Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Prindle Mabee ’07 (English)

Posted Jan 23, 2023

Sarah Prindle Mabee graduated from Otterbein in 2007.  Her English path led her to a graduate degree in Library Science.  She now serves as Library Director at Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Missouri.  In addition to supporting college student research, Sarah does scholarly work of her own.  Her article, “Curiosity is a Luxury of the Financially Secure: The Affective Thresholds of Information Literacy,” published in Library Trends in Winter 2020, was named one of the Top 20 best instruction articles by the ALA (American Library Association) and featured in their newsletter (free download here!).

Sarah Mabee
Sarah Prindle Mabee ’07

When did you graduate Otterbein?

2007. Facebook had just been discovered.

What were some of your most memorable experiences in the English major?

Going on poetry walks in the woods and the rain with Terry Hermsen. Learning about the hegemony of gender with Suzanne Ashworth. Listening to the voices of faculty and peers in the Philomathean room. Researching the history of colonialism, Haiti, and healthcare as a human right for the Common Book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. Crying uncontrollably at my thesis defense. 

The relationships I had with faculty at Otterbein changed me, and made me curious and ambitious. I’ve attended and worked at several colleges and universities, and I don’t think enough students get the opportunity to have those relationships, but they should.

While you were a student, did you know what you’d do with your English degree?

Not at all. I did not have a plan. I thought I wanted to go to grad school, but I really just wanted to stay in college. Which is not a good plan, for the record (staying in college forever, I mean — go to grad school by all means but only if they’ll give you an assistantship!).

What twists and turns has your career path taken?

I thought I wanted to go on to get my Ph.D. in English, but that is…a tough road. I had worked in libraries in college, and the librarians I worked with were really supportive. They encouraged me to get my Masters in Library Science. I never thought I would be a librarian. I was always quiet and nerdy and it felt a little too on the nose. But there’s a beautiful simplicity to librarianship: people ask you questions, you work to find answers. It’s not actually that simple, there’s politics and budget slashing and saturated job markets like in every profession. But it’s a profession of service. And sometimes you can really, actually help someone. And that’s not nothing.

Where are you working now, and what are you doing there?

I am currently the director of a very small library at a rather large community college in Springfield, Missouri (the city where Brad Pitt was born!).

Can you tell us about your ALA-recognized article and what inspired it?

The article is “Curiosity is a Luxury of the Financially Secure: The Affective Thresholds of Information Literacy,” and it was published in Library Trends in Winter 2020 (free download here!). The title comes from Tara Westover’s Educated. We did a qualitative study with focus groups of students at the college where I currently work. It was really an attempt to understand why students find the work of research and writing so hard, and specifically why the students at my institution and in my community struggle with this work. Reading, synthesizing, and writing is really hard! And it’s not just the cognitive skills required, it’s the emotional work. So many students talked about the anxiety and frustration they experienced doing research, and many talked about getting so overwhelmed that they just shut down completely and couldn’t do an assignment. I don’t think we always recognize the overwhelm we experience from the massive amount of information we encounter every day, and how that impacts student work. We’re reading constantly (social media, news, Google), we’re parsing misinformation constantly. And we’re doing this on top of life, school, relationships, jobs, bills. So I think that even librarians need to come to interactions with students from a place of radical empathy.

What career advice/ insight/ wisdom would you share with a current Otterbein English major?

Ask for more money. An interview is not a measure of your worth and should be about what a place can do for you, not just what you can do for them. Don’t do a white man’s job for him. Learn to use Excel now, it’s so much harder when you’re old. Always show up early. Use every job to learn new things. Work won’t love you back.

If you’re thinking about being a librarian: it’s not about books, it’s about people.