An Interview with Rachel Finn, the Newest Research Services Librarian

To get things started, can you give a brief overview of what you’ll be doing in your position with the Vassar Research Library?

My official title is Social Sciences Librarian. I’m part of the team of research librarians, so I’ll be doing many of the same tasks as my colleagues in the research department. I’ll be working with students answering reference questions and providing support in that way and I’ll be a liaison for most of social science departments and a couple of programs on campus. I’ll be working specifically with economics, sociology, political science, urban studies, and Africana studies.

What motivates you? What (or who) inspires you to do what you do?

In general, I’d have to say I motivate myself. But I care very deeply about actively contributing to the common good. What inspires me? Black people. We excel, create beauty, and inspire envy and wonder, often in spite our circumstances.

You’ve mentioned your work as a food historian. Can you elaborate on your experiences with that? What led you to that field?

I’ve written lots on African Diaspora and Middle Eastern food. I’ve traveled around the world to give presentations on African Diaspora foodways and I’m working to build a foodways library focused on Afro-foodways. I’ll actually be working on that this summer with a Ford Scholar. I began working first as a food writer while living in France, an experience that led to my first article on Algerian pastries being published in Gastronomica. I’ve been on a hiatus of sorts for the past few years but I’m slowly re-entering the field with a few new ideas I’m developing to pitch in various places.

What advice would you give to Vassar students?

I was a high school teacher in Chicago for a long time, which was often pretty tough. I’ll share the different things I tried to impress upon them in my classroom back then, things I think are pretty universal. Most of it has nothing to do with academics or school necessarily and everything about how to navigate the world as a decent human being, something we all need reminders of but especially now in our current climate.  Understand that all actions –good or bad, positive or negative- have consequences. Just because you might not like the consequences doesn’t mean you didn’t have a choice in arriving at them. Be generous of spirit, and always do things with a pure heart.

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