23:1 (2008:03) Profiles: Sarah Sutton

February 20, 2008 at 5:27 pm | Posted in Profiles | 1 Comment


Susan Davis, Profiles Editor

Sarah is the serials/electronic resources librarian at the Mary & Jeff Bell Library of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. I met Sarah at the 2003 conference when I was a member of the Awards & Recognition Committee and she was the Horizon Award winner. Thanks to the essay she had to write as part of the award application (http://www.nasig.org/awards/timedated/horizon.html) I had a head start preparing some questions to help us learn more about this very busy lady.

I read that Sarah had been a travel agent before becoming a librarian. So I asked her to tell us how she became a travel agent and to share some of her experiences and any memorable trips or stories.

Sarah Sutton
Sarah Sutton, Serials Electronic Resources Librarian

Sarah: After obtaining my bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St Louis, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up so I followed a boyfriend to Dallas. When I got there, I needed a job and ended up accepting a job with the Trailways bus company in their group travel department where I arranged charter bus trips for groups all over the southern U.S. Most of my clients were schools and senior citizen groups. I planned their itineraries and made arrangements for hotel stays, sightseeing, and meals, as well as for transportation on chartered buses. After a couple of years, the boyfriend became my fiancé and, after our wedding we moved to Corpus Christi where he had a job with a law firm. With my travel experience, I found a job at a travel agency doing essentially the same type of work I did for Trailways but I worked with individuals and families instead of groups, mainly on vacation travel arrangements. Eventually I became a Master Cruise Counselor (MCC) which meant that I specialized in cruise vacations.

I was lucky to have begun working in the travel industry while it was still rather glamorous. One of the criteria for becoming MCC certified was to experience cruising for myself. At the time, cruise lines still depended primarily on travel agents to sell their products and they were willing (even anxious) for their primary sales force to experience their products first hand, providing me with the opportunity to do a lot of cruising. I’ve cruised all over the Caribbean and to Alaska three times. Alaska is definitely my favorite. I’ve been fishing, bicycling, and kayaking in the coastal cities of Alaska and even flown over a glacier in a helicopter.

My first cruise was an exciting experience. We were to board the ship in San Juan Puerto Rico and arrived there just hours before a hurricane. All the buildings’ windows were boarded up and the city was battened down for the impending storm. The ship left Puerto Rico and headed for Aruba and Curacao before the storm hit. We encountered some pretty heavy seas the first night and I learned that I get seasick! Luckily the medical facility on board had stocked up on Dramamine and Bonine (still my favorite seasickness prevention). Aruba and Curacao were lovely. It was sunny and warm just as we’d expected and we spent an extra day there waiting for the storm to pass. After the storm passed through the northern parts of the Caribbean, our last port of call was St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Instead of snorkeling off sunny beaches as we’d expected, we spent the day helping local store owners sweep water out of their shops. The ship returned us to San Juan where we were some of the first people to fly out of their airport heading home.

I got out of the travel business during the late 1990’s when more and more people were beginning to make their travel purchases directly with the airlines and cruise lines. One of the reasons I left was because of my growing frustration with travel agencies’ failure to take any steps to react positively to the enormous changes that the Internet was forcing them to face. They just seemed to accept their own demise and complained a lot about it but never did anything about it. That wasn’t the type of profession I wanted to be a part of.

Susan: What made you decide to switch gears and become a librarian?

Sarah: As I mentioned, by the time I left the travel industry, it was becoming less glamorous. I was burnt out and ready for a new career. I had started to become certified to teach high school when I learned about a joint MLS program that Texas Woman’s University and the University of North Texas were starting. I applied for admission and was accepted into the program. From the very first class I knew I had made the right choice. I had grown up on a college campus where my dad was a chemistry professor and I had worked as a student for four years so I also knew that I wanted to work in an academic library.

Susan: How did you end up in serials?

