Sara Baron on librarianship, universities and being Pittsburgh bound

By Seth Culp-Ressler | Features Editor

On Sept. 1 Sara Baron will begin her new position at Duquesne as head librarian for Gumberg Library. Baron comes to the Bluff with a wealth of librarianship experience, most recently as the dean of the university library at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Consider this her formal introduction to campus, as well as an invitation for all faculty and staff to welcome her with a good old Duquesne greeting when she arrives.

Q: Let’s start out with the basics: why books? Why libraries? Why become a librarian?
A: In a way it’s a little bit stereotypical. I’ve always loved books – and not all librarians are like that – but I’m definitely one of those booky type people. I’ve just always loved literature, always loved English. I grew up in Catholic schools, so the nuns instilled a love of literature in me. My first job in high school was in the little local public library, and in college I worked in the college library. So it was just a very natural fit for me to move into librarianship. I just love it. I love not just being around the books, but serving people and helping people. Over the years I’ve really come to think of being a librarian as my vocation. It’s something I’ve been doing for a long time.

Q: Most of your career has been spent at college or university libraries. Is there any specific reason for that choice?
A: One of the main reasons is that I just love learning; I’m very much a lifetime learner. I love being in a higher education environment. And for me, students learn in the classroom, students learn from their professors. But they learn more in the library. By more I mean in addition to. They start learning in the classroom and then they continue that learning in the library, and not just in the physical library, but by accessing library materials. I’ve always really liked that process of learning about something in a class and deciding, ‘I want to know more about this.’ Higher education is a great place to live that passion for learning. I’ve been able to benefit from being in higher education. In my last, not the job I have now but the one before that, I was able to complete my doctorate because I was working in higher ed. The environment is so exciting and energetic, and it just really appeals to me.

Q: Switching gears a bit, are you looking forward to any specific thing about Duquesne and the larger Pittsburgh area?
A: I am, I am. I’m looking forward to being back in an urban environment. Before I moved to Virginia Beach I was in Boston, and I just loved it there. So I’m excited about Pittsburgh, about the culture and the sports. Maybe not so much the weather, but just being back in that environment. And Duquesne, what appealed to me right off the bat was the mission: ‘Serving God by serving students.’ I just love that mission and I think it really fits well for the library because libraries are service organizations — that’s what we do. We help people. And so I’m excited about working in a place that not only says that, but actually does it. Duquesne is such a great school, it’s such a great Catholic university and I’m thrilled to be coming. I’m thrilled I was offered the job, and I can’t wait to start when I get there next week!

Q: It may be a bit early for this, but do you have any plans in mind for Gumberg Library?
A: Naturally I’m going to have to get there and really talk to people and meet people and really have some conversations before I can come up with a specific plan. But I can tell you that I think the Gumberg Library team already works with excellence. I think they’re already doing a lot for students and for the local campus community. So for me I just want to help them do that even more. I think there probably needs to be some space enhancements. I don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like, but I do think there’s always opportunities to make library spaces more conducive for students, for student work, for group work, for collaborative work. Those are some initial thoughts, but of course I can’t say anything specifically until I get there and actually talk to people and get a real sense of what the needs are. Ultimately, though, students come first. So the library has to meet all the needs of the students and really things they aren’t even expecting. I like to surprise students, so when they walk in they say ‘Wow, this is a great place, this is somewhere I want to be.’

Q: I know this will be a hard one. Do you have a favorite book, or at least some current must-reads?
A: This is a hard question. I run the gamut when it comes to reading. I read a lot of historic fiction, also contemporary fiction and also the classics – things that I probably should have read back in high school or college that I never got to. Right now my book club — at my current university that I’m leaving we have a book club on campus — and we just finished reading ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott which I had never read before. And now we’re reading a book called ‘March,’ which is written from the perspective of the dad in ‘Little Women’ who was very absent in the book. I actually haven’t started it, but that’s the book I’m reading now. I also read a lot of contemporary fiction, and it’s hard to pick one. On my road trip up to Pittsburgh I’ll be listening to ‘The Hobbit,’ the books on tape. I read ‘The Hobbit’ years ago and loved it, and so I found a little, it’s actually a cassette tape. I didn’t even know my car had a cassette player, but it does. And I’m going to be listening to that on the drive up.

This interview has been edited and condensed.