After Hours: Sarah Stokes

Our newest librarian is also a chemist, and she has a passion for  information literacy. 

Position: Evening librarian

Years at NCSSM: Less than 1 (started in August)

Home: Hillsborough; originally from the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

What she does outside of work: She’s raising a future Unicorn! “I have a two-year-old,” she says. We joke that she’s [NCSSM’s] Class of 2035. She’s hilarious. She’s decided she already works at the library. She’ll come in and feed the guinea pig; she thinks that is her job.” Aside from adventures with her toddler, Stokes like to garden, knit, and play video games. “I’m an old-school geek of the first degree,” she says with pride and a laugh.

What coworkers may not know: She’s also a scientist. Originally trained as a chemist, she got her master’s in epidemiology from UNC Chapel Hill (in addition to a master’s in library science). Her background is a diverse mix of science, librarianship, and a converging of the two in the field of patent research and intellectual property.

“A lot of people would never assume that a librarian is also a scientist,” she says. “I have a really strange and unusual skill set—most chemists are not librarians, and most librarians are not chemists.” The combination is important, she says, especially for students here and the fields many of them hope to work in—biomedicine and pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and engineering, among others. In her 15 years working in the field of patent research, she brought together the worlds of science and information retrieval and research, working with scientists, academics, and lawyers running incredibly detailed searches for previous patents, and working with new ideas and inventions at the cutting edge of science. This work required her scientific background, she says, but also skills learned as a librarian.

“A lot of the people who do the chemistry, for example, are not necessarily great communicators, so it takes some work to figure out what people are looking for.” That’s where her unique background comes in handy, and is something she hopes to bring to her work with NCSSM students and instructors. These skills will give our students an additional edge, she says—not just learning information, but learning how to find information. “Not everything is accessible from Google. So how do you go beyond that, to databases housing 16,000 journals, or patents from 65 countries… to find information relevant to the types of research and projects [students] are doing.”

Stokes has begun working with NCSSM Online students on their research. She hopes to work with faculty to develop curricula on research methodology and the best ways to find information that students are looking for. “Informational literacy has always been important, but never more so than now,” she says,  “when there is so much of it, access points are everywhere, and those that seem ‘universal’—like Google—aren’t really.”

Stokes is excited to collaborate with students and faculty more in the coming months, making sure students are aware of and using the many research tools the library offers, and making the process more efficient. These skills will help give students an additional boost during their research, and also as they apply to colleges and universities, Stokes says. “A lot of people here are poised to go that little bit extra, with the high level of instruction here. I don’t think that many students, even from institutions like this, have that extra edge.”

Best part of her job: “Getting to interact on a personal level with the students.” Working in the library in the evenings, she says, outside the typical academic day, it’s really a different environment. “I get to know a lot of students in a way that faculty probably don’t, and I just genuinely enjoy being around [the students].” 

Favorite perk of working at NCSSM: Guinea pig snuggles

One thing about working here that she would do differently: She isn’t sure, she says, because NCSSM “really seems like a place where, if someone has an interest, or sees a niche or a gap they’d like to address, that seems to be really encouraged. Here in the library, we’ve got a lot of big ideas, so it’s really fun to see those happen.”

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