Nicole Gómez, Class of 2022, pursues librarianship after working at PUL
When Nicole Gómez first applied to work at Princeton University Library’s (PUL) Special Collections it wasn’t with the goal of it becoming her vocation. Like so many college sophomores, she was simply looking for any job that was still accepting applications.
In the position, an office assistant, Gómez embraced her self-described “nerdy” interest in organizing. She worked alongside Darlene Dreyer, Assistant to the Associate University Librarian of Special Collections, and would help to keep the workflow of Special Collections and its many staff and researchers coordinated while working the department's reception desk.
Occasionally, however, Gómez would be invited by one of the Librarians to sit in on a presentation or help with class preparations. Sometimes they would invite her to see the collection items they were using.
“The one I remember most specifically was from Julie Mellby, the Graphic Arts Librarian, before she retired,” Gómez recalled. “I was running an errand for Darlene and she stopped me and asked if I wanted to see Abraham Lincoln’s death mask. I said, ‘absolutely!’”
Lincoln’s death mask was just one of the many treasures Gómez would encounter during her nearly three-year tenure working at the Library. The experience, which complemented her love for English literature, influenced her decision to pursue a career in librarianship.
Figuring it out
Gómez arrived at Princeton University from her hometown near Louisville, Kentucky.
“I had no idea before even coming to Princeton that I was going to pursue librarianship,” she said. “I wanted to be a myriad of things when I was younger. I had a science phase in which I thought I might go into chemistry or try to work at NASA.”
Her love of literature eventually won out. At Princeton, Gómez became interested in the intersection of queer literature and memoirs. The throughline of her interests were pieces that were not historically accessible or preserved, and she aspired to, “bridge the gaps in the archives.”
While working in Special Collections and delving into her studies, Gómez was introduced to Reference Professional for Special Collections Emma Sarconi. Sarconi was working on the “Her Book” project, which seeks to discover and identify female book owners within PUL’s collections.
Gómez joined the project in October 2020, working remotely and relying on images of nameplates and inscriptions that Sarconi shared with her. The two began with the Robert H. Taylor collection, and worked through some 4,000 items, analyzing handwritten page notes for signs of ownership.
Sarconi appreciated the help. “It was really a pleasure working with her. Nicole is a hard and dedicated worker. She is eager to learn and a very welcome collaborator. I appreciated having her as a second set of eyes on this project and someone else so passionate about our mission,” Sarconi said.
Once Gómez returned to campus, she and Sarconi embarked on reviewing the Miriam Y. Holden collection. Holden was one of the preeminent female book collectors of the 1900s, and amassed a collection of 6,000 books, periodicals, manuscripts, clippings, photographs, cartoons, letters, and other materials about women and their achievements.
After she passed in 1977, her husband, Arthur C. Holden, a member of the Class of 1912, presented her collection to Princeton.
“You can really see how interested Holden was in female authorship and female presence in both authorship and subject matter and literature through how well she preserved really old books that were dedicated to this,” Gómez said. “Through her collection I’ve seen female authorship that goes as far back as the late 1600s and the early 1700s, which is not something I expected at all.”
Remembering her roots
Gómez continued to work on “Her Book” at PUL through the summer after graduating in 2022. At the same time she was a teaching assistant for the Princeton University Preparatory Program (PUPP), which assists in the educational development of students from high schools in Mercer County.
“In PUPP, we do literature, art, math, science, we even offer sociology to the juniors, and ACT, SAT, and college admissions prep for the incoming seniors,” Gómez said. “We basically give them all the tools we have to ensure they have their best foot forward in transitioning from high school to college.”
In working with PUPP students, Gómez is helping to provide them the educational foundation that felt inaccessible to her growing up in Kentucky.
“I considered Librarianship here and there when I was growing up because I loved libraries. They were my favorite place to be. If I could have lived in one I would have,” Gómez said. “I grew up very low income and in a very diverse area, so it wasn’t something that I was really allowed to consider because it’s a labor of love and it’s not a field you’re going into to achieve something lucrative.”
Spending time at PUL however, helped reshape Gómez’s thinking about pursuing librarianship. Beyond her fondness for the physical collections in a time of digital growth, she grew appreciative of librarians as public servants.
“Being able to experience bits and pieces of librarianship here at Princeton showed me that given the right tools, given the right resources, it is accessible and is possible to fall in love with what you're doing,” Gómez said.
“My whole goal was to find something that paid enough money that allowed me to uplift myself and my people. I really feel like I found the best of both worlds.”
Published on October 10, 2022
Written by Brandon Johnson, Communications Specialist
Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications