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Staff profile: Rhea Garen

Shedding light on Cornell's most amazing hidden collections.

Who she is: Rhea Garen, Media Associate in Digital Scholarship and Preservation Services

What she does: I work with any projects that require high-end imaging, often taking the photographs myself and often managing the projects. I deal with patron requests and digitization for our library exhibitions.

I also work on the faculty grant projects from the College of Arts and Sciences. We’ve done really interesting work — things like coin digitization, where I photograph ancient coins so they can be put online. We’ve been working on another project that involves digitizing squeezes, which are very large paper impressions of monuments, sort of like gravestone-rubbings.  These squeezes were taken in the early 1900s from the writings on the walls of an ancient temple in Turkey.

I work with amazing equipment, too, and a little less than half the studio is curtained off and painted black, with black walls and black curtains. We have a large-format camera and digital scanning back, oversized scanners, high-end monitors, things like that.

Why it’s important: We’re creating digital images so that researchers can use them and more people can see them. Most of the images we create go into online digital collections that can be viewed by anyone all over the world.

Really, it’s all about access. We’re allowing a lot of people to see these collections — the coin collection was locked up in a safe, literally! It wasn’t accessible at all. And these squeezes, they’re up to 40 inches wide on fragile paper, so it’s impossible for almost everyone in the world to see the physical object. But with digitization, you can view these accurate reproductions online.

Where she comes from: I was born in Germany, near Frankfurt. My mom is German. We moved to the States when I was two, and lived mostly in the Long Island area. I went to Cornell as an undergrad in the 1970s, and I loved Ithaca, I stayed! I still love it here.

Education: My area of expertise originally was as a scientist. I studied biology at Cornell and worked in a groundwater microbiology lab for 16 years.

Years at Cornell: I’m working on my 30th year!

Background: I did a lot of scientific imaging before I came to the Library, working with light and electron microscopes. I first became interested in photography by having to use the darkroom to develop my electron microscope images, and then I started taking photography classes while I was working in the microbiology department. I’ve taken a lot of coursework in the arts and graphic design classes, plus I do my own art photography.

Most memorable moment: When we had Sputnik here in the studio! We had one of the satellites, for the “Collecting Imagination” exhibition. It was extremely difficult to photograph that — it was so large, shiny and reflective.

Best part of her job: Seeing so many fabulous items, images, materials, and getting to handle everything myself. I love not knowing from one day to the next what might walk in my door. I’ve imaged a piece of Edgar Allan Poe’s coffin, and recently we imaged Cornell’s copy of the Gettysburg Address. It’s been 12 or 13 years, but I am still constantly surprised by what I see here.

In her spare time: Recently, it’s been all about our new dog! We got an ASPCA rescue back in May. He’s a three-year-old poodle mix named Timmy, and my partner and I have been spending a lot of time training him. He’s a very happy guy.

Dream job: It would be to do this job, but to have more time to work on my own artwork. I take a lot of pictures, but I don’t want to sit in front of a computer when I come home from work! I’d love to be able to work on my own stuff more.

In this LibeScope series, interviews with library staff reveal their skills, talents, interests and backgrounds.

LibeScope

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