I interviewed Carolyn Ruby, the research coordinator at the Idaho State Archive research center. During my interview, I asked Carolyn questions ranging from her description of her job to the recent issues presented by certain materials found within their archives. When Carolyn first began working at the state archives, she began as a library assistant whose focus centered on research. By this I mean her primary job was to be able to answer the questions that individuals would bring before her. Within a short span, her job rapidly changed due to budget cuts. This meant that the research center went from employing eighteen employees, to just five. Fortunately for Carolyn, during this rough transition she was eventually promoted to research coordinator due to her higher education, as well as her vast experience in the field. After having earned her bachelor’s degree in history and completing a master’s in library science, she worked for thirty years mostly in research centers ranging from Micron to a short stint at a law firm. Like so many other students though, she gave immense thought as to what she wanted to do in life, this question also raised the question as to what good does just a bachelors in history do for her. Before her final semester of her undergraduate degree, Carolyn discovered a love for public history and that provided her motivation to earn her Master’s in Library Science. Thanks to all of the experience and skills she has developed over the years, she has managed to maintain a sense of job security in a world under the continual threat of lack of funds or budget cuts.
When the state archives experienced their horrific budget cut that left the institution with a dismal number of employees, Carolyn discussed how her role in the research center drastically changed. She learned the immense value of becoming a highly flexible employee. No longer could employees merely concentrate within one area of the archives, she and her fellow workers learned the skills required to work within multiple areas of the research center. From this experience, Carolyn described to me the major skills that are important to have currently within the archives. The largest skill or ability an individual could have when working at the archives is being flexible. This skill, important in all fields of work, allows an individual to show importance to the employer. Such as in the case of the state archives research center, when the amounts of employees are cut, those whom remain employed must become flexible in order to succeed in their new environment. As Carolyn explained it, “You must not only be able to pick up the slack or new responsibilities created, but be able to both multi-task and step-up your game.” You do not wait for someone to tell you what to do, you seek out work.
On an educational point, in order to gain employment at an institution such as the archives, individuals need to have some sort of educational background that provides them with the basic tools in understanding history. Like Carolyn, all of the employees at the research center have either a master’s or a PhD; most of their degrees are either in history or library science. When asked if there had been employees with degrees outside of either history or library science, Carolyn answered that to the best of her knowledge there had only been a small number of those employees. Of the current employees, one employee has their PhD in literature.
At the research center, Carolyn explained to me that all employees there stress that “it is a research center and not a research library.” This is mainly due to how it changes the view of state legislators toward the institution depending on the word used. More legislators have fewer issues funding a state research center than they do a state research library. Wording is paramount at the research center; it has the ability to drastically alter the potential future budget of the institution.
At the end of the interview I gained a much greater insight into public history. Three key points I felt were greatly stressed throughout the interview with Carolyn were the financial budget, employee flexibility, and the importance of wording on behalf of the research center.