Elmore embodies dedication to archives, preservation

An award nominator described Martha Elmore as a consistent mentor, colleague and friend for many archivists.

Martha Elmore leads an instruction session with ECU students in 2004. (Contributed photo)

Many is a key word, supported by the fact that Elmore began her service to archives and East Carolina University as a student employee in 1976 and since then has consistently thrived, led and adjusted for decades as a mainstay for ECU archives and manuscripts. She earned this year’s Thornton W. Mitchell Service Award from the Society of North Carolina Archivists, recognizing her longtime impact and service to the archival profession in the state.

“Martha Elmore is a genuine treasure,” said John Lawrence, assistant director for Special Collections in Academic Library Services. “Our collections donors clearly trust her, and frequently ask for her assistance by name. No one knows this manuscript collection better than Martha, but best of all, she is a joy to work with. She is sincerely concerned with all aspects of our services and the collection. She is careful in her work and extraordinarily productive. She appreciates the efforts of others. She generously gives her time to both students and patrons.”

Elmore was ECU’s first director of archives, becoming interim head of the then-newly created University Archives in 1982. She has since held different library roles, currently serving as manuscript archivist to specialize in records donated to the main campus library from the private sector.

“Your purpose is to preserve records people will want to do research in,” said Elmore, who grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and is a 1979 ECU graduate as a double major in history and anthropology. “Whether you are trying to preserve the history of the university, so people can use the files for research, or if you’re trying to preserve correspondence and diaries that tell how people coped with wars or just ordinary life or how churches in the area developed, as examples, it’s preserving history so that people in the future can actually go back to the original sources and see what happened. That is what the job is as an archivist, whether you are working with a university archive or a manuscript collection.”

A permanent director of University Archives was named in 1983, shifting Elmore to a support staff role in archives, and she later returned to work in the ECU Manuscript Collection. The early 1980s often consisted of Elmore, Don Lennon, who developed the ECU Manuscript Collection, and others centralizing and implementing formal processes for preservation. Previously, university records were scattered in different locations on campus such as the Spilman Building, Fleming Residence Hall, libraries or various offices.

“I remember going with Don to the basement in Fleming to look through records and see what was there,” Elmore said. “(Former librarian) Marguerite Wiggins had saved a lot of items in the library. That’s how it all started to get the records that are here now. Before then, there was not a formal way of saving records. Whoever kept it, kept it.”

Some of Martha Elmore’s favorite items are displayed on a table on the library’s fourth floor.

Elmore’s award was presented to her at the Society of North Carolina Archivists’ annual conference in Raleigh in April. She was joined by ECU library colleagues Patrick Cash, Alston Cobourn, Kristen Daniel, John Dunning and Daniel Ferkin.

Elmore said processing collection items and making them available to the public brings her joy. Her career roles also have led to unexpected and unique connections.

“We have a lot of oral histories about people who were in World War II, and most are online now, but I did a lot of transcribing of them when I was a student,” Elmore said. “Family members will call, when a person has died, and they will come across these and are amazed because they didn’t know their grandfather or father had done these interviews. They get the chance to listen to that person talking about World War II that they were in, and it makes these people so happy. That, to me, is just wonderful to be able to touch people in a way you didn’t think you would.”

Elmore met her husband, Kinston native Mickey, at ECU and they, not surprisingly, share in their love for history and libraries. Since she was a student employee in the 1970s, Elmore has enjoyed evolving and has not wavered from her commitment to the profession.

“It’s a different world for getting researchers here and letting people know what you have,” Elmore said. “That has changed a lot. I’ve gone from typing things up on catalog cards to doing everything online. You just change the way you do it. You adjust and it’s what you have to do. I’m glad I have, because I enjoy this job very much.”