Scope and Depth of Asian Movies Collection

A snippet of the introduction page of Askwith Media Library's online exhibition.

When I applied to the Askwith International Media Awareness project, I saw it as an opportunity to use what I had learned at school and to build up a skill set I needed: my academic interests were in cultural and cinema studies, and I had many project ideas I wanted to implement. At the same time, I felt in my film studies curriculum, I did not get enough exposure to curation type work, which I always wanted to experiment with. My internship in the Askwith project turned out to be the highlight of my summertime amid all kinds of craziness. I experienced the whole process of bringing an original idea forward. The independent research and project management skills I cultivated in this professional experience will not only be transferable to my upcoming senior thesis project but also to my future career that is inseparable from films.

My final products consist of an online exhibit that showcases two eminent Asian directors’ work and an Asian movie recommendation quiz that feeds in participants’ preferences and returns a personalized movie selection.

Initial Stage

Following the safety guidelines for COVID-19, this year’s internship went fully remote, which meant I could not physically tour our visual material collections. At first, it was both a frustration and a challenge not to have the full library experience, but MLS program leader Gabriel Duque, my mentors-- Chloe Herl, Laurie Shaw Smith, Sheila McFolley--  and other library staff acknowledged the difficulties and were extremely supportive. Working remotely was a new learning experience for everybody, so I changed my mindset and accepted it as a new lifestyle. In June, I received useful library training, such as survey basics and data search. I drew a basic East Asian filmmakers list and searched their works stored in the U-M Library catalog to familiarize myself with our collections. By searching my film list on Aleph (library software), I got a general impression of the circulation of our DVDs and noticed good films that deserved more attention. Based on my exploration and the project objective to increase community engagement, I wrote a work plan and decided to create an online exhibition, which required awareness of accessibility and usability, good time management, and extensive writing.

Decision-making

My mentors gave me a lot of autonomy and provided support along the way. With such freedom, I was able to make lots of decisions on my own, ranging from content choice to how I would divide the project into daily tasks. At the time, outside work, I observed immense social and political tensions online, so when choosing the theme for my exhibit, I felt a responsibility to carefully handle the topic of national cinema and to avoid any exotification of cultural differences. 

I eventually landed on Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Askwith has a fairly complete collection of his works, and since he is a contemporary filmmaker, whose work sheds light on the life struggles of people from diverse backgrounds, I figured his inclusive work would be a good entry point for people to gain new perspectives while staying interested. Considering Kore-eda’s interesting career trajectory and his global influence, I thought focusing on his work in depth would be fruitful for me and the readers. 

Besides depth, I also wanted to introduce Asian movies with a wider scope. "Slow cinema" delivered an important message to the fastly changing current society, so I chose to curate a retrospective of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami as the second part of my exhibit. I did not intend to be mythmaking by highlighting first-ranking directors. Rather, I’d like my readers to anchor on personal perspectives to avoid overgeneralization. 

I also wanted to highlight women filmmakers and Asian Stardom, but unfortunately, I did not have time to finish during this internship. After my colleague, Sally Trop, blew my mind with her Latin American movie recommendation quiz, I decided to follow this creative means to promote movies and added materials I found during my research on women filmmakers and Asian Stardom. I compiled 25 films from different regions and periods, some of which are from regions where their cinema is lesser-known; some are politically charged old movies; some are leisure films that are purely fun to watch. I invited my friends to test it and received good feedback. The recommendation list will be expanded if a larger audience likes it. 

Challenge

My biggest challenge was my insecurity with writing and sharing the writing publicly. I liked talking about films, but consolidating my thoughts through writing made me realize my lack of knowledge and my weakness in articulation. The first step in my solution was to stop overcomplicating things and define the problem-- that I had trouble with deciding the language and tone. After I clarified my intended audience, I decided to stick with the academic language while maintaining some personal emphases. I also added more interactive elements and supplemental materials for readers to explore more on their own. For example, I pointed out comparable works and selected Kiarostami’s poems-- a different medium-- to spark readers’ interests. Instead of being obsessed with the smallest details, I learned from my mistake that I should humbly see my writing as a work in process and prioritize my improvement and efficiency.

Future Directions

Here are my thoughts on the next step for the project: Work instructions tailored to Askwith Media Library can be beneficial for future student workers. There should be more social media promotion and follow up. In terms of expanding the content of the exhibition, there are a lot of captivating research topics, but in the future. when it is safe to physically archive our collections, more attention can be drawn to rare and special collections. As for myself, in my future work, I will be more mindful of technical tools because my project was greatly shaped by the tools I chose, which took my content delivery to another level. After this internship, I also have a clearer picture of the type of work and working environment I want to have after graduation. 

Conclusion

The Michigan Library Scholar program provided me an opportunity to explore my research interests and to build on professional skills. This internship is an active and self-directed learning process that feels like growing a plant. At first, I did not know how it would turn out to be. I planted the seed, regularly watered it, had nutrients provided by other library staff, and gradually, the plant showed its own resilience and vitality. This year, a lot of people lived with an unusual intensity and uncertainty, but I am sure when I reflect on 2020 in the future, I will also picture the good days accompanied by fascinating research topics and a group of warm-hearted people.  

My deliverable is only one component of this internship, and the personal connections I made are equally treasurable. I was lucky to have three mentors and another student intern to work with. They each have a different personality and I could feel their passion for the project even during our virtual meetings. Many thanks to Chloe, Laurie, Sheila, and Sally, for their resourcefulness and consistent kindness. I also want to thank Gabriel, who cared for the mental health of everybody and supported every intern to thrive; library specialists Liangyu Fu and Keiko Yokota-Carter , who pointed out resources and helped me think about the impact for the library when I did not have an outline for my project; communication and marketing expert Mary Morris, who helped my team learn methods of promotion; last but not the least, Caitlin Pollock, who was incredibly patient and helped me learn Omeka.