An interview with Kristin Lee, digitization and metadata assistant

Kristin Lee, Rare Books and Manuscripts digitization and metadata assistant, has been digitizing and creating metadata for the Will H. Hays Collection since October 2018. This project is funded by a National Historical Publications and Records Commission, Access to Historical Records, Archival Projects grant.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to work on this project.
My name is Kristin and I’m originally from Turlock, California, but I’ve been living here with my cat Josephine for about four years. I moved to Indianapolis to pursue a master’s degree in Public History at IUPUI. While in grad school, I had the opportunity to work with the Rare Books and Manuscript Division at the Indiana State Library as an intern and I was excited to work at ISL on another project. I was also interested in this project because the Will Hays Collection is one of the Library’s most-viewed collections and I knew that digitization would help broaden its use and accessibility for researchers outside our immediate community.

What have you learned about Hays or the film industry that you didn’t know?
One of the things that surprised me was how negatively people reacted to Hays’s move to the film industry and the film industry as a whole. Particularly during his last weeks as Postmaster General. Hays received so many letters from people who begged him to stay at his post and who saw movies as corrupt and immoral or just a passing fad. A few years later when “talkies” started getting produced, people again reacted with suspicion. I remember one critic writing that talking pictures would be the downfall of the film industry because movie actors, while excellent pantomimes, had terrible voices! It was really interesting to learn that people had such a negative outlook for the film industry when it’s a form of entertainment that is so normal to me.

What’s your favorite item you’ve discovered within the collection?
My favorite item from the collection is an invitation to the premiere of the film “Don Juan” on Aug. 5, 1926. “Don Juan” was the first feature film to use the Vitaphone sound system to create a moving picture with synchronized sound. The film included a musical soundtrack and sound effects, but no spoken dialogue; the first actual “talkie,” “The Jazz Singer,” would premiere in 1927. “Don Juan” also included several shorts before the film that showed off Vitaphone sound. One of these shorts was of Hays introducing the Vitaphone and talking about the future of sound in films; a copy of this short is available to watch on YouTube – it’s fun being able to hear Will Hays and watch him speak. He liked using a lot of hand gestures!

Will H. Hays’ invitation to “Don Juan,” 1926

How has working on this project shaped your views of providing access to and preserving collections?
Working on the Will Hays project has only reinforced my views on the importance of making digital versions of historical sources. Digitization increases the availability of collections to researchers who are not able to visit the Indiana State Library in person. As more people have access to this collection, we will continue to learn new information about Will Hays and the early film industry. Also, because some of the correspondence has become brittle and crumbly with age, digitization will help us preserve these items for researchers for years to come. Lastly, I have also come to really appreciate the work of all the people who digitized the records that I used as a student in college and grad school for my research… I know how much work goes into it now!

This blog post was written by Bethany Fiechter, Rare Books and Manuscripts supervisor, and Kristin Lee, Rare Books and Manuscripts digitization and metadata assistant, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

An interview with Lydia Lutz, digitization and metadata assistant

Lydia Lutz, Rare Books and Manuscripts digitization and metadata assistant, has been digitizing and creating metadata for the Will H. Hays Collection since October of 2018. This project is funded by a National Historical Publications and Records Commission, Access to Historical Records: Archival Projects grant.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to work on this project.
I earned my Master of Library Science from Indiana University in 2017. Before realizing my passion for digitization and preservation of various artifacts, I always enjoyed watching shows on the History Channel and National Geographic about ancient papers and pieces being restored and shared with the public. Prior to coming here, I prepped materials for the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative and digitized a collection for the Glenn Black Laboratory of Archaeology at Indiana University. I have worked with analog audio-visual and paper-based media. I was mostly drawn to this project because of the Hays Code. It’s a term I’d heard in passing and its definition was somewhat familiar to me. I wanted to learn more about the man behind Hollywood’s moral code and about the code’s influence on the industry. Having just come from the world of antique audio formats and watching their transformation into their modern form, I was curious about the world of film. I also knew that by digitizing the Hays Collection I would be a part of someone’s introduction or further exploration into Hays and his era. It is nice to know that your work makes difference and can be useful to others.

