Skip Pfeiffer Celebrates 50 Years with the Vanderbilt Television News Archive

Skip Pfeiffer worked on the TV news archive index for 13 years before switching to abstract writing, which he does to this day. (photographer unknown/Vanderbilt)

The Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries and the Vanderbilt Television News Archive recognize Skip Pfeiffer for reaching the 50-year milestone at Vanderbilt University. Skip’s tenure with Vanderbilt actually stretches beyond 50 years because he was a grad student and worked as a temporary indexer for a grant project between 1968 and 1972. But in March of 1973, Skip was informed that the full-time indexer was leaving and Skip was to take over. Skip was given an hour of training and when he asked when he was to receive more training, his trainer said, “you’re not, I’m out of here!” Skip went on to create indexes until he was transferred to the abstract division of the archive in 1986.

Skip was very familiar with writing abstracts because he would fill in when the other abstractors were falling behind. His work creating indexes depended on completed abstracts. By the mid-1980s, Skip made the switch permanent and hasn’t stopped – he is still creating abstracts 37 years later. Skip’s dedication is legendary and his contributions to the VTNA are almost incomprehensible. He has written roughly one-third of news summaries listed on; a conservative estimate of 381,000 abstracts. If Skip spent his time writing academic articles instead of abstracts, he would have published three to four thousand standard length articles. But his craft is writing abstracts, which he does with

Skip Pfeiffer speaking at the Sustaining Television News Archives summit in 2018. (photographer: Steve Green/Vanderbilt)

dedication and commitment. These brief summaries of news stories are the metadata backbone of the TV news archive.

Skip’s contribution to the founding of the Vanderbilt Television News Archive goes beyond his abstracts or work with indexes. His dedication and persistence to the mission of the archive has in many ways been reflected back on the institution itself. It is not a coincidence that during his tenure, the TV news archive has not gone a single day without recording and describing at least one news broadcast. The effort to maintain such a comprehensive news collection can be attributed to many staff members and supporting departments, but Skip has played a crucial role in that effort. Every director of the archive, from Jim Pilkington to Jim Duran, had to consider Skip’s workload as a large variable to any proposed change to the archive, because Skip was relying on us to do our job so he could do his.

Skip’s 50th anniversary at the Vanderbilt Television News Archive is a celebration of his persistence and dedication — two traits that he has engrained in the archive that leave an enduring legacy for the libraries and the university going forward. Congratulations, Skip!

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