Virginia H. (Ginger) Smith
Class of 2009
My first job out of college in 1977 was as an assistant to the reference archivist in the Special Collections Department of the Emory University Libraries. As the department grew into the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL), I remained there serving as assistant and associate archivist, processing archivist, university archivist, and assistant director. I was also able to earn a Master’s Degree in Library Science from Emory and use my job setting and responsibilities as the basis for many of my research papers and projects. I now serve as director of external affairs for Emory’s Libraries, but have also completed a two-year appointment as interim director of MARBL.
Describe how SGA has influenced your development as a professional.
It was through SGA that I had the opportunity to develop a network of expert colleagues and exceptional friends. This has resulted in collaboration on projects and programs, and it has made it more pleasant and more productive to go to workshops and other meetings where some of these same people were present. Leadership roles in SGA are learning experiences just as they are in many organizations, and I have learned much from my service on committees and in offices of the organization. My professional associations through SGA have affirmatively enriched my experience working in the profession.
What advice would you give a student or individual considering a career in archives?
Among the pieces of advice I would offer would be: (1) participate in professional organizations and activities and develop a strong professional network; (2) collaborate with others inside and beyond your own repository on formal projects or informal efforts, as good collaboration leads to many forms of learning and discovery; and (3) advocate for the archival profession and for the use of archives in all ways – in research, in classwork, in exhibitions, in unusual and creative ways.
Describe one of your fondest professional memories or a highlight of your career in archives.
It would be hard to limit this to a single fond memory, so I will opt for three:
1. At an SGA meeting years ago in Tifton, Georgia, a group of us spent several hours late one evening sitting around the deep end of the Holiday Inn pool with our feet in the water playing trivia. It is those unplanned time together that create that web of colleagues and friends on whom you can always call.
2. As part of my library school curriculum and with the support of the Emory Libraries, I attended a summer institute on College and University Archives at Case Western Reserve University. Not only was it an excellent learning opportunity, but it also gave me a lifelong network of fellow professional and friends from across the United States and Canada.
3. My favorite archives role was as Emory University’s first official archivist. The position had been approved in 1950, and I was appointed to it in 1997. The wheels do turn slowly in academia. It was exciting to develop a new program from the ground up, it was rewarding to share and talk with so many interesting people who had been associated with Emory over the years, and it was especially meaningful to participate in Emory’s examination of its own past in relation to slavery and race.