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In the Libraries: Research Relationships

Dr. Simone Alexander - May 2016

Dr. Simone Alexander of Seton Hall’s English department, researches primarily in the fields of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies, Postcolonial Literature, Migration and Diaspora Studies.

Dr. Simone Alexander


For her most recent book African Diasporic Women’s Narratives: Politics of Resistance, Survival and Citizenship (University of Florida Press) Dr. Alexander won the College Language Association Creative Scholarship Award, in 2015. Offering an in-depth study of literature, analyzing selective texts by the migrant writers Audre Lorde, Edwidge Danticat, Maryse Conde, and Grace Nichols, the book has been reprinted and the paperback edition will be available May 3, 2016 (read an excerpt here).

Dr. Alexander took time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about her research.         

You research, publish and teach, and, you have received numerous awards and grants recognizing your work. How do you find time to balance all these activities?

I don’t even know how! I go to bed even today at 2am, and I’m back up at 6, 6:30am. I love doing this, I love doing research, and I love when I can connect my research in the classroom. I feel as though I get this special adrenaline.

It has not been easy. I’m raising kids—my kids are older now, so it’s a little easier—but there are times when you have to give up certain things. You can’t show up at some of your kids’ events, you just have to say “You know what, I just can’t do this today.” So I have to find ways and means, it has not been easy.

Trying to juggle being a mom, being a wife, it’s a very difficult space to be in at times. I feel as though having a family, sometimes I’m at a disadvantage and I have to do more just to keep up. Because when you are in the academic space, no one cares what happens behind your closed doors, you have to produce. And I’m still kind of in that moment of “publish or perish”.

In what ways have Seton Hall University Libraries (books, databases, ebooks, ILL service, librarians) assisted your research process?

In my earlier years I physically went to the library to use books. I checked them out, but then I hung on to some of the books beyond their due date. I didn’t like the fact that the library just gave it [the book] to you for two months! And I kept saying “Can you extend this to the end of the semester?” Quite often most of the books that I used I don’t think anyone else was using them.

Recently, I love the fact that you can get everything electronically. You can also do interlibrary loan through PALCI, I’ve been using that a lot. When I’m doing research, for example on Toni Morrison, I get every piece of work that’s been done on her. I also love using ILLIAD. It’s so effective, you can submit a request today and by the following morning you get all of your articles. It has been a tremendous help.

In the past, we had an option if the library did not carry some of the books that we wanted, we could put orders in. I haven’t done any recently, but I’ve supplied different lists [of books] to order. When I first came to campus the library didn’t have much on diaspora studies, transnationalism and migration, they were relatively new fields. So I helped bring in books to build the collection in these areas.

Which library databases are your preferred starting places to begin when you are looking for current research articles?

Always MLA Bibliography, it’s my thing. It has such a volume of different things. Even in my classes I tell students “Go to MLA, you can’t fail.” They give you everything, and then it directs you to JSTOR and everything else.

Many of our students are undergraduates who are just beginning to develop their research and writing skills. Is there any advice research you offer your own students that we can share with them?

Normally I’m considered (by students) to be very challenging—which I keep saying to students it’s not a bad thing, it’s good! I do not allow certain things to slip, I’m very particular when it comes to grammatical construction.

I love the interaction in my classroom; I don’t lecture to students, I want them to talk back to me. I also grade them based on their class participation. I want them to talk, it’s part of their grade. Many of them are very good, they talk, they interact, but when it comes to their writing, it’s different—they dod students to MLA and I would walk them through and show them exactly how to find information—if they’re doing work on Nella Larsen for example. And back in the day visits from librarians were incorporated in the elementary English courses. On these designated “research days” librarians Tony Lee or Marta Deyrup was invited to show students how to use the library website for their research. Now I access the library website and show them everything, and I’ve been encouraging them to use ILLIAD.

Get your research going way in advance so you can sit and read everything. Quite often students feel as though research is just about reading the first page—you have to read about 10 articles even though you may not use all of them. You have to have a very broad perspective of what it is you’re going to write on.

And quite often secondary sources can’t engage the same way. This for me is so interesting, because when I grew up, you wrote the way you spoke. For the first few years here I couldn’t figure out “How come you’re speaking this way and then you’re completely not translating what’s here into your writing?”

Again, I would senn give you ideas. You may go into a project not knowing; you may say “here’s what I want to work on” and once you’ve read something different it completely will change you, it can bolster your argument much more.


Rev. Thomas Guarino - February 2016

Professor of Systematic Theology, School of Theology

Rev. Thomas Guarino



Rev. Thomas Guarino is Professor of Systematic Theology at Seton Hall’s Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology. His most recent book, Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty: Vital Statements on Contested Topics explores the key accomplishments of the groundbreaking, ongoing dialogue between Evangelical and Catholic Christians (read an excerpt here). We caught up with Dr. Guarino to talk about his research.     

