Q&A With Academy of Motion Pictures Librarian Louise Hilton

Louise Hilton

When I met Louise Hilton at an Emily Giffin book signing at Barnes and Noble, The Grove a few weeks ago, I learned about one of the coolest jobs I’d ever heard of: Librarian at the research library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

Louise moved to Los Angeles from Louisiana last fall for her job as a Research Specialist at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. I met with her last week at Joan’s on Third to hear her take on work-life balance:

  • How did you identify your passions and follow your dreams?

I grew up in a bookish family. My dad’s a retired history professor and my mom works in a library and has for years. I’ve always been interested in that.

I actually majored in French. I’ve always loved French–since I was 5 years old–and I lived in France for 3 years. I was always convinced that I was going to be a French professor.

Then I heard about the degree in Library and Information Sciences (MLIS), and I thought it would be a practical degree to have. I went back to school for it.

So it did take a turn.

I’ve always loved the movies, and I was the first intern at the Margaret Herrick Library 6 summers ago when I was in grad school at LSU. I loved it and loved the work they do there. I was determined to find my way back

And lo and behold, last spring there was a Reference Librarian post listed, and I applied and got it.

We’re the research library at the Academy. We have personal papers of people who have worked in the industry. So we have big name stars like Gregory Peck, Katherine Hepburn, Alfred hitchock: their letters, scrapbooks… We have everything related to the history of cinema. It’s kind of the holy grail of cinema studies. We also have a  graphic arts departments, poster collections, everything.

I love it.

It’s exciting that my email address is @oscars.org. And we’re fortunate that the whole staff gets to go to the Academy Awards every year. I call it my pinch-me job.

I wake up, and I’m happy to go to work. Whereas before, I was tired and not really enthused anymore, and just ready for something new.

And there are people who have been there 30 years and made their entire career there, which really speaks highly of the place; that you would want to spend your entire life’s work there.

  • What does the term “work-life balance” mean to you? 

Just not being a martyr, I feel, is important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your work to the point where you’re always checking your work email and your phone, and you go to bed with your device. It’s easy to get sucked into the 24/7 mode. Which there isn’t anything wrong with, if that’s what you feel you need to do.

And in this day and age, we’re expected to always be checking in. But at the same time, I don’t think anyone on their deathbed says, “Oh, I wish I spent more time at the office.”

It’s so important to find something that fulfills you outside of work, whether it’s a hobby, or a relationship, or whatever it might. It’s important to make it separate.

But I also would say, I feel you’re really in the lucky few if you love your job. I’m in that position now, and I feel really grateful. So I think there’s something to be said for not being afraid to work. Without being a traitor to my generation, I feel like us younger folks sometimes are hungry without wanting to do the work. I think it’s important to put in the time and do the work, and then just leave it at the office.

It’s easier said than done.

  • Do you think “work-life balance” is possible?

I think it’s possible. I’m talking like I’ve achieved this great balance, and I haven’t. It’s been a hectic year for me since I moved across the country, and it’s not easy to change everything about your life. I was 32 when I moved out here. You’re trying to acclimate to a new city, make friends, maybe find someone to date, and get used to work…

And I still have my hobbies. I do adult coloring. I joined a book club, and I’m trying to find people with similar interests and finding friendships. So I’m still working on achieving that work-life balance. But I do think it’s possible; and I think since I’m fulfilled professionally now, the rest will fall into place. So halfway there [laughs].

  • What do you wish you do differently in how you manage your day and time? 

I am big proponent of lists [laughs]. But at the same time, if at the end of the day your list is just sitting there, it can stress you out. So I think it is important to have a weekly task list. Plan it out on Monday, and then check in on Wednesday to see how you are doing, and then check it on Friday.

Sometimes, if you bite off more than you can chew, you let the ball drop. I feel like I’m always pretty confident in my skills and my workload, but then sometimes you realize, “I’ve taken on too much…” And you feel like you let others and yourself down. So I feel like that’s always been a struggle, prioritizing. I always get stuff done, but sometimes it’s at the very last minute.

  • What do you feel you don’t have enough time for, or wish you could tackle better?

I’ve enjoyed exploring the city, since I’m still getting used it. But something always comes up. I feel like I should plan more time dedicated to picking another spot or neighborhood I’ve never been to and go explore it.

  • Do you have advice for someone starting a new endeavor and grappling with issues of following her passions, doing meaningful work and making a difference, while managing her time to find some “balance?”

I mean I feel like all those clichés are true for a reason. Remind yourself that the sun will come out tomorrow.

When I was thinking about moving out here, and the stress and expense and everything, I told myself, “Why not?” At the end of the day, you’re going to be 50 or 60, and regret is a sad thing. It’s not an excuse to run amok, but if you think you’re talking yourself out of something, keep going.

Take a break, and then go out for a walk, or dinner with friends, and then keep going.

My mom always used to tell me that there’s always a fresh start in a new day. Even if you’ve had the worst possible day, you go to sleep, and you wake up, and it’s a fresh start.

If I’m stressed out, I call my mom and she says, “Go read a book and go to bed, and you start over tomorrow, no matter how bad it might be.”