SLIS Alumna Mackenzie Roberts Beasley Locates Oldest Footage of Mardi Gras
School of Library & Information Science alumna, Mackenzie Roberts Beasley (MLIS, 2018) recently found herself at the center of an amazing archival discovery as part of the team that located one of the oldest films of New Orleans. The film shows the February 22, 1898 Rex Parade following the year’s Mardi Gras theme of Harvest Queens, as highlighted by The New York Times’ feature article on the discovery. Founded in 1872, the Rex Carnival Krewe continues holding one of the most anticipated parades each Carnival season.
As reported in the New York Times, the hunt for the film started with Mardi Gras historian and expert, Arthur Hardy, who searched for over 40 years for a 19th-century film of New Orleans Mardi Gras. Hardy’s quest eventually led to the Rex Organization’s historian, Will French—a family friend of Ms. Roberts Beasley.
Ms. Roberts Beasley reflected on the journey noting, “Will French called me up and asked if I could help him find these old movies. So, the Federation of American Film has a database of where silent-era films are located if known copies still exist. [It] happened one popped up and it was in the Netherlands…I emailed the Eye Filmmusem because I knew how to work the system since I worked in an archive myself. The database said that they had two films under one title. So, I asked them, and they said they would digitize it and send it to me.”
The digitized film was sent to Mr. French who decided to include it in an event focused on the artistry of the Rex parade, and as part of the Rex: The 150th Anniversary of the School of Design exhibition at the Louisiana State Museum.
“Will called me up and asked if I wanted to come to see the exhibit, and I said sure. So, I come down to New Orleans and I’m in the World War II museum and I get a call from the New York Times, and they say we would like to talk to you.”
“It was strange [for me, since] being a team player is my job, and my name is usually just one in a list of names, but that’s kind of the first time where anyone said oh, we really care what you’ve done.”
After being highlighted in the New York Times, the Smithsonian Magazine also featured the discovery, along with many regional and local news outlets.
Roberts Beasley, a Shreveport native, originally received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film from Savannah College of Art and Design. She eventually decided that she wanted to move into something with more stability. After watching the documentary These Amazing Shadows, she decided to move toward film preservation and restoration.
“In that documentary, they showed film restoration work, and that looked really cool. How do I do that? Because film still exists, it would be consistent work, and I would be able to do something I enjoy. So, I cold-emailed the Library of Congress and asked how I could do that. They gave me an internship for that summer."
During the internship, she realized that she would need more qualifications to continue working with film preservation in the future. She returned to school, receiving a Master of Arts in Film Studies before starting the MLIS program at LSU.
“What was nice about LSU was that it was all online. To me, that was a real saving grace because I was up in New York City during this period. While I was taking classes, I could also take internships and a page job without having to set my schedule around class times.”
During her time at LSU, Roberts Beasley worked as museum educator at the Museum of the Moving Image and a library page at the New York Public Library’s Billy Rose Theater Division Lincoln Center. In 2017, she spent the summer as an intern at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, documenting the Folklife Festival. Following her summer internship, she was hired as a reformatting intern at National Public Radio’s Research, Archives & Data Strategy division. Historically, about 8,000 people apply every semester to be NPR interns, and only 50 are hired.
Roberts Beasley received her MLIS in 2018, and continued developing her skills and knowledge through her early career positions at the Smithsonian Channel, the National Archives & Records Administration, and as the Audio Visual Preservation Specialist at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. This past spring, she returned to Washington, D.C. as an Audiovisual Archivist at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
Roberts Beasley is now returning to the School of Library and Information Science as an adjunct professor to help teach the next generation of archivists.
“It’s a true honor. LSU has been so kind to me and helped me with my career. So to be able to give back, help SLIS students, and be a voice for people who want to get into AV—because it is kind of a niche thing—so it’s really exciting when people want to learn about it.”
Roberts Beasley will begin teaching a 2023 summer course that will help students learn about different audio and visual formats, the medium's ethics, and how to preserve aspects of film and keep it organized.
Reflecting on her accomplishments and returning to SLIS, Associate Director and Associate Professor Ed Benoit, III notes, “Mackenzie excelled as one of our best students from the past decade. We are very fortunate to have such an accomplished alumna return to SLIS as an instructor, and I am certain that her passion for audiovisual archives will inspire other students to understand better the importance of preserving moving image and recorded audio materials.”