What have you learned about Hays or the film industry that you didn’t know?
I didn’t realize how complex the shift from silent films to films with sound – even just background music – was. I saw a documentary a few years ago that addressed the shift from actors’ and actresses’ viewpoints. From their positions, some didn’t like their voices or their voices didn’t fit the characters they portrayed. Other times their production companies would have them in a contract forbidding them from using their voices in films. The documentary did not discuss society’s viewpoint on the shift though. Judging by the correspondences and the news articles in this collection, one of the most problematic consequences of this shift was moviegoers and companies fearing the watching experience would be ruined by sound and that audio should be left to the theater. I can’t fathom living in an era where sound films would be considered a poor distraction. Seeing the transition play out through the collection was certainly fascinating.

As for Hays, I have learned that he could be very sassy in his letters to friends, which is lovely because it makes him seem less like a myth and more like a human being.

What’s your favorite item you’ve discovered within the collection?
My favorite item was a letter written on Christmas Eve 1931 to Mr. Hays regarding a highway that was going to essentially remove Santa Claus, Ind. from the map. The author was pleading that Santa Claus remain a town name because future generations of children would miss out on the wonder of passing through Santa Claus’s home. It was an eye-opening piece because I grew up going to Holiday World to see Santa and my parents went to Santa Claus Land for the same reason. Without the town these parks may never have been conceived. Perhaps this letter played a role in maintaining the magic of Santa Claus for past, present and future children and dare I say, adults.

My favorite film-related item would be production information about Lon Chaney’s silent film, “The Phantom of the Opera” simply because I love that movie.

How has working on this project shaped your views of providing access to and preserving collections?
My views on accessibility and preservation only continue to be strengthened through projects such as this. It is important for the public to have the opportunity to see how society has been shaped in order to boost their understanding of how we got to where we are. It seems cliché, but knowing the timeline of our history can change perspectives on our present. It is also fun to learn for the sake of learning. On a more serious note, though, without preservation historical cultural practices could go unnoticed by future generations and movements, such as moral codes in cinema,  could be erased from living memory.

This project has also made me realize how much work needs to be done with text-to-speech software, however. Currently, the technology has the accuracy of public TV subtitles: sometimes whole sentences are omitted and words are often unrecognizable. The technology is great and certainly useful but it has a long way to go. I hope in the near future more intelligent technology can be created in order to share even more of this and other collections.

This blog post was written by Bethany Fiechter, Rare Books and Manuscripts supervisor, and Lydia Lutz, Rare Books and Manuscripts digitization and metadata assistant, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

Education, not censorship: The Indiana Indorsers of Photoplays

Organized by Mrs. Gertrude Ross of Indianapolis in 1915, the Indiana Indorsers of Photoplays, a volunteer organization, had one mission – promote, support and advertise motion pictures of good quality, especially for children.Beginning with only twenty members, by 1917 the Indorsers grew and incorporated in 1922, influencing other the creations of similar groups across the state and the nation. Working together, the members would attend motion pictures, then meet and vote as a group rather than as individuals to determine which ones they would endorse or not.

The Indorsers invited speakers to their meetings and to general groups to educate people of how to judge motion pictures for themselves and published pamphlets listing recommended movies.

They published The Bulletin News, a monthly bulletin with information about the motion picture industry, reviews of films and listings of local theatres. It was sent to homes, libraries, colleges, universities and other interested organizations.

Eventually, the Indorsers worked with Will Hays, the first chairman of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America.

In her 1945, biography, “Coming Down the Highway: Recollections of Mrs. David Ross,” she recalled their work as educational rather than censorship. “…We were the first to start a constructive program of motion picture appreciation, which has been taken up all over the country. We were not reformers, but educators.” Ross would serve as the group’s president for 19 years until her death.

The Indorsers lasted until the 1970s with their motto being “We indorse the best and forget the rest.”

To learn more about the Indiana Indorsers of Photoplays, you can find materials published by them in our digital collections. Annual reports, issues of The Bulletin News, and Ross’ autobiography are all available here.

In our Rare Books and Manuscripts collection, we have the Will Hays Collection, which houses materials from his time as president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). The collection includes meeting minutes, statements about censorship, annual reports and speeches regarding the motion picture industry. The collection also includes information about the motion picture industry during World War, the use of motion pictures for educational purposes and much more. You can find our collection finding aid here.

This post was written by Chris Marshall, digital collections coordinator for the Indiana Division at the Indiana State Library.