June 22, 2010

GDP Special Report: Interview with an Archivist

Recently I had a fantastic opportunity to ‘interview’ Chief Archivist of the Walt Disney Company, Dave Smith. And I found it fitting that I should post this great interview on his 40th Anniversary of working at the Walt Disney Company, today, June 22th. I really hope you enjoy this great opportunity that I was allowed to have.


GDPinvestigation (GDP): What did you do before you came to the Walt Disney Company as Chief Archivist?
Dave Smith (DS): I was a librarian, first at the Library of Congress, then at UCLA.

GDP: Did you do anything for the Walt Disney Company before becoming Chief Archivist?
DS: Nope, I’ve had the same job for the past 40 years (my anniversary is on June 22nd).

GDP: How did you get the job of Chief Archivist of the Walt Disney Company?
DS: Essentially, I was in the right place at the right time when Disney needed someone to make some sense out of its history. I actually proposed the idea to Disney; they liked my idea and hired me. I never realized it would turn into a 40-year job.

GDP: How often do you get items for the archives?
DS: Daily. We are constantly getting new materials from all over the company. Most of our files are paper files—documents, correspondence, press releases, employee publications, etc.—since most of our users come to us searching for information. They are not usually looking for objects. But we have objects too—merchandise samples, awards, books, props, costumes, etc.

GDP: What is your favorite thing about being the Chief Archivist of the Walt Disney Company?
DS: It is an honor to be the archivist of a company that has meant so much to so many people over the years. When you work for Disney, you can go almost anywhere in the world, tell someone who you work for, and get a smile on his or her face. How many other companies can claim that?

GDP: With so many archives, I’m sure it’s hard to choose, but what is your favorite archive?
DS: My favorite pieces are those relating to Walt Disney himself, as these are things that most collectors cannot hope to have themselves. I treasure a drawing that Walt did on the back of a post card he wrote to his mother when he was 15 years old.

GDP: How does a piece get to be in the archives of the Walt Disney Company? Is it everything or are you selective?
DS: Oh yes, we are very selective. We have learned over the last 40 years what type of materials our users are going to be wanting, so that helps us know what we need to save.

GDP: Are you the only person who works in the official archives? Or do you have staff that help you?
DS: There is currently a staff of 8 in the Archives, though it started with just me in 1970.

GDP: Since this site is about Disney Collectibles, in particular Pins and Vinylmations, do you collect Disney Pins or Vinylmations? If so how and when did you get started?
DS: I don’t personally collect any Disneyana, though I have a few things at home—mainly books and service awards. The Archives does indeed collect pins, and we have tens of thousands. We get a sample of each pin as it comes out. We have not yet begun collecting Vinylmations, but we are starting to put together a sampling.**

GDP: In regards to pin trading, does the archive try to get one of every pin since the formal start in 1999? Or just a few key ones?
DS: (See Previous Question)**

GDP: With the new Vinylmation craze, do you have any new Vinylmations in the Archive?
DS: (See Previous Questions)**

GDP: Do you have any other collectibles in the Archive?
DS: We have samples of Disney merchandising going back to the 1930s.

GDP: What is the one ‘subject area’ that has the most in the archives? Parks, Movies, or something else?
DS: We’ve never really counted boxes or files—parks and movies might be fairly even.

GDP: Who comes to use the archive as research?
DS: The Archives is only open to researchers from within the Walt Disney Company, though, when we can, we do answer questions we receive by phone, email, and regular mail.

GDP: Since you have written in a lot of publications answering fan questions (in Disney Magazine, and D23 FanFare are just a few), which would you say is the strangest question asked? If there is one particular one.
DS: We get a lot of strange questions, but the strangest might have been: How much does Walt Disney World weigh? Actually, there is a reason for the question, as the Magic Kingdom is actually built on the second floor, i.e. the Utilidor tunnel system, which is itself built on top of the ground (because of the high Florida water table). Thus, it would have weight, but I have no idea how anyone would ever measure it.   

GDP: What is your favorite Disney Movie? Disney Character?
DS: Of the early movies, I like Pinocchio; of the more later ones, I like Beauty and the Beast. My favorite character is Pluto—I like dogs.

GDP: What is your favorite Disney Resort around the world? Why?
DS: This question is harder to answer. I grew up with Disneyland, so have a fond place in my heart for it. In Florida, I like Epcot. And foreign Disney park—I love Tokyo DisneySea.

GDP: Which Disney Attraction is your favorite Disney attraction (that is presently in a park anywhere around the world?
DS: No question: Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland.

GDP: What is your favorite ‘extinct’ attraction?
DS: America Sings at Disneyland; it was not only a fun attraction, but a cool place to sit and relax during a hot day visiting the park.america--AGDP: As we finish up this interview and you belonging the company for 40 years, what has been your most memorable part of the 40 year career that you have had in the Walt Disney Company so far?
DS: Getting to know and work with so many Disney Legends, people who were responsible in getting the company where it is today.

GDP: And finally, as a major part of this blog lately is about the Walt Disney World Fantasyland Expansion, are you looking forward to the new Walt Disney World expansion? If so, which portion are you most excited for?
DS: I am always excited to see enhancements in the parks. The Imagineers are always thinking of great new projects.

GDP: Thank you Dave for taking the time to do the interview with us, here at GDPinvestigation, I’m sure many of our readers will enjoy and appreciate this, and congratulations on your 40 year career.

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