Guest Blogger Diane Otosaka: Views from a month at Stanford Libraries

October 14, 2019
Sarah B Sussman

I have been fortunate to host Diane Otosaka for the past month at Stanford Libraries as part of her doctoral training. Below, you'll see her thoughts on what she's learned and accomplished during her stay. - Sarah Sussman


My PhD program at the University of Leeds (UK), through funding generously provided by WRoCAH (White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities), offers doctoral students the opportunity to undertake a short-term internship to explore career paths that one might be interested in – in my case subject librarianship. As a doctoral candidate in the UK, my exposure to librarianship had been so far limited to attending library workshops and requesting the purchase of books for my own research. One of the aims of my placement here at Stanford Libraries has thus been to get a better understanding of what being a subject librarian involves. Through shadowing my project supervisor Sarah Sussman, I have been able to explore the many things happening behind the scenes. The diversity of tasks undertaken by subject librarians on a daily basis is impressive. These notably include working closely with faculty members and students to help them find the materials that they need for their research; this requires good knowledge of their current work and research interests as well as of the current trends and developments in scholarship. In addition to working with faculty members and students, subject librarians also work with colleagues across departments within the university – notably on digital library projects – and sometimes with other institutions in the US and overseas. The project I have been working on, the Spotlight exhibit French Revolution Images: Iconography from the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, is one such example of collaborative practice.

Another key aspect of librarianship is the purchase of books for both the general and special collections. There is constant flux of new books arriving at the library; and given the limited physical space, deciding which ones to keep in the main library and which ones are to be sent to be stored off-campus is another important task. The acquisition of rare books is also important. There are many factors to consider, for instance which book will enrich and strengthen the existing collection, respond to the needs of faculty members and students, and of course the budget. During my stay, I was able to attend meetings with rare book dealers, leaf through their catalogues and get a glimpse of the different technical terms and abbreviations specific to book collectors. Who knew there were so many different styles of binding (Janséniste, Cambridge, Cottage, Etruscan, Harleian, Romantic) and that ‘deckle-fetichism’ could be a thing? (John Carter provides the following definition: ‘the over-zealous, undiscriminating (and often very expensive) passion for uncut edges in books which were intended to have their edges cut’ (1978, p.73))

As scholarship has become increasingly digital in recent years, those tangible materials coexist alongside online publications and databases, and librarianship finds itself at an interesting juncture, between the analog and digital realms. While the digital offers tremendous possibilities, for instance making data and resources more widely available and accessible, it also comes with specific challenges and issues, notably data ownership. Furthermore, amidst the rapid emergence of new technological advances, one must make sure that older forms of technology remain supported or are updated.

This wide range of tasks and responsibilities requires a corresponding wide skill set that includes linguistic skills as subject librarians typically work across different languages, communication and interpersonal skills, time-management, flexibility, and interdisciplinarity. This very diversity makes being a subject librarian a challenging – but equally rewarding job; a career path that I now seriously consider pursuing!

- Diane Otosaka

Reference: Carter, John. ABC for Book Collectors. New York: Knopf, 1976. Print.


Sarah B Sussman

Sarah B Sussman

Curator, French and Italian Collections
Head, Humanities and Area Studies Resource Group