Emory Report

September 14, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 4


Ginger Cain is the first official keeper of Emory's history

One of the ironies of Ginger Cain's job is that she uses the latest technological tools of the present in finding the best way to organize and preserve the records and relics of Emory's past.

Cain is the first official University archivist, a position for which she seemed almost predestined since receiving her bachelor's in history from the College and master's in librarianship from Emory's now-defunct library program. She has worked for Emory her entire professional life, and when the University realized a year ago it needed someone responsible for heading up its archival program, Cain was the natural choice.

"A committee made a recommendation to the president of the University in 1950 to hire a University archivist," Cain explained. "I deal with the historical materials of the University, to make sure they are saved in some way, shape or form."

And she does that by making sure materials as varied as old photographs of the campus to Board of Trustee meeting minutes are "processed, arranged and described"--and made accessible. That's where technology comes in. "Being able to scan photographs is a great example," Cain said. "We could scan pictures so that researchers can look at an electronic version and might not even have to come [to Special Collections], or even into the building, or even to Emory.

"Say a researcher contacts us and wants a photograph from the 1930s; maybe even on demand we could scan a few photographs, let the person from a remote location look at those images and select the proper one, and then we would process the request from there to reproduce it."

Of course, this is all in the future. There is a pilot project that's exploring electronic access to Board of Trustee minutes, and some of Emory's historical photographs have been scanned, but right now Cain and her new assistant archivist are more concerned with coordinating and keeping track of what they and the University's other libraries already have. Since the second archivist was hired in June, they have been working with staff in the health sciences and law libraries and the library at Oxford College, not to physically bring together under one roof all the archived materials, but rather to organize them and make them known to researchers.

As for the materials--old photos and documents are what immediately spring to mind--there are also audio recordings of lectures and even the Glee Club dating back to the 1920s. "And memorabilia--every archivist has a certain amount of memorabilia," Cain added.

Twenty years ago Cain did not know she would one day boast a collection of memorabilia. On the advice of a childhood friend who worked in the career placement center, she applied for a position in special collections and then to Emory's "library school"--the degree track program that was more than a department yet less than an official school--and her professors allowed her to design a course of study that focused on archival administration. Ginger Cain, the undergraduate history major, got hooked.

"Emory has a really interesting history, and it's been fun to learn about," she said. "There are a lot of things I wished I'd known even when I was a student--it would've made going to school a little bit more fun. It's interesting to know about the people for whom the buildings are named, and the story behind the founding of Emory College and the relationship between the Oxford and Atlanta campuses is something I knew very little about until I started working in special collections."

In fact, lately she's been working with University Secretary Gary Hauk in researching the book he's writing about Emory's history. She also stays active with the Society of Amercian Archivists and served a term as president of the Society of Georgia Archivists.

Besides staying in touch with a relatively small and closeknit group of colleagues, Cain's work with these organizations can result in productive ideas. "That's the main vehicle we've used to keep abreast of technology and also changing trends and legislative issues that affect the profession," she said. One example, she said, would be learning about online cataloguing, in which short descriptions of the collection are loaded into a searchable database accessible from the web.

"So if someone wanted to locate the personal papers of Alexander Means, the former president of Emory College," Cain explained, "they would come across information through an online database that would lead them to Emory, even if they had no idea when they started that's what they wanted to do.

"I got here right at the beginning of the technology wave--when I first started in Special Collections we had three electric typewriters, and none of them corrected themselves," Cain said. "[Technology's] really made it possible for us to make our holdings more visible. We collect unique material, both about Emory and also manuscripts and rare books, and people wouldn't know they're here except by word of mouth, or by reading footnotes--a fairly painful way to find things out."

But Cain expects to make researchers' work hurt a lot less in the future: "We're just beginning to get our feet wet."

--Michael Terrazas

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