Supporting SPIA: How Stokes Library fuels research and thought leadership

Students study in the main room of Stokes Library

Students study in the main room of Stokes Library. Photo credit: Brandon Johnson

For students, researchers, and faculty in Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), there are few better places to be on campus than Stokes Library. Stokes, which is Princeton University Library’s branch dedicated to supporting policy, international affairs, sociology, and population research, has a long-standing connection with SPIA, providing research and data consultation services, as well as workshops, datasets and publication support.

“The partnership is a two-way street,” said Ameet Doshi, Head of Stokes Library. Though Stokes’ support of SPIA centers around the requisite junior papers and the senior theses, the relationship runs deep through coursework, workshop offerings, faculty support, and more. 

“Whenever we encounter students who are struggling in their research, we know we can rely on the Stokes Librarians to meet with our students and offer their expertise across so many policy areas and help guide them to the right datasets, databases and much more,” said Elizabeth Choe, SPIA’s Program Director and Director of Undergraduate Career Services. “We believe our Stokes Librarians are the unsung heroes of the independent work process.”


Workshop Series 

At the core of Stokes’ partnership with SPIA is a shared vision of cross-disciplinary work. Democratization and governance are two of the School’s focal points, but over the last decade SPIA has grown to support faculty and researchers publishing on public health, as well as climate change and conservation. 

For Doshi, this means treating Stokes Library as a hub through which SPIA members can follow their research. “Princeton University Library is a source of information expertise, but also a source for gaining access to relevant data sets and consultation,” Doshi said. “Ofira [Schwartz-Soicher] is very helpful in that regard because she works collaboratively with Bobray Bordelon and other PUL staff to get the data sets students and researchers need.” Stokes also provides access to data consultants, PhD candidates in social sciences, who provide individualized support to SPIA on methodological and coding questions. 

Collaborations like those have manifested into a robust workshop series, including software training for R, Stata, and Tableau, “which are the bread and butter tools for data analysis in the social sciences,” Doshi noted. Stokes also works with members of PUL’s Data and Statistical Services and GIS labs, as well as with outside firms, like JSTOR, to build out its offerings to SPIA students, researchers, and faculty. 

Choe added that students benefit the most when they get in the habit of visiting the Library early in their time at Princeton. ”We often find students engaging with Stokes through one-on-one consultations with the Librarians and research consultants in their junior and senior years,” Choe said. “Those who engage with the Library early tend to go back as they know the resource is available and helpful.”

Most importantly, Doshi stresses that Stokes’ workshops appeal to people of all skill levels. “The emphasis when we describe these workshops is you come as you are,” Doshi said. “If you don’t have any experience, we’ll get you up to speed. If you’re an expert, hopefully you’ll still learn something new. We try to craft these workshops so there’s something for everyone.”


Faculty Support

On the faculty side, Stokes and its staff members act as a repository of materials that can be incorporated into classes. “One thing the SPIA faculty love is that we handle all of their reserves,” Doshi said. At many institutions, faculty are tasked with finding and delivering all of their readings to their students. “With our team at Stokes, all faculty have to do is send us the syllabus and we take care of the rest.”

The Library’s support also means that SPIA lecturers can continue their practice of designing courses that are responsive to world news as it happens. Thus, course reserves are regularly updated to reflect SPIA’s most current needs. 

“Faculty also make sure their students connect with us when it comes to finding literature for projects, narrowing their research questions, and making citations,” Doshi explained. “It takes some of the load off of their own responsibilities in those roles.”  


Open Science and Data 

Regardless of which topics SPIA members are tackling in their research, openly accessible data is playing an increasingly important role in publishing. Many of the workshops that Doshi teaches rely on free or open software like R or VOSViewer.

“One thing we tell seniors is that once they graduate they may lose access to a lot of Princeton resources, but they’re still trying to find the best evidence base for policy making,” Doshi said. “There are a number of open access resources available to them they may not know about, like the Directory of Open Access Journals, Dimensions.AI, or TigerWeb.” 


Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Doshi was also quick to mention the efforts SPIA’s Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Rayna Truelove and Dean Amaney Jamal have made to make SPIA a more inclusive place both in the classroom and within the fields the School covers. 

“What I find inspiring is that SPIA students are interested in making the world a better, more equitable place,” Doshi said. “Students are investigating questions related to refugee health, relations with migrant communities - they’re taking normative stances and we support them so the workshops integrate real world, intersectional data sets.” 

For all of the synergy between Stokes and SPIA, Doshi continues to welcome feedback regarding the Library’s offerings. The Stokes Library Ambassadors program was inaugurated in fall 2022 in hopes of opening a channel for feedback and establishing a pathway for change at Stokes. 

“I want Stokes to be user-driven,” Doshi said. “I’d like for there to be total alignment between what we’re offering, the collections and the instruction, with what students and faculty need. The first step is talking to them directly.” 

For Doshi, having a collaborator in Choe means SPIA and Stokes are able to make more of their programming goals achievable. “The Stokes Librarians join us for many events that are held at SPIA such as our Centers & Programs Fair, the junior orientation meeting, our senior thesis meeting and most importantly, our Class Day Ceremony,” Choe said. “Ameet has also been great at strategizing new programming for our students, so we are excited about what is on the horizon.”

Published on February 21, 2023

Written by Brandon Johnson, Communications Strategist

Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications