Career Journeys: Nicole Diehm

Nicole Diehm, M.A. and M.S.I., is Digital Collections Librarian at the St. Augustine Historical Society Research Library. Nicole is also Co-Chair of the Conference Committee of the Florida Digital Humanities Consortium.

What are your main responsibilities as an archivist?

While not an archivist by title, my main responsibilities are digital preservation and access. We’ve established a digital framework and built a multi-year plan to help the SAHS Research Library digitize analog materials and expand access to information for better user findability. I am currently working on adjusting past records in our catalog to make them consistent with the plan going forward.

What do you like most about your work? What’s most challenging? 

My work now indulges my favorite things in life: making lists and educating others. I’m building a foundation of informational access and bringing forth what collections we have. Then, our users will be able to easily see what we have available. 

The most challenging thing is our online catalog at the moment. We have so much information in it, but the average person is unaware of what is there. That is where creating the indices and making them more easily findable comes in. I’ve learned that internet searches have to be easy, or else no one will want to use it. This is an opportunity to grow our outreach both locally and beyond.

What I like most are the people. Good people make a difference. I work with a group that looks toward the future, works well together, cares about each other’s well being, and values everyone’s input. This is a rare quality. I’ve had plenty of jobs that I loved, but the people weren’t right for me. It can make the job feel depressive. 

What changes have you observed in the field or your organization in the past five years? What changes do you think might happen in the next five years?

2020 forced major changes for everyone in all fields. For libraries and archives, though, digitization is the way to go for many reasons. Number one is access. If you let people know what you have, they can come in to look through materials. If they are unable to come in, having resources online grants a wider scope of access. 

Also, outreach in the digital realm is vital. Not having social media as a historical institution is like falling into the cracks of history. Historical institutions cannot hide in the shadows and hope that someone discovers them, they need to step into the limelight on their own. There is no shame in self promotion in the field of preservation.

What are some career accomplishments you’re most proud of?

Stuffing two Masters degrees into three straight years, while getting the experience I needed to move forward. I waited ten years after my B.A. in History because I made other life choices. When I decided to continue my education, I knew that if I didn’t just get it done I wouldn’t want to. So I did. It was the best decision ever.

I was offered a great full time opportunity at a museum that I interned at. That led to other opportunities that gave me the experience I need to be successful in what I’m doing now. I am so happy and proud of my work, and being online, I can actually show my friends and family what I’ve created. It’s a great feeling.

What related fields might aspiring archivists consider looking into?

Whatever they are interested in, there are so many types of archivists, special collections, and libraries. It always surprises me to see something different than academic or governmental archives. If you think it exists, it probably does somewhere. Go find it!

How did you become interested in this field, and how did you begin your career?

I always loved museums and libraries as a kid. We moved to Albany, NY when I was about ten years old. My mom brought me to see the Empire State Plaza. There is a huge marble building that holds the NYS Museum, Library, and Archives. I remember being in awe when I first saw it. Then I went inside and saw all the incredible things like the skeleton of a whale, all sorts of geodes, and airplanes hanging from the ceiling. I spent many summers in the Museum and Library during high school.

As I got older, I was taught that I had to “make money” and was encouraged to do something in business. I went to community college and started with an A.A.S. in Business Administration. When I continued into my four year college I majored in accounting…and realized I hated it. So I went to the career center, took a quiz, and switched to history. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive much guidance from professors or internship supervisors. When I graduated, I didn’t have enough experience and I couldn’t find a job in my field, in my area. I made some life choices that stuck me where I was at the time and instead of working in museums, I wound up in banking. 

What education, skills, and training have been essential to your success in this field?

It took me ten years to get out of a field I didn’t like. Again, life changes occurred which freed me to make better choices for myself. I earned my M.A. in History, it was very reading and writing intensive. I built up some solid cross-trainable skills, especially writing. I found out during that time to be an archivist I needed an M.S.I.. So I decided to get as much experience as I could through archival internships and volunteer projects while I studied. As soon as I graduated, I continued on with my M.S.I., and luckily nabbed a full time position while I finished that degree. Though I loved that place, there was no room for advancement. Now, however, I’m at my dream job and it’s thanks to all of that experience.

What advice would you give someone who is considering this type of job (or field)?

YOU MUST LOVE WHAT YOU DO FIRST! If you love what you do, you can figure out what salary you can live with. Depending on where you go, be prepared for a lower salary. Governments and corporations may pay better than smaller companies, but would you be happy there? Find the balance that works for you.

Follow job lists. There are dozens out there, ask around for some (I’d be happy to share what I’ve used). What positions are appealing? Look at their requirements and job descriptions. Then volunteer/intern to get that experience and work on the education that is required. Be prepared to start ground up. The more you can do that while getting your degree, the better chance you have at finding a job later.

NOTE: Focus on the needed education and experience. I recommend being careful about over-education (a.k.a. earning a Ph.D. when a Masters will suffice) because some employers may pass you over as ‘overqualified’. 

Also, plan on potentially moving. I lived in an area that didn’t have any job growth and I had to move, but it was worth it for me. Make sure when you are looking at those job lists, where do you see growth? However, watch out if you see a lot of jobs in a particular area or company, is it job growth or turnover? Do your research about where you are willing to live and work.

If you could start all over again, would you change your career path in any way? Why?

I would love to say yes, but I’ve gone through enough in my life that has made me the person I am. If I changed anything I wouldn’t have learned and grown to be me. I continue to do my best to be better than I was yesterday.

Currently, I feel blessed because I’m in a position that fits where I want to be in my career, and it has the growth potential that I could stay here until I retire, if I so chose to.

In a perfect world at some point in the future, what would you like to be doing?

I would like to retire and be a Ghost Host on the Ghosts and Gravestones tour. I’d be the creepy old hag scaring tourists out of their wits! I love ghost stories and it sounds like so much fun, regardless of the fact that it’s usually historically inaccurate. That’s why it’s historical fiction.

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