MARA Student Emily Gendrolis Explores the Path of the Historical Preservationist

Community Profile

Estates, mansions and oral histories: Emily Gendrolis finds her niche. 

“I’m a big history nut, and I love the idea of being able to contribute to historical preservation through archiving,” says San José State University School of Information MARA student Emily Gendrolis. “I chose archives over libraries because I prefer the history element. The MLIS has an excellent offering of electives, which has been helpful to supplement my full program, but I felt that the MARA program would serve my goals better.

“I think this program is so fantastic! All of the courses fit together so nicely to form the core of the program, and experiencing all of the camaraderie with classmates has been great, just getting to chat with other people with shared interests. It’s really a big difference talking about archives with people who are your tribe, as opposed to those who have no idea what an archive is or what the purpose of an archivist would be. I feel like I’ve found my people, and it’s really nice.”

Pathway to a Career
With that in mind, Gendrolis spent a summer interning at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, which she describes as “an amazing experience.” Working in the archives, she was given a portion of a larger collection of correspondence, mostly having to do with Biltmore’s nursery business, for arrangement and processing. At the end of the project, Gendrolis created metadata for a collection of photographs the estate was rehousing, including photos of various branches of the Vanderbilt family, and added the information to their database for better searchability.

Gendroils also volunteers and interns with the Maine Historical Society (MHS), whose mission is “Preserving History, Engaging Minds, Connecting Maine.” Currently she is working with an MHS client on their corporate archives. “The company is a material-handling company and it’s their 125th anniversary coming up,” explains Gendrolis, “so some of the officers are writing up a history and decided they want all of their records consolidated, arranged, and finding aids created. I’ve wrangled all the records, processed them according to best practices, and got them ready for their internal use.”

The challenge for Gendrolis is taking into consideration that the records will be used for the company’s own internal use, but also need to be processed in keeping with how the MHS would archive them. “I tend to think from the point of view of a researcher, and I’ve had to take into consideration historical research purposes vs. company officers’ needs, which are immediate. There are things that I might not keep, like meeting notes: some of the people at the company might know what they’re looking at, have a memory attached, but a researcher isn’t going to necessarily find value in a doodle that someone did during a meeting. So I’ve been more careful and selective in hanging on to the materials.”

Emily in the Archive
The bulk of Gendrolis’ internship with MHS, however, has been focused on an oral history project originally compiled in the 1980s by the Victoria Society, a group formed to save the historic Victoria Mansion, a landmark in Portland and a major tourist attraction, from demolition. “I love this project!” she says. “Over the last two years I processed over 15 collections as a volunteer, and this is the first one that’s been oral history.”

Explains Gendrolis: “The Victoria Society believed that, after the death of Queen Victoria, the era still continued in rural areas away from the United Kingdom, like Maine.” The project is a collection of 36 interviews with Maine residents, recounting their memories and childhoods in Maine, with the goal of determining if the society was correct in their assumption. “The society lost track of their archival material, and the tapes wound up in the MHS,” says Gendrolis. “My job was to listen to the tapes, take notes, write up biographical sketches on each person, and create a finding aid so someone could eventually use [the material] for research.”

Gendrolis is “particularly fond” of creating the finding aids, and has found them helpful for multiple purposes. “The finding aid is the ultimate deliverable on a project, other than having an arranged collection that’s processed and ready for archival storage,” she says. “It’s an exciting tool for an archivist, a chance to show off what’s in the collection. It’s a lynchpin that brings everything together in the end.” Gendrolis plans to use the finding aid she’s developed through her internship as her own deliverable: tactile physical proof of the work she’s done when applying for jobs. “I use finding aids as appendices, as examples of my work, the caliber of work one can expect from me. I think the finding aid is a great, multipurpose tool for archivists.”

‘“With all of the collections I process, it doesn’t feel like work to me,” says Gendrolis. “It’s an enjoyable experience and an odd thing: you form a relationship with material and it’s always very satisfying, and knowing you’re preserving something for future generations is an honor. I like the idea of historic preservation, and archiving is my way of making a contribution.”