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.

Angela Davis Speaking at Vassar on Wednesday, Sept. 16 – Read all about it!

As many of you have heard, Angela Davis will be speaking at Vassar on September 16th to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Women’s Studies Program at the college.  We here in the library are looking forward to Davis’ return to Vassar, and are taking this opportunity to read about her life and her work.  Looking at the library’s resources on Angela Davis is an excellent example of the broad range of books, primary sources, films and journal articles that you can find here.

angela-davis-political-biographyOn the shelves in the Main Library, you’ll find “A Political Biography of Angela Davis,” a pamphlet that was published by the New York Committee to Free Angela Davis in January, 1971, as Davis was awaiting trial.  If you’d like to dig deeper into the primary sources available about Davis’ trial, you’ll find a selection of documents related to the campaign to free Angela Davis in the database, “Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000.”  You can read Davis’ early work, such as her essay, “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role in the Community of Slaves,” originally published in the journal, The Black Scholar in 1971, or the autobiography she published in 1975 (in print or online).  Or you could read a collection of her more recent speeches and essays, The Meaning of Freedom (excerpted here) or a collection of interviews with Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons and Torture, published in 2005.

You could also learn more about Angela Davis’ background by reading her contribution to the book, Falling in Love with Wisdom: American Philosophers Talk About their Calling or by reading about the formative years she spent in France, recounted in Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag and Angela Davis by Alice Kaplan.

Perhaps you’d like to watch a Angela davis combodocumentary film or two?  Invite some friends to watch Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (2013) or Black Power Mixtape (2011).


However you prepare, we hope to see you at the Chapel on Wednesday, September 16th at 5:30.

Group reading: Guantánamo Diary (September 3)

Cover to Guantánamo Diary

Cover to Guantánamo Diary

The Libraries are proud to sponsor and host a set of group reading sessions on this year’s Freshman Common Reading text.

GROUP READING: “Guantánamo Diary” (9/3)

Location: Thompson Memorial Library (various locations within the building)

Time: 8:00pm

Please note: this event is restricted to members of the Vassar community.

Author Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Author Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantánamo Diary was the Freshman Common Reading this year. This event is designed to give everyone on the Vassar campus, including many who have not read the book, an opportunity to hear Slahi’s powerful voice and to gain an understanding of his experiences, through readings of key passages from the book. Readers include students, administrators, and faculty.

Note: The readings will take place in several locations in the library; directions will be available in the lobby.

Editor Larry Siems

Editor Larry Siems

Related resource: a research guide is available at, containing recommended resources such as books, articles, films, and documents.