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Silhouettes Profiles Jennifer Dietz

Jennifer Dietz

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 13, 2017 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jennifer Dietz grew up with one of the world’s most renowned film festivals taking place in her backyard.
The Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent film festival in the United States and attracts tens of thousands of movie buffs, filmmakers, producers, actors and other film industry workers each year.
Though she earned a degree in political science from the University of Utah with the intention of going on to law school, Dietz took a job with the film festival and fell in love with archiving.
That was the beginning of her career as an archivist, and today she’s the archives and records manager for the City of Tampa. But if it wasn’t for her love of old films, she never would have found her way there.
“When I worked at Sundance, I worked in archives a lot,” she said. “It was a lot of fun and that’s what developed my interest in what I’m doing today.”
Not only did she archive the films themselves, but she worked closely with print materials associated with the films, such as vintage movie posters and other marketing materials.
In 2002, Dietz moved to Tampa to study at the University of South Florida, where she earned her master’s degree in library and information science with a focus on archives.
She was familiar with the region. Her grandparents lived here and, growing up, her family would visit them every year. “I loved it here,” she said. “I loved the area. I loved the climate. I loved the ocean. I always thought I might go to school out here.”
She took a job with the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System. There was a shortage of children’s librarians at the time, and she was initially hired to plan events for teens and younger children. She started out at the Seminole Heights Library before moving to the Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library.
But in 2009, then a senior librarian, Dietz was given the opportunity to open the library at the Tampa Bay History Center. The library collection there had never been catalogued. “It was a great experience,” she said. “It was so much fun. I learned so much about Tampa while working there. That’s when I really got interested in Tampa history.”
In addition to old manuscripts and letters, she also archived artifacts pertinent to the city’s history. At the time, there was significant construction taking place in downtown Tampa. Construction workers would often “unearth cool, old artifacts,” such as ceramic dolls and beads, and bring them to the history center’s team of archaeologists. After that, they would fall in the hands of Dietz, who would catalogue them.
While working at the history center, she often would find herself delving into the city’s records for additional information on projects. “They have such great archives over here,” she said. “There’s so much government history and wonderful local treasures.”
She got to know the then-archives and records manager, who was retiring. She encouraged Dietz to apply for the job.
It was a somewhat easy transition when Dietz moved from the library system to working for the city’s archives and records department. “Still, it’s a lot different. I was a librarian and cataloguer,” she said. “Things are structured differently.”
A large part of her job is record management, she added. In fact, she was required to earn her records manager certification when she came onto the job.
The archives department, which was established in 1987 as the first municipal archive in the state, today manages more than 30,000 boxes of records and more than 5 million electronic records for the city. She manages a division of 10 employees who are in charge of all these city records and manages them in accordance with the state’s retention schedule. Her department receives and digitizes thousands of records each month.
Dietz considers her work in the city’s archives as “the fun part of [her] job.”
In 2014, she helped to revive Archive Awareness Week, bringing in a number of community partners, including the University of South Florida, the library system and the Tampa Bay History Center, to celebrate with a variety of exhibits and programs throughout the city. The week was originally founded in 1992 by the city’s Archives Advisory Committee, but eventually fell to the wayside after a number of years.
This summer, as part of Archive Awareness Week, the archives department celebrated the release of a treasure trove of historic Tampa photos. Her department digitized two photography collections and made them available to the public on the library system’s website.
One of these newly released archives was a collection of 30,000 photographs from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. The Tampa Historical Society donated them to the city in 1994. The second collection includes around 50,000 images from Tampa Photo Supply, which was donated to the city last year by E.J. Salcines.
Dietz said the city is grateful to Salcines, “an invaluable resource,” for his photographs as well as his vast knowledge. “He knows so much about Tampa history,” she said. The city will honor him later this month, first with an unveiling of a statue in his likeness downtown on Oct. 27, and then with a Salcines Day celebration at the West Tampa Library Oct. 28.
These newly digitized photographs span Tampa’s history from about 1960 into the 1990s, Dietz said, and join the expansive Burgert Brothers photography collection, which chronicles Tampa life and architecture from the late 1800s into the early 1960s, on the library website. “The Burgert Brothers were commissioned projects, lots of old buildings,” she said. “Ours are more people and events, the more human side of Tampa history. They’re like two different sides of the same coin, seeing Tampa from different perspectives.”
Her goal is to “improve accessibility” to these photographs and other documents for researchers, authors, historians and the average Tampa resident who wants to learn more about city history. “My goal is to make everything as accessible as possible,” she said. “There are more things added every year. We’re doing our best as curators and keepers so [this information] is available to future generations.”
She recently launched a book binding restoration project. The archives contain all of the old city council minutes dating back to the 1800s. Many of those early books of minutes are handwritten and bound in leather, which is falling apart. Her department has digitized as many of these minutes as it can and is also repairing the books’ binding. “It’s a really great resource for us,” Dietz said. “It really is important that we save these. It’s important to have our history preserved and not buried and lost.”

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