Sarah: During my first semester in library school, I was fortunate enough to have found a job as a paraprofessional in the acquisitions department of the library at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, where I was responsible for (among other things) processing the serials on standing order for the Reference Department. I learned a great deal about acquisitions and serials and academic librarianship in general in that position. It was a wonderful experience that added so much to my academic preparation. When the opportunity arose during my last semester in library school to apply for the serials librarian position at TAMU-CC, I jumped at the chance and have never regretted it. Our library is small enough that besides handling the serials librarian responsibilities, I also had the opportunity early on to do some cataloging, some bibliographic instruction, and some reference work. We don’t have a systems librarian position in our library so when we began to move heavily into electronic collections (e-journals, e-books, e-resources, etc.) I picked up the electronic resources responsibilities.

NASIG played a big part (and still does) in my development as a serials librarian. I began attending conferences during my first full year as a serials librarian, and the experience was better than I could have dreamed. Both the programming and the collegiality of the NASIG conference drew me in immediately.

Susan: Your NASIG career began as the 2003 Horizon Award winner. How did you hear about the award and what made you decide to apply?

Sarah: Several of my colleagues including my assistant director at the TAMU-CC library made me aware of the award and encouraged me to apply. I love learning and am definitely a life-long learner (some would say a perpetual student) and I recognized the opportunities for extending my knowledge of librarianship in general and serials librarianship in particular that attending a NASIG conference would provide.

Susan: You have been a member and co-chair of the Awards & Recognition Committee, and are now chairing the Library School Outreach Committee. Can you talk a bit about serving on a NASIG committee and what it means to you? I know you had a goal to be a trailblazer and give back to the profession (from your Horizon essay), so I wondered how you felt you were doing in terms of accomplishing your goals.

Sarah: A&R seemed like the perfect opportunity to give back a little of what I had been given as an award winner and so was my first choice of a committee to serve on. I wanted to provide other new serialists with as much of the same experience I had enjoyed at my first conference. My first conference was incredible. Everyone was so welcoming and went out of their way to make me feel a part of things. I wanted others to experience the same thing. The joy of being a part of A&R is being able to do just that. First as a committee member and then as co-chair, I’ve tried to make the award winners feel at home in NASIG and to ensure that they enjoyed their first conference and got as much out of it as I did. While I was part of A&R, we gave the first Champion Award and the first Serials Specialist Award. I’m particularly proud of having played a part in welcoming paraprofessionals into NASIG. They play such an important role in the serials information chain. It’s important to recognize their contributions and provide opportunities for them to continue their serials education. I also think giving that particular award is a way of recruiting new serials librarians.

The Library School Outreach Task Force (now Committee) was formed in the spring of 2006 and I was fortunate to be selected as their chair. The task force was formed to further develop an idea that had been brewing in several committees (including A&R and Membership Development) during the previous couple of years. The idea was to enable NASIG to become more connected with library schools and library school students as a way to encourage and recruit new serials librarians but also to provide resources to library schools that could be used to support course work and research in serials. A&R had been marketing the Student Grant Award at library schools for years but we wanted to take that relationship further. So we began to develop a group of NASIG members (we call them ambassadors) who would each be a liaison to a particular library school. The ambassadors work with the school to provide information about serials as a professional choice for librarians, to support the students in their coursework and faculty in their research and teaching of serials, to provide continuing education opportunities, guest speakers, and opportunities for students to obtain practical experience with serials work. They also promote NASIG, market our awards, and promote serials work in general. Last summer in Louisville, the board agreed to move the task force to a standing committee. This year the committee has worked to continue its relationships with the nine library schools that the task force began working with in 2006-07 and to lay the groundwork for administering the ambassadors program.

The opportunity to be a part of the development of the ambassadors program through Library School Outreach has certainly allowed me to achieve the goal of blazing trails for future serialists. It’s funny how things come together sometimes. Although I was not thinking about it at the time that I wrote my Horizon essay, I subsequently began studying for a PhD in library science with the goal of teaching in an MLS program someday. And lately I’ve felt a growing concern about the lack of emphasis on serials in library school curricula. Looking back I can see that this is yet another way to develop a connection between the work of serials librarians and their introductions to librarianship in library school.

