I’ve read for work, or the Library of Congress blogs or other industry blogs. I also use the Delete function a lot–like for pieces from Buzzfeed, which are interesting but only temporarily so!–to keep my list from getting overwhelming.
Closing Note: On Tags
I really like the Tags feature, because it helps to group related articles. It was cumbersome at first to add new tags, but I really like it now. Here are some of my most commonly used tags:
videos: This helps with prioritization, so I know to read those articles while above ground and connected to the Internet
comments: When I want to reopen the article in a browser to follow the unfolding flamewars!
apt: I use this tag both when I am actively apartment hunting (to organize listings before they go into a master spreadsheet) and also for cute Pinterest-type things to do around the house.
Do you have a Pocket story? Whether you use Pocket to inspire your work, get organized, plan your next adventure, or read on your commute, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line at email@example.com, and you could be featured in the next installment of What’s In My Pocket.