Career Journeys: Valerie A. Metzler

Valerie founded and runs the business Valerie Metzler Archivist/Historian

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

I learn so much! Each job offers something new and interesting. Most challenging are the times when my client pool requires a lot of travel each month.

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

2020 made me aware of how grateful I should be for my, now, 37 years in private practice. So, not only was I not affected by the sudden isolation that my colleagues were hit with, I reflected upon the years of 1985 through about 1989 when people were skeptical that I could make a living 100% on my own. Even some colleagues asked if “self-employed” really meant “un-employed!” So, the fact that I have made a comfortable living, all by myself, and gained respect in the field is what I am most proud of (and grateful for).

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

My interest really began with my mother collecting antiques and taking me to auction sales. I wondered about the origin of objects and the stories behind them. Both sides of my family–the Mennonite and the Lutheran sides–held a strong interest in our histories. That helped lead me to be a history major at Elizabethtown College and when I wanted to do an internship, the one that was available was at the Pennsylvania State Archives. Once I got there and saw how much fun being an archivist could be, I knew what I wanted as a career! My first job in the field was in the manuscript archives at the (then) U. S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle.

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

I have a history B. A. and American Studies M. A., continuing education through SAA, MAC, and MARAC. They are essential education and training. My (apparently) genetic tendency for entrepreneurship, attention to detail, and outgoing personality are the skills that have been essential to my success as a freelance archivist.

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

If you are asking for advice for someone wanting to be self-employed, I would suggest that about 10 years of experience in the field–in different institutions–is the best start. General entrepreneurial advice for any field is applicable if you are wanting to have your own business.
If you are asking about the field of archives, in general, I would offer caution that being an archivist does not mean that you sit and read stuff all day. Too often, I have encountered folks who conflate the work of archivists and historians. That is why my business name is Valerie Metzler Archivist/Historian–I do both.

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

Referring back to my answer that included the gratitude I felt when the pandemic hit, I really would not have it any other way! What I would change is that I would have joined SAA and my regional organization (at that time, MARAC) as soon as I realized that I wanted to be an archivist. Add that to my answer to the question about advice to someone considering the field!

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