Meet Reid Higgins, 2023 ASAP Library and Archives Research Assistant
Aspiring Scholars and Professionals (ASAP) is a cohort program at Princeton’s Emma Bloomberg Center for Access & Opportunity designed to introduce undergraduates from other New Jersey colleges and universities to higher education careers in the humanities and qualitative social sciences. This summer, Reid Higgins, a rising senior at Rowan University worked at Princeton University Library as a research assistant with Librarians Sara Howard and Valencia Johnson.
Tell us a bit about your background as it relates to libraries.
Most people would think that going into the field of libraries and archives, I must have always loved books, but funny enough, my background related to libraries cannot be traced back to my childhood. I never spent much time in libraries as a kid; I am dyslexic, so reading always felt like an impossible task. It was not until about four years ago, during my senior year of high school, in an independent research program that my school ran, that I found my place in libraries and archives. From there, I sort of fell in love with it and have been spending my college career working at the Rowan Art Gallery as well as the Rowan Archives.
Are you fond of any particular field or era within archival work?
I have always loved the strange stories and legends told around the world. In looking into how all those tales of creatures connect everyone, I stumbled into the world of folklore archives. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many wonderful research areas — one of the most fun parts of archives is that you can touch all different areas of history and help people discover so much new and excellent information. However, my research always seems to stumble back to those stories we have created to explain the unexplainable and the impacts those stories had on the lives of those involved and the narrative told throughout history.
What were your responsibilities at PUL this summer?
This summer, there were three main areas that I was responsible for. The first was updating finding aid terms for books. Basically, library systems need terms to pull from, so if you are looking for a book on gender fluidity, you may search for terms such as “genderfluid,” “genderqueer,” etc. However, if books such as “Both Can Be True” by Jules Machias do not have those terms in their description, they will not populate in your searches. I was essentially adding inclusive language to item descriptions so those books would appear in library databases.
My second responsibility was sorting through new pieces of media ordered for the LGBTQIA+ Periodical and Ephemera Collection and deciding what was relevant and how they should be filed. In short, I read through some interesting pieces and ensured that anyone could access them through the collection. My last project was creating a finding aid document for an LGBTQIA+ digital exhibit space regarding the Princeton area. I sorted through boxes of relevant information about events that two Princeton University students were interested in including in the exhibit. However, to make this information accessible to others working on the project, I created a searchable document that makes adding and sharing the details of the boxes far easier. All of these projects are still being worked on and will continue to be as they are forever evolving, however, I am proud to have had a hand in their development.
Are there any materials that you have come across that have surprised you?
There is only one document that comes to mind when I think about something that surprised me. Most of the documents I was looking at were interesting, but nothing shocking; however, there was a hand-drawn poster in the 7th box of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Alliance Records, 1972-2019. It depicts a sign that was present at the 1993 March on Washington as well as a depiction of the people holding that sign. The contents of it were truly something I never expected to find, but it led me down a rabbit hole of research. If you are ever interested in it, just be warned that the words and symbols depict hate speech and violence, but it is an important part of queer history that I hope someday can stand as a symbol of how much has changed and why the work being done in the archives matters so much.
How does working at PUL compare to some of your past roles/experiences?
Working at PUL has been a great experience, and I am truly thankful for the opportunity I have had to grow as a scholar and a person through not only the ASAP program but also while working with Sara and Valencia. I am taking back to Rowan with me a lot of skills that will help me continue to push my own limits. The only thing I think I can really compare to my past experiences is that I am someone who functions well in far more chaotic situations. Princeton’s archive is an extremely well-oiled machine that deserves a lot of praise for all it accomplishes and the vast amount of information it holds. I think, however, that I fell in love with the chase of digging and finding things amongst the wreck, having to put together the puzzle pieces.
What are your career goals?
When applying to college, my parents were surprised to hear that I was giving up my dream of entering medical school and trading the chance of becoming an M.D. for becoming a Ph.D. I never saw myself as a scholar; in fact, I was adamant when applying to a college that I did not want to become a professor. However, now, it is something that I would love nothing more than to be a part of. I have seen firsthand that archival research is not taught at the undergraduate level unless you seek it out. Ultimately, I would love to