Q&A with Jodi Psoter, Librarian for Marine Sciences

The Pearse Memorial Library at the Duke Marine Lab is our only library with an ocean view. Meet the new librarian at the helm.

Sunrise at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC. (Photo by Jared Lazarus, University Communications)

After serving since 2017 as Librarian for Chemistry and Statistical Sciences on the main campus in Durham, Jodi Psoter relocated to Beaufort, North Carolina, to take over the library at Duke’s year-round coastal campus there. We recently sat down with her to ask how she’s settling in, and to understand how the small, specialized library she leads supports important Duke research on climate change, marine conservation, and environmental policy.

It’s been about six months since you moved from Durham to Beaufort. Looking back, what have been some of the best parts about the transition?

Jodi Psoter

I’ve loved moving to a new environment. I’ve lived in the mountains, when I worked at Williams College in Massachusetts. Then I moved to the Piedmont, when I first started working for Duke. Now I live at the beach! I just keep moving down in elevation. It’s a smaller community than Durham, but it’s sunny and there’s no snow, which is a delight for me. It also turns out that when you move to the beach, people you don’t talk to every day start talking to you. I didn’t realize how many people across the Duke Libraries have connections to the students and faculty at the Marine Lab and the research they do here. So I’ve enjoyed getting to work with new colleagues, both here and back at the Durham campus.

Another cool thing is that when people tour the Marine Lab, the tours always come through the library. So I meet a lot of people that way!

What do you miss about Durham, and how often do you get back?

The food! Lunch in the Marine Lab dining hall is buffet-style from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. That’s it. If you miss it, you miss lunch. There’s also not the variety of food you get in Durham, so I’ve been cooking more.

My parents actually live in Durham. Early in the pandemic, they came down from Massachusetts to visit me so we could form a bubble, and they never went back! They eventually got their own place. I go back to see them once a month, and I try to schedule my visits to the main campus around those trips.

Who uses the Marine Lab Library?

The faculty, students, and staff at the Marine Lab all use the library, but they use it in different ways. The faculty come in and chat for a while, or pick up books they’ve requested, but they’re not usually working in the space. The students tend to use the library as a change of scenery. They come here to relax or study together. We have a “creativity corner” for them with puzzles, coloring books, Sudoku, and other mental distractions, because that’s how I like to work. It helps to stop every now and then, use a different part of your brain, and refocus. As for the staff of the Marine Lab, they tend to use the library for pleasure reading. We have a nice collection of popular new releases right near the entrance, so they draw people in.

New releases on display in the library. (Photo courtesy Jodi Psoter)

As a Marine Lab newbie, you’ve been getting to know your new community. What have been some of the more interesting discoveries you’ve made?

The views never get old. If you sit in the librarian’s office, you can watch tugboats guiding the big cargo ships into port. You can also see dolphin pods and wild horses on the islands across the channel. The other day I was teaching a workshop, and I looked out the classroom window and said, “Oh, the horses are back!” Everyone stopped and turned to watch for a minute. The students see them all the time, but it never ceases to delight them.

Another discovery is that I have to plan library workshops around the weather. If it’s supposed to be sunny and beautiful, the students are going to be out on the research vessels doing fieldwork, not in the classroom or in the library. That’s something I never had to think about in Durham!

Wild horses on Carrot Island, across from the Duke Marine Lab. (Photo by Jaren Lazarus, University Communications)

Students often tell us that every Duke library has its own “vibe.” If you had to sum up the Marine Lab Library vibe in three words, what would they be?

Congenial, inclusive, and casual. Emphasis on the casual. When I was a chemistry librarian, we had to wear closed-toed shoes in the labs. I’m still not comfortable running around the labs here in open-toed shoes, but I’m gradually wearing more sandals.

If there’s one more way I could describe what it’s like here, it would be student-focused. Everyone’s job at the Marine Lab is to support the students. It turns out that the vibe here is totally my vibe!

You’re basically a staff of one, so you have to do a bit of everything. Can you give us an idea of what that entails?

I do everything a regular subject librarian does: research, instruction, building the collection. But because I’m new here, I’m also doing a lot of outreach. A good bit of what you do as a new librarian is prove yourself to your faculty. They need to be confident in your skills before they give you any class time with their students, because that time is valuable. So I’m spending a lot of time getting to know my faculty and letting them know what I can do for them, for their research and classes.

I also personally shelve all the books. As a subject librarian, I hadn’t shelved books in years, so I had to refresh myself on our call number system!

Nobody at the Marine Lab does just one job. Because it’s such a small community, you have to participate in different ways. That’s what I like best about it. I get to be the librarian, but I do other stuff like volunteering my services for field trips on the research vessels. Some might consider those things peripheral to the library, but in fact it’s essential to making the library a part of the community here!

Captain Sly and Third Cat, two of the resident cats at the Duke Marine Lab, hang out by the dining hall at lunchtime. (Photo courtesy Jodi Psoter)

Last year the university announced the Duke Climate Commitment, uniting Duke’s education, research, operations and public service missions to focus on climate change solutions. What are some ways the work of the Marine Lab Library supports that initiative?

It’s always been our job as librarians to support new university initiatives. We’re always naturally supporting the Duke Climate Commitment, because that’s the research that our faculty and students are already working on. And it’s not just the Marine Lab Library. I work very closely with my colleagues in the Natural Sciences and Engineering Department of the Libraries, and their students and faculty are all working on issues related to climate change in some way.

That being said, there’s a noticeable shift in the way climate research at Duke is becoming more interdisciplinary. You have traditional sciences talking to different disciplines. I think that’s where the really interesting support for the Climate Commitment is going to come in. When we librarians can pool our interdisciplinary resources and share those with researchers, that’s when we’re going to have the biggest impact.

What’s one of the more memorable experiences you’ve had while living in Beaufort?

I got to the meet the grandson of Arthur Sperry Pearse, who founded the Duke Marine Lab. The library is even named for him! He came into the library one Friday afternoon with his wife and new baby. The baby hadn’t visited the Marine Lab yet. So we took pictures at all the Arthur Pearse memorials. Then they wanted to buy some souvenirs. So I’m running around looking for someone who can open the store for Arthur Pearse’s grandson, and we eventually found someone, so the baby was happy with its new Marine Lab t-shirt. That was a fun day!

Card catalog at the Duke Marine Lab’s Pearse Memorial Library, opened to a record by the library’s namesake, Arthur Sperry Pearse.

What’s coming next at the Marine Lab Library?

I’m doing an inventory and collection analysis, in order to figure out where the library’s collection needs to go in the future, and how it needs to be formatted. When you look at our collection over the last fifty years, you can see how research at the Marine Lab has changed. Back in the day, Beaufort was known for its fisheries and canning industry, which had a large impact on the local flora, fauna, and water. Today there’s only one fishery left. But at one point the library had tons of books and resources on fisheries. Now the research is moving toward coastal erosion, climate change, and policy. It’s interesting to see how the research done at the Marine Lab reflects changes in the local community, which is then reflected in the library collections we buy to support the research.

But the biggest news is that the Marine Lab Library turns fifty next year! Possibly, depending on how you look at it. The architectural plans say 1974, and 1976 is when the building was dedicated. But I turn fifty next year, too, and so does my friend Gilbert, the Campus Services Coordinator for Duke Dining and Residence Life here at the Marine Lab. He and I both want to have our party with the library, so we’re going with ’74! We’ll definitely have a second celebration in 2026.

Last question: Have you gone out on a Duke boat yet?

Yes! I actually ended up going out on a research vessel with some students to the Duke Aquafarm recently. It’s Duke’s other “campus farm,” where they grow oysters instead of produce. I made sure to wear the lifejacket Santa got me for Christmas, because fun fact—I don’t swim very well!

Jodi Psoter at the helm of the Kirby-Smith, a research vessel at the Duke Marine Lab, on a recent trip with students to the Duke Aquafarm.

More to the Story: New Marine Lab Library Internship Honors a Lifelong Passion

The Duke University Libraries are delighted to announce a new internship established in memory of a Duke alumna and longtime library supporter with a passion for marine science, Sue Reinhardt (1957-2022).

The Susan Baker Reinhardt Marine Lab Library Internship will provide Duke undergraduate or graduate students studying at the Marine Lab with hands-on experience in science librarianship, enabling them to explore the interdisciplinary nature of marine science while gaining real-world skills partnering with scientists and the local community.

According to Bill Reinhardt, who established the library internship in memory of his wife of forty-three years, the goal is to provide opportunities for Duke students that were not available (or denied) to Sue and other women in the sciences when she was pursuing her own education and career.

After studying at the Duke Marine Lab and the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University, Wales, Sue earned her bachelor’s degree from Duke in 1979, double-majoring in marine science and zoology. She later received a master’s in marine science from the University of South Florida in 1984. Her research was published in the journals Polar Biology and Marine Biology. She also co-authored a paper on lipid components of eleven species of Caribbean sharks, and five papers on the sources, distributions, and fates of pelagic tar in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The first Susan Baker Reinhardt Marine Lab Library Intern will begin work next year.

Looking out towards the water from the Pearse Memorial Library at the Duke Marine Lab. (Photo courtesy Jodi Psoter)