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Meet the New Library Dean

Sarah Watstein was drawn to SU's Jesuit educational mission

Written by Tina Potterf
Photography by Yosef Kalinko
January 29, 2018

The following appears in the Winter 2018 Seattle University Magazine.

Sarah Barbara Watstein’s professional life could have ended up much differently.

Watstein, the new Dean of the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons, chose library management and information studies over law school.

As Watstein tells it, she comes from “a long line of Yale graduates and lawyers and intended, nearly through my years at Northwestern, to go to law school.”

But it was during her senior year at Northwestern that her interests started to shift. An English professor, who had a Master of Library Science degree, inspired Watstein to explore graduate programs in information studies.

“…The more I read, the more I knew I would like to be one of these people—making the world a better place by improving the ways in which information is preserved, accessed and used,” she says.

Ultimately Watstein ended up in graduate school at UCLA and before long was working her way up through academic libraries that were the right match and blend of her scholarly and creative skills and abilities.

An appreciation of what make Seattle University distinctive factored into Watstein’s decision to apply for library dean.

“The Jesuit tradition and a Jesuit education define and distinguish the university experience,” she says. “(And) I share with my Seattle University colleagues a deep passion for education and its power to improve society.”

Prior to joining Seattle University Watstein served as an academic library administrator at several institutions including the University of North Carolina Wilmington, UCLA and Virginia Commonwealth University.

When she got the call from Seattle U, Watstein spent six days, covering some 3,000 miles, traveling across the country from North Carolina to the Pacific Northwest with her dog Liza “with a Z” Watstein and cat Neiman Marcus Watstein in tow.

As Dean, Watstein’s day involves juggling administrative and strategic matters, mentorship, managing interpersonal relationships and operations and answering lots and lots of email.

Also central to Watstein’s work is navigating the ever-evolving higher education landscape and staying abreast of the pace of change in platforms, information services and research.

“Academic libraries are uniquely responsible for the collection, selection, management, curation, preservation and use of information in all forms, genres and media,” she says. “And they are no less responsible for identifying and addressing the cultural, social and policy issues raised by their actions.”

Watstein credits her MLS education at UCLA in setting her up for a successful career trajectory. She was drawn to the program’s commitment to the advancement of social justice and equity while promoting diversity and intellectual openness.

As for her plans for the Lemieux Library, Watstein says she will work closely with staff on strategic priorities and organizational structure.

Outside of her work at Seattle University, Watstein is co-editor of Reference Services Review, a leading quarterly journal focused on the enrichment and advancement of reference knowledge and the improvement of professional practice. She also serves on the editorial board of portal: Libraries and the Academy and currently chairs the Sophie Brody Medal Award—within the American Library Association—that is an honor bestowed upon a U.S. author who makes a significant contribution to adult Jewish fiction or nonfiction.

When she’s not running an award-winning library or editing academic works, Watstein enjoys hiking and travel—“off the beaten path more often than not!”—playing Scrabble, working out, writing and reading fiction and poetry.