Interview with Sarah Hernandez, Head Librarian

Sarah joined College Prep this summer. We sat down with her to talk about her approach to librarianship as well as the barriers to academic publishing for BIPOC authors and how she’s working to dismantle those barriers through the curation of the Library’s collection of books and her newly launched Library Site.

After receiving a BA in History from Trinity University and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sarah has worked in a variety of library spaces, including public and academic libraries. Sarah has instructed learners in all stages of their academic careers through the research process and encourages students to examine the barriers in producing knowledge and history-making. She is excited to bring this passion to College Prep and looks forward to working with students and faculty to build up the collection and support their learning and teaching.

Q: What inspired you to become a librarian? 
A: I wasn't the kid who was always in the library. I didn’t know this is what I wanted to do, and my family never really used the public library. So, I didn't really think about it until I was in college and I was taking my history classes and doing research papers. The librarians would help us a lot. And I thought, this is great because I get to do some of the research without actually having to write. I thought that was cool. I also started adult literacy tutoring, just for non-readers who either weren't able to go to school while they were kids or were kids that were pushed through the public school system. And so I wasn't sure what area I wanted to go in libraries, but if I went into public libraries, I could keep up with the public service aspects. And if I wanted to use my history degree, then I could be in an academic space or archives or something like that. And so that's what got me there. 

Q: What are some of the priorities for you in your new role at College Prep?
A: I’m thinking about collection development, making sure that we have a wide range of voices represented in our collection, whether that be fiction or nonfiction. In terms of nonfiction I want to get Black historians’ arguments on either American history or another history that they specialize in. I want to make sure that we're not just collecting books by white men or white women about things that they're not historically attached to. Even thinking about sociology, it feels weird to only have a white sociologist’s perspective and argument, or thoughts on a minority community when there's not a whole lot of investment. I'm sure they're invested, you know, that's their area of study, but it's a little different and it's very exclusionary. And usually the argument in academia is just, well, there's not a lot of Black professors or experts in that field.  They’re there, you just have to find them. So, I’m being really intentional with that discovery aspect of collection development. I think with the way our history department is working towards changing up their curriculum and updating it—we're seeing that some of our teachers are offering classes specific to the history of Black women—and I want to make sure that I'm able to support their learning in that specific subtopic and branches of history. Gender history and social history aren't always seen as super academic. And I want to make sure that I have that included as well, especially since as the students grow as researchers, they're able to really explore whatever they want. I just want to make sure that our collection is as rounded as possible covering the specific themes that the faculty is teaching. 

Q: Can you tell me about your newly published Library Site that you developed for College Prep? What does it address with regard to some of the school's Equity & Belonging goals?
A: One of the first things I did when I got here was revamp the Library website. And one of the things that I wanted to do was create a guide specific to race and belonging at CPS. I did tend to focus the guide more on libraries just because I have more expertise in that area. I wanted to show and highlight some groups and collectives that are doing a lot of hard work to get students, as well as other scholars and academics, to really start thinking about citation politics and citing Black people, specifically Black women, and acknowledging how difficult it can be to be a Black or brown person in a white space and how potentially harmful that could be. So providing resources for students to potentially explore those emotions that they're having, through listening to the experiences of older people of color who are saying, “I went through that too, and here's how I've tried to help myself,” just so that they don't feel like they're alone. 

Q:  Can you give us some examples of what students can find on the site?
A: They can find a few different things. They can find information just about citation politics and a collective called Cite Black Women, which is a movement. The collective has podcast episodes, which primarily focuses on the founders talking to Black PhD students, Black professors, and Black women who maybe have just walked away from the profession and want to talk about their experiences in academia. There's also a link to the Museum of Black Joy, which is just an all-digital museum that is relatively new and it's such a lovely site. It's just so pretty. You can go through their gallery and see all of the cool things that they have, but specific to the school. I have suggested reading—a collection of books in our physical collection, as well as our e-collection of authors of color and anything that's fiction or nonfiction—just so that we're getting away from a white-centered protagonist.  

Q:What does the Lib Guide contain?
A: The Lib Guide is essentially just a library guide. And within it, librarians can create different guides. It could be a subject guide. It could be a course guide. It could be something very general, such as race and belonging at CPS. Right now, we have our main landing page, which will take you to our classic catalog, and then a breakdown of pages by subject. We have one for History, Science, English, and all of the languages that we offer. And within them, we have sections specific to the courses that are being taught or subjects and areas of interest. Right now, one of the electives that we have is Forensics. Within the Science guide, there's a section with some of the required reading, as well as just things that I think those students might be interested in if they want to learn more. 

Q: Moving forward, how will this site be curated, and how will you continue to find content for it?
A: I’m part of a few of the collectives or groups that I’ve included on the page, so I keep up with what they’re doing or what’s being discussed in the library world or academia that way. I follow some of the new publications on those specific sites, some of which are opinion pieces, but a lot of them are academic. I want to make sure that I'm continuing to think critically about my library practices. It’s going to change as communities continue to think about their identities and continue to present their identities to society-at-large. This could be anything, like changing key terms or subject terms, but also movements change and redefine themselves. So I just want to stay on top of those things and not let myself get complacent as a librarian. 

Q: What challenges have you come across in the field and how has that shaped your approach to your work? 
A: Initially I went in thinking I'd do more archival work. The first class they had us take in library school is called Information & Perspectives. Which is about the history of libraries, serving a variety of patrons, and just getting an understanding of the field. Seeing how white the curriculum was, I thought, oh my goodness, there's a lot of racism in library spaces that I didn't realize. And so that was one of the first hurdles that I had to jump over. For example, there  is an ongoing debate about whether or not archivists need to be more intentional in collecting the artifacts and histories of marginalized communities. Learning about these things and my experiences in library school led me to look more deeply into race and libraries and has brought me to the work I’m doing now.