You research, publish and teach, and, you have been recognized for your work. How do you find time to balance all these activities?

Of course all Faculty members face this same issue—trying to teach well, do your research, write. It’s work, but I think it’s important for the students to understand that nothing in life comes easily. Any type of noteworthy achievement is the result of intensive effort.

I like to mention this story about research:

Jaroslav Pelikan was a famous historian at Yale University, and he used to tell students “If you have a choice between a great teacher who doesn’t do research, and an average teacher who does research, take the latter.” And his point was that even though the person is an average teacher, he or she is involved with the field, is engaged. So it’s always important to stay with somebody who’s doing at least some research.

Do you have clerical responsibilities in addition to your academic work?

Of course I’m a priest, and to celebrate the liturgy is part of who I am as a priest. I also try to be available to people, particularly to those who wish to talk about issues affecting their lives.  So, yes, I try to be available as a priest to all members of the Seton Hall community.

But my main job on campus is to teach, write, and research Theology, so I spend most of my time doing that. I see my life as a priest and my work as a theologian as convergent realities, precisely because I’m writing all the time about this question: “What role does God play in life?”  

One of the advantages of a Catholic university is that faith and reason are seen as conjunctive realities. The library is a great representative of the tradition of reason, the tradition of seeking knowledge and truth.  At the same time, one of the axial and bedrock principles of Catholicism is that faith and reason are not opposed. Sometimes in journalistic narratives they’re presented as opposing points of view, but in the Catholic tradition faith and reason are deeply convergent since both are gifts of God. A Catholic university is a special place where faith and reason come together. 

In what ways have Seton Hall University Libraries (books, databases, ebooks, ILL service, librarians) assisted your research process?

I’ve moved on from this book and I’m now researching a book on the Second Vatican Council.  The Church just celebrated the council’s 50thanniversary. In many ways Vatican II was the most important ecclesial event of the 20th century—and its ramifications are still being debated. Vatican II gave birth to official Catholic involvement in the ecumenical movement.

The book Evangelicals and Catholics Together is part of a wider spectrum of Catholics being engaged with Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Evangelicals in ecumenical dialogue. Inter-religious dialogue is important, too, with Judaism, Islam and other religions.  Vatican II gave birth and impetus to all of these initiatives, and the library is a great repository of the documents and all of the commentaries that have been published since then. I deeply appreciate those vast library resources.

The databases are excellent; I usually start my own research with Academic Search Premier—I find that to be a comprehensive listing of academic journals. Because of my field I usually then move on to the American Theological Library Association’s (ATLA) Catholic Periodical and Literature Index.  The Philosopher’s Index has also been very important to me. We also have a wonderful databasePatrologia Latina, which has all of the writings of the early Christian authors in the original Latin, so you have those original texts accessible. And I just discovered—I think this is a recent acquisition—we have the Digital Library of Classic Protestant Texts which has all the works of Luther and Calvin in the original and, when available, in English translation. It’s a terrific resource for the kind of ecumenical work that Evangelicals and Catholics Together represents.

However I do want to say to students: we’re all seduced by computers and digital research—but there’s a great joy in shelf browsing. How many times have we experienced this: you’re looking for a particular book, but then you see 10 books alongside of it of which you were unaware—books which treat a topic in unique ways you didn’t at first realize.

Even though I spend most of my time in Walsh Library I do want to mention the importance of the Turro Seminary Library. It was built as a graduate theology library. Consequently, it has more resources in Latin, more books from the earlier tradition of the Church, more collections that perhaps would have been inaccessible to undergraduates but would be familiar to graduate students.  Stella Wilkins is the librarian there and she and her staff have been very helpful.

Many of our students are undergraduates who are just beginning to develop their research and writing skills. Is there any advice research you offer your own students that we can share with them?

I think students can easily be intimidated by all that’s available today; it’s almost too much for them to digest. One of the things we try to do in the School of Theology is to conduct Research Seminars during which we introduce students to the library resources. We have not only librarians, but librarians and faculty together involved in these seminars. We go through the resources of Turro Seminary Library, and then the resources at Walsh Library, and try to introduce them to the basics of what library research is all about.

I often tell students one of the most profitable things they can do is take two hours and just go through the digital resources available on the Library website. They will find extraordinary resources they didn’t know existed.


Dr. Mark Molesky - October 2015

Professor - Department of History

Dr. Mark Molesky         

Dr. Mark Molesky of Seton Hall’s history department specializes in the intellectual, cultural, and political history of modern Europe. His latest book This Gulf of Fire: The Destruction of Lisbon, or Apocalypse in the Age of Science and Reason, which is a narrative history of the Great Lisbon Earthquake Disaster of 1755, will be published by Alfred A. Knopf on November 3rd. We recently asked Dr. Molesky to take time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his research.     

