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Faculty & Staff Spotlights

IU mass storage specialist writes her own story

May 24, 2016

UITS storage expert Chris Garrison.

Chris Garrison spends her university time providing a safe haven for research data, but she is also a successful storyteller in her personal time.

Chris Garrison traces her love of technology to a literal lightbulb moment when she was only 5 years old. Her grandfather had shown her how to make a circuit with a battery, a lightbulb and piece of wire. The spark was lit, and she’s made a career out of her curiosity.

Garrison is now a principal mass-storage specialist with IU's Research Technologies division, working with researchers to save and store their many terabytes of data in the university's tape-storage facility, the Scholarly Data Archive.

Housed in the IU data centers in Bloomington and Indianapolis, the SDA provides approximately 42 petabytes of tape overall. Considering that 50 PB of storage would contain the entire written works of humankind from the beginning of time, in all languages, that’s a lot of storage.

But with great storage comes great responsibility. Garrison is up to the task.

"I like helping people and I like solving problems," she said. "And in my mind, what I do isn't as important as the results that come from my work. At IU, we have researchers working to cure cancer and crack the human genome, and they need a safe and secure place to store their data.

"I'm not that kind of genius, but I am good at helping them keep data so they can use it instead of having their data on somebody's computer in the corner that gets infested by dust mites," she laughed.

It's not just researchers of hard sciences who benefit from IU's storage systems. The SDA and IU's disk storage system also archive rare and ancient books from the Lilly Library, IU's rare books, manuscripts and special collections library. Garrison also works with researchers from IU's Advanced Visualization Lab and IU's Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative to store 3D movies as well as crumbling data such as movies and reel-to-reel audio.

Troubleshooting tech problems runs in her blood, Garrison said. Her grandfather was one of the world's first IT consultants, having been recruited by IBM before World War II and working on IBM machines during the war.

She is a noted author, as well.

Garrison has become a successful author, often within the realm of science fiction. One of her books was a bestseller in 2013 during an Amazon Kindle list promotion. 

Author and activist

Garrison's genetic predisposition to ingenuity has another outlet for expression: fiction writing. In 2007, she wrote her first book, "Four 'til Late," as a way to cope with the sudden death of her beloved uncle.

And that's when her writing career took off. That first book grew into a humorous supernatural urban fantasy, the Road Ghosts trilogy, which includes "Four 'til Late," "Sinking Down," and "Me and the Devil" -- all published by Seventh Star Press.

Garrison's "Reality Check," released by Hydra Publications, reached No. 1 in science fiction on Amazon's Kindle store during a promotion in July 2013.

In 2015, Garrison published "Trans-Continental: Girl in the Gears," a steampunk/alternate history adventure with a transgender protagonist. She donated the June 2015 sales of the book to Trans Lifeline, a transgender suicide-prevention hotline. She followed that book up with the sequel, "Trans-Continental: Mississippi Queen."

"Someone described the 'Trans-Continental' books as a cross between 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' and 'Thelma and Louise,'" she said. "The main character is Ida, a transgender woman living in a world where there is no word for transgender. She doesn’t know of any other transgender people -- she just knows that she's really a woman." 

It's a topic Garrison knows well. A transgender woman, she transitioned to living full time as a woman -- at work and in her personal life -- in January. 

"I've always been different," she recalled. "I didn't really know why until I was 10, and at that time I didn't know anyone else like me. The only examples of anyone cross-gender back then were comedians on TV: Klinger on 'MASH' and Flip Wilson doing his Geraldine character. Everyone thought it was 'hilarious' when a man would wear a dress."

She was 19 before she met anyone else who identified as transgender. "That was a revelation," she said. "I started seeing what I was as something good." 

All along, Garrison has had the support of her wife of 12 years, her stepdaughter and now her co-workers. Because she knows firsthand the struggles facing transgender people, she works to spread awareness and support. In addition to the donations to Trans Lifeline, Garrison also runs a support group in Indy and will be part of Trans History Night at the Historical Society of Indianapolis on June 8.

"I'm still just Chris, and either way, I'm a person," she said.

To see all of Garrison's books, visit her imprint, Silly Hat Books.

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