Susan: Are you a native Texan? Have you always lived there? Anything you’d like to say about living on the Gulf Coast?

Sarah: I’m not a native Texan but I got here as quickly as I could, as they say down here. A real native won’t agree with that but I feel like a Texan having lived longer in Texas than anywhere else. Living on the Gulf Coast is wonderful. TAMU-CC is nicknamed “The Island University” because we’re the only university in the US to inhabit our own island. We have a small beach on campus and the whole Gulf of Mexico at our doorstep. The weather here is almost tropical…winter lasts for about two weeks here, usually in February, when the temperatures drop to the 40s and it rains a lot. That means that I can garden almost all year ’round. It took a while but now I’m completely spoiled because I’m able to take advantage of two growing seasons (one from January to May and another from September to December) and two batches of homegrown tomatoes each year!

Of course the summers are beastly hot and humid and there’s the threat of hurricanes each year. TAMU-CC and our library have extensive hurricane preparedness plans in place and at the library, we have a drill every year in May where we practice covering the stacks with huge sheets of plastic and pulling all the books off the bottom shelves. We’ve been very lucky during the years I’ve been here and have not experienced anything beyond the occasional tropical storm (although we have put our hurricane plan into action and evacuated campus twice). But, all things considered, I’d rather live here and have 24 to 36 hours notice of an impending natural disaster than live elsewhere where they happen with no notice at all.

Susan: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Sarah: Hmmm, spare time? I’m not sure I even remember what that is. Between working full time at TAMU-CC and taking classes toward my doctorate I don’t have much spare time to much else. I do like to garden, although my husband does most of the work at that these days and I just take a study break and tell him what to plant next and where to plant it .

Susan: Any pets or significant people you’d like to mention?

Sarah: I just mentioned my wonderful husband whose hobby lately has been taking care of me and our three cats and the house and the garden, etc., while I study. We have a daughter (my stepdaughter) and two wonderful grandkids whom we don’t see nearly often enough and, between semesters, we like to surf fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

Susan: What else should I have asked about?

Sarah: Just a couple of things that I’ve already mentioned but can expand on a little…

I started work on my PhD in library science at Texas Woman’s University in 2004 and have slowly been taking classes (one or two a semester) since then. TWU’s doctoral program is not a distance program but is organized in a way that allows me to travel to Denton, Texas, (which is about 400 miles from Corpus Christi) three or four weekends a semester for face-to-face class meetings. That’s exhausting and expensive but I have a colleague here at TAMU-CC who is in the same program with whom to share travel expenses, etc. I’ve also been fortunate in that TWU allows me to take some of my classes at TAMU-CC so I’ve been in doctoral class in the Counseling and Educational Psychology program here as well as in the Educational Leadership program and have benefited from getting to know scholars (students and faculty) in disciplines other than librarianship.

I hope to complete my PhD in 2009 or 2010 (depending on how long it takes me to complete my dissertation) and then I look forward to teaching in an MLS program. I’d like to teach a course in serials (although I know that most MLS programs don’t offer those very often) but am also interested in teaching research methods and technical services. My research interests change (a lot…there are so many interesting things out there to study) but at the moment I’m interested in serials, scholarly communication, information seeking behavior, especially among people who grew up using computers, communication technology, research methods, and open access publishing. My dissertation will probably include some combination of those topics.

I like to travel (I guess I’d have to in order to enjoy my PhD program!). Oddly enough, I’ve traveled more in six years as a librarian that I did during my last six years as a travel agent. I’m fortunate to work for a library that values both continuing education and professional contribution and so the library often funds my conference attendance. So I can combine two of my favorite pastimes: learning and travel! This past January I attended both ALA midwinter and the Association of Library and Information Science Educators’ annual conference in Philadelphia.


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  1. Sometimes I find librarians harder to read than the books they direct you to find!! 😀

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