Deep below the Special Collections Libraries building, there are more than 468,000 items stacked neatly on numerous rows of shelves, each one stretching 170 feet long and 35 feet high.
Pascal Cureton, assistant vault manager, can help library users find exactly what they need in any of those collections.
“Our primary duty is to serve the libraries’ patrons,” he said. “It’s amazing seeing the vast number of items we have that are available to the public. People can come see these items for themselves.”
Cureton oversees much of the day-to-day operations of the vault. He makes sure that requests for items are fulfilled in a timely manner. He also ensures that any new items to the vault are properly documented in their system and stored on the shelves so that they can be easily acquired later.
Each shelf has a bar code, and each item on that shelf has an identifying code. When a request for an item is made, it is sent to the vault. Cureton and his team pull the item—sometimes that requires an order picker to reach the highest of shelves—and send it to the Reading Room.
Cureton’s day usually starts with a morning meeting to assess what needs to be returned to the vault and make sure the system to digitally request items from the vault is running smoothly. After that, he’s fulfilling those requests and intaking any new materials.
“It is pretty fun when we get fascinating collections that come in,” he said.
The collections vary widely from papers of prominent Georgians to dissertations written by UGA doctoral candidates to historic clothing studied by fashion merchandising students. Cureton has a particular affinity for the items in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame collection, which includes instruments and even costumes worn by the B-52s.
“A lot of that is really meaningful to me. I’m happy there is a place where these items can live and their story will be told. There is a place they will live from now on,” he said.
A musician himself, Cureton originally moved to Athens in 2006 to be in a band. In 2011, his girlfriend at the time (now wife) worked for UGA Libraries and told him about a position moving items into the then-new Special Collections Libraries vault. It was a natural fit for his business administration degree from Columbus State University, his experience handling and moving sensitive equipment for bands and his attention to detail. He was hired as one of two permanent assistants who helped supervise the project and the team of five temporary staff members, as well as student workers.
“I was suddenly put into this position where I was moving boxes, but these boxes contain rare and historically important items,” he said. “It was kind of overwhelming. I had to keep myself from reading all of the boxes and seeing what everything was.”
Cureton also assists with gallery installations. He helps with panel exhibitions in the Hargrett Gallery, specifically working on lighting. He finds value in making sure something is seen properly and setting a mood simply by how something is lit. It’s something he’s found a passion for and creates lighting shows for local music venues on his own time.
Whether his work is at the vault or with a band, he finds meaning in it.
“It’s important that there are people who care about history and the preservation of it,” he said. “I’m happy to be a part of that process. It’s a small part in the process, but I’m a link in the chain. The idea is to not only to store items for their use now, but we’re also looking at people 100 or 200 years down the line. The scope of doing what I do and maintaining the vault is important because we’re trying to keep something for the future.”