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Ellen Ryan: Preserving history

By Chris Gabettas |

If you're researching the history of Idaho State University or accessing a rare collection online, you may want to thank Ellen Ryan.

Ellen Ryan: Preserving history

As university archivist, she maintains ISU's historical archives and oversees 300 special collections housed in the basement of the Eli M. Oboler Library.

Acquisitions include the collection of Oscar-winning designer Edward Stevenson, who grew up in Pocatello and designed for Lucille Ball; materials chronicling the history of Garrett Freightlines, once the nation's fifth largest trucking firm; and letters and documents written by George Shoup, Idaho's first governor.

"Our main focus is to make sure that the materials and collections in our care are available to researchers now and beyond our lifetime," said Ryan, who came to ISU in 2013 after working in Special Collections and Archives at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.

Ryan and her small team take special care to process and store fragile manuscripts, documents and photographs to preserve their physical integrity.

"We monitor temperatures and humidity levels on a daily basis. We also look for mold or any kind of insect or rodent infestation that could damage documents," she said. She's also working to place more materials from Special Collections and Archives online, increasing public accessibility.

Ryan loves her job-especially the opportunity to teach students the value of using ISU Special Collections and Archives for their primary research. This fall, she helped students in an honors business class gather research for a book they co-authored about the history of Garrett Freightlines trucking company.

Ryan holds a bachelor's degree in fine arts from University of New Mexico, a master's degree in history from Southeast Missouri State University, and a master's in library information science from San Jose State University.

For 12 years, Ryan was a security supervisor at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art where she handled reference questions about exhibits and worked with film crews shooting inside the museum. Movies included the Michael Douglas-Gwyneth Paltrow thriller "The Perfect Murder" and "Maid in Manhattan" starring Jennifer Lopez. It was Ryan's job to make sure set lights and equipment didn't damage the priceless art and exhibits.

Ryan grew up in Queensbury, New York, a town about half the size of Pocatello located at the base of the Adirondack Mountains. She enjoys spending weekends exploring eastern Idaho and visiting many of the sites mentioned in library collections.

Not only do the trips add a visual reference and context to the documents she reads, but they're also an opportunity for Ryan to experience a new region of the country.

"Yeah, I have a very cool job," she says with a laugh.


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Pocatello, Idaho, 83209
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