You research, publish and teach, and, you have received numerous awards and grants recognizing your work. How do you find time to balance all these activities?

What many students at Seton Hall don’t realize is that while their professors do an enormous amount of teaching and advising they are also required and expected to do research and to publish that research.

For this reason, faculty have to be extremely organized with their time. Most of us make full use our vacations and our weekends. For me, summers are particularly important. Only during the summer am I able to travel abroad and visit the libraries and archives that I need to. My book on the Lisbon Earthquake, for example, involved research in ten countries on three different continents. Academic grants are therefore very important. The support I received from Seton Hall and outside institutions, like the National Endowment for the Humanities, was crucial.

In what ways have Seton Hall University Libraries (books, databases, ebooks, ILL service, librarians) assisted your research process?

In researching This Gulf of Fire, I used Walsh Library extensively. I consulted librarians and archivists there on numerous occasions. I used interlibrary loan for books and articles as well as the university archives—where Alan Delozier and his staff in Archives & Special Collections have been enormously helpful. I also benefited tremendously from the Alberto Portuguese Collection at Walsh which includes over a 1,000 books on Portuguese history, culture, and politics.

On one occasion, the Dean of the Library, John Buschman, and John Irwin, the Head of Access Services, helped me locate a rare microfilm copy of an eighteenth-century Hamburg newspaper that exists only in the U.S. at Stanford University. After it was found, the microfilm was sent to Archives & Special Collections here at Seton Hall where I was able to examine it and make copies. On another occasion, the library staff located two eighteenth-century Russian newspapers that proved crucial to my research.

So Walsh Library has been a godsend to me over the past few years; it’s my home base. I’ve conducted archival research all over the world, but, without (Seton Hall’s) library and its resources, I would not have been able to write the kind of book I wanted to.

When you look to research articles in the course of your history scholarship, which academic databases are your preferred places to begin?

I usually begin with JSTOR. If I can’t find an article online or on the library’s website, I usually go to interlibrary loan and have the article sent to me. So it’s books, JSTOR, and interlibrary loan.

One word of advice: don’t give up on books! They’re still going to be relevant in future decades. Not all of them have been digitized, for all kinds of reasons. Many students think they can do everything online, but they have to realize there are all kinds of resources out there and they have to be able to access them.

Many of our students are undergraduates who are just beginning to develop their research and writing skills. Is there any advice research you offer your own students that we can share with them?

In many ways, they’re doing the same kind of thing in their research papers that we professional historians are doing. For this reason, they should come to us (professors and librarians) for advice. If students are having difficulty finding a source or if they’re interested in a certain topic, one of the best things for them to do is walk over to Walsh Library and talk to the experts.

I feel sometimes that students are reluctant to break down that barrier between themselves and their professors, they feel a bit intimidated. Over the years, we’ve seen fewer and fewer students coming to office hours because of the rise of email and social media, but office hours are a great place to start work on a new project, to brainstorm hypotheses and to try out ideas. Professors can give students advice about how to approach a topic and how to formulate a research question. We are, in my opinion, an under used resource.


Dr. Karen Gevirtz - September 2015

Associate Professor of English and Co-director of the Women and Gender Studies

Karen Gevirtz, Ph.D.

"First be curious, then be humble, and then be resourceful, tenacious and creative....What is available to you?  Think about all of the things that are out there and be tenacious."




Dr. Karen Gevirtz is an Associate Professor of English and Co-director of the Women and Gender Studies program. She studies the evolution of the novel and other forms of writing in the long eighteenth century (1660-1798). Dr. Gevirtz has published and edited books and articles, and has won several academic awards and distinctions. Last spring, she was named senior editor of the 18th century section of Literature Compass, a prestigious international academic journal. We recently asked Dr. Gevirtz to take time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about her research.

Your regular contribution to books, publication in academic journals and writing reviews of books is quite impressive.   How do you find time to balance this scholarship with your teaching responsibilities?

That is one of the great challenges that all of us face.  I don't know anyone that doesn't find that a challenge.  And one reason is that in a way, they are both the same thing.  Teaching isn't just that transmission of knowledge and skill, but it is also inspiring people to go out and create knowledge, and work on their skills, and to transmit that and nurture it.  Scholarship is really the same. It is the generation of knowledge, the exercising of skills, but it is also, hopefully, the inspiring of others to continue to ask questions, to join the fray in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of how people work and how the universe works.  They are really the same, but take different forms.

So for me, I am always looking for better ways of balancing it.  One way is to realize it can never be in perfect balance.  During the semester, I am more focused on the teaching and on the long breaks, I am more focused on the research. It is never all one or the other, but the focus shifts over the course of the academic year.

What I also try very hard to do is to get the scholarship and the teaching to feed each other.  For example, if I have questions that are generating scholarship, when I want to know about something, I will bring that to my students.  And I will develop readings, arrange assignments or sometimes even a whole course to get them to share my question.  In some ways, that is the ideal. What is the thing that makes me most interested?  What is the mystery about human existence I am working on, and how can I bring that to the next generation, how can I make them a part of this?  So, if there is something I am working on that I am really excited about, I will bring it to my students.


In what ways have resources of the University Libraries assisted your research process?

When I think of the library resources, first and most important I think about the librarians.  All the databases in the world are wonderful and fabulous, and one can teach oneself, but I learn constantly from the librarians, so I am incredibly grateful to them all of the time - constantly.  So for me, the first and best resource of the Walsh Library is the librarians.   For example, I recently had a specific research need around a new topic where I needed to know what was happening in the field.  It required a tremendous amount of research just to get a sense of who was doing what.  I thought, “I could do this myself, but I could do better if I spoke with a librarian.”  So I went and spoke to librarian Marta Deyrup at the Walsh Library and I put my project in front of her and she showed me all these databases, as well as ways of searching them that I was not aware of.  And she got in touch with someone who built a specialized resource that only a librarian would know.  It was so invaluable.  I learned information for that article, and I was able to expand my repertoire of research techniques.  

Also, whenever possible I bring a librarian into my classroom.   I think it is important for the students to meet the librarians and for the librarians to get to know my students.  For there to be as little boundary as possible.  Sometimes students will say, "I don't know who to go to for help", "or the library is a building I have never been to", or "research is this thing I do once and then I am done."  And so to get them to actually meet the librarian can be really helpful.  And there is always at least one student from each class who e-mails the librarian to ask follow-up questions.  And the librarians are fabulous and write back far more than had been asked.   I think that contact is important for students to get throughout their college careers.


When you look to research articles in the course of your English literature scholarship, which academic databases are your preferred places to begin?

When it comes to other resources in the library, there are so many materials I use.  There are certain databases that are my go-to for me that are always a starting point.  I like to start in a bunch of different places, depending upon the project.  For example, in WorldCat (the library catalog discovery tool) I am able to keep a set of folders for the different projects I have and when I have time I will go in WorldCat, I will find some sources and I will stick those in my folders and I'll know that they are there and I can go back and look for them.  And because WorldCat can show catalog holdings throughout the world, I get a good sense of what's out there.  Another good starting point is MLA (MLA International Bibliography).   For say, research stage 1.2, I go to JSTOR. I could not live without JSTOR.  And then there are a bunch of other ones.  Because what I do is historical, I love Historical Abstracts.  Project Muse is also very useful to me. 

And then for me, I could not do without Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO), because it is everything that appeared in print in the 18th century.  It is just incredible - I use it for everything.  For example I need a source, well I can't get to the British Library to view a source, but it has been digitized on ECCO.  I cannot work without ECCO.  The difference between the scholars in my field who have access to ECCO and those who don't is really visible.  It is really a case of "haves" and "have nots".  And it unfortunate for scholarship, because it means that there is a large body of scholars who cannot get access to these materials and their work is much slower because of that, and much more limited.  Because I have access to this, it puts me in the first rank.  That’s huge.


Many of our students are undergraduates who are just beginning to develop their research and writing skills, is there any research advice you offer your students that we can share with them?

The principles of what I do are the same whether I'm doing it in Senior Seminar or College English 1.  There are certain values or qualities that I try to nurture in students to make them better researchers, and I think those values and qualities make them better citizens, as well. One of them is curiosity.   I encourage it in students as much as possible. Ask the questions.  Listen to the voice in your head that is wondering. That's crucial to living a rich and interesting life. 

Another quality I try to encourage in my students is humility.  You don't know the answer - and that's good. It’s good to know what you don't know.  Be aware of your limitations.  Honor them.  And then make use of them.  You have a question, but you know that you don't have the answer.  Accept that, be humble, and go find the answer. 

First be curious, then be humble, and then be resourceful, tenacious and creative.  Resourceful and creative kind of go together.  Where do you think you can get your answer?  Think creatively about it. What is your question about?  You want to know why this character in the book controls all the money?  Then maybe what you need to know is something about the economic situation of the day.  I try to encourage my students to think broadly and to be resourceful.  OK, you typed in your search terms and you didn't get your answer.   Or, you asked your professor and your professor didn't know.  Or you thought about it and you couldn't come up with an answer.  Don't stop. Keep going.  What is available to you?  Think about all of the things that are out there and be tenacious.

Seton Hall University is home to world-class researchers whose work denotes a broad array of scholarship.

In this space, they share their ideas on research and making the most of the academic experience.