Archiving Cancer Care at MD Anderson: Javier Garza

By: Claire Randall, CPH Graduate Assistant


As season 2 of Public Historians at Work continues, episode 4 takes on the challenging subject of the roles of archivists in the world of medicine. The episode features a conversation between Javier Garza, Senior Library Analyst and Archivist at MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Historical Resources Center, and PhD candidate Allison Anderson. Their conversation centers around the idea that if a medical institution’s mission is to make cancer a relic of the past, the archivist’s role is to collect, preserve, and make that history available.

Garza began by describing how he came to be the Library Analyst and Archivist at MD Anderson and that although he holds a BA in History, his inspiration for finding this career path was the character Rupert Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His degree in history did help to develop his skills and changed how he approached being a librarian as well as having an appreciation for preserving records and making them available for other historians.

During his time as a librarian, Garza has discovered that role of a librarian and archivist involves much more than putting books on shelves. His work now includes digitizing items, describing and referencing them online and advocating to shareholders that the resources and services they provide are important to the public. This push to digitize items came from researchers’ need to access archive materials but being unable to physically visit the archive due to the Covid 19 pandemic. This challenged Garza to rethink his role within the archive and how to be a reference point for researchers from afar.

While Garza feels the need to make information as available to the public as possible, one unique challenge presented when working with medical documentation are certain laws and regulations such as HIPAA (Health Information Portability and Accountability Act). This act prevents any patient records or information from being disclosed to the public and often causes Garza to have to withhold or redact certain documents and information.

While the archive acquires the occasional patient record, it also seeks to include books related to oncology, letters, images and artifacts related to the institution’s history. As MD Anderson became the #1 cancer center in American, preserving the history of how the institution came to be has become even more important to Garza and his work.

While documents and images are a vital part of the collections, Garza also talks about the oral history collection within the archive and its importance. This collection humanizes the people behind the research and gives information on certain subjects related to the cancer center that may be difficult to understand from a non-medical point of view. The hope is that this will increase accessibility to researchers who may not come from a medical background.

The idea for these oral histories dates back to the origins of the archive itself in an effort to build a body of knowledge from those who have been with MD Anderson since near the beginning of its founding. Choosing who would be interviewed included looking at the how these histories would fit in with the archive to enhance the history.


Garza has made an effort to diversify the groups of people who are included in the oral histories so that there is a diversity in not only gender or race, but where people are in different parts of their career. When navigating the bridge between the humanities and the sciences, Garza shares that his advanced certificate in health informatics has greatly aided his knowledge of understand the information within a medical archive and how a medical library differs from a historical library. His background in the humanities has aided his desire to make this information accessible and understandable to researchers and the general public.

Being an archivist has given Garza a sense of contributing to history of the institution, documenting it and making it available. As MD Anderson has stated that their mission is to make cancer history, Garza has made it his mission to preserve that history as it is being made.

To listen to the full podcast, go to:

For more on MD Anderson's Historical Resources Center, go to:

To access “The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Project”: