Research Resources: Unsung Heroes, An Interview with Gender and Sexuality Studies Librarian Sara Howard

For this year’s Winter Seasonal Series, entitled Research Resources: Unsung Heroes, each correspondent has selected a faculty member, staff member, or peer working for a research resource on campus to interview. We hope that these interviews will provide insight into the variety of resources available on campus and supply the unique perspective of the people behind these resources. Here, Kamron shares his interview.

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Sara Howard, the Gender and Sexuality Studies and Student Engagement librarian. I’ve found that I often don’t use all the available research resources to my benefit. Given that we have all recently transitioned on an online learning community, consider meeting with your librarian over Zoom!

Sara Howard is a librarian for the Princeton Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies

What do you do?

I’m the librarian for Gender and Sexuality Studies and Student Engagement. As for the Gender and Sexuality Studies part, I work with the program in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I do want to underscore, I work with students, researchers, faculty, and visiting scholars from all disciplines doing research in Gender and Sexuality Studies. Even if you’re not doing the certificate, you can reach out to me! I’ve had a student tell me, “I know I’m not doing the certificate, but…”, and that’s perfectly fine! That is not a pre-qualification to meet with me in the slightest.

As for the Student Engagement piece, I work with students, centers, and different programs across campus – including SIFP students, the PACE center, the LGBT Center, the Women’s Center. I emphasize getting out of the library and meeting with students on campus.

How did you involve yourself with the Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP)?

Besides being in the academic world in a long time, I was also in the non-profit world. I worked a lot with young people in the foster care system and LGBTQ youth – those are communities I’ve always cared about. I’m a first-generation college student myself, and it was extremely important to me that I kept that thread going. Within the library at Princeton, I’ve found tremendous support to keep doing that. They altered my position to add the student engagement piece because it’s something I was doing and is something the library has gotten behind: they are completely supportive of the work with our SIFP study sessions. I‘ve also worked with the SHARE offices, with the Pace center, with the LGBT Center, with the Women’s Center. We’re getting out of that traditional model of “the library is here, the librarians are here.” I like to get out and meet students where they are on campus.

What advice do you give students most often?

Take care of yourself. I never want to come across as patronizing or maternalistic or condescending in any way, shape, or form, and I have to be reminded by my networks as well: how important rest is, taking a break is, doing that thing for you that gives you that mental space and energy to come back at your research. Whether it’s binge walking a Netflix show, or taking a swim, or a bike ride. Just something that, as a small disconnect, allows you to re-approach with a new passion, a new energy, and a new head space for it. That’s my bigger picture. My smaller picture is: keep things small! Think about scope. The massive quantity of books written about Gender and Sexuality Studies – we can’t read it all, and that’s okay. You’re still making a strong contribution even if you haven’t read everything under the sun. If your paper is 10-12 pages, I would say you don’t need to read 2000 articles on the subject.

What should students do to best use the resources that you offer?

I would suggest reaching out to your subject librarian! We are thrilled to work with students at any point in the research process. If you’re just thinking of ideas and where to go with something for a JP or an independent study, or you’re towards the final stages of looking for a citation that you perhaps misplaced, we’re really there for you across the spectrum of the services. Also, let us know when things aren’t working in the research process. If you’re working on a paper, and for every article you’re having to request from Borrow Direct, then I want to know that because perhaps there’s a hole in our collection I would like to address. If there’s new, emerging research coming out, I want to know that for my own information and to make sure those materials are here. That is never something we take as a criticism – you all are on the pulse of the research. We need that information to make sure the librarians and resources are here to support you.

At what stage in the research process should students come to you?

That is a fantastic question! I had a great professor who used to say, ‘Plan your crisis accordingly!’. But of course, we can’t always do that. If I’m working with a student from the start of research, I’m typically a bit more clued in as to what they’re doing or what their needs are, so if I come across something, or if we haven’t checked in for a bit, I’ll reach out to them. But I’m also very aware of how busy student’s schedules are, and sometimes, it’s in that moment of need that students can realize, “oh yeah! The librarians! I can reach out to them!”. In a perfect world, we’d like to always be working with you in the research process, but obviously that isn’t always possible. For certain things, like working with primary research and data, do try and get in touch with us earlier, since we can’t just make those things magically exist or get here the next day if we don’t have an item in the collection. But in any case, we’re here. I get a lot of 2 am messages from students, and I respond to those as soon as I get in the office!

What’s the best way for students to reach out to you?

I do WASE and email! I have office hours in my office, with SIFP students in our study sessions, and I hold office hours in GSS at Corwin, so I’m around. We can always find a time. I know that sometimes I’ll leave a small window on the WASE calendar, but we can always make something happen, even if I’m away on conferences or traveling. I’ve met students over Zoom or had a quick phone call: we will find ways to connect. If I’m away for a week, the research does not stop: although I may be representing Princeton in another capacity, I find that my first role and the role I’m most passionate about is working with students.

Given the recent circumstances regarding COVID-19, I can assure you that Sarah – and other librarians – are excited more than ever to meet with students over Zoom and continue communication digitally. Especially considering these exceptional times, now is an excellent time to reach out to your librarian for support!

-Kamron Soldozy, Natural Sciences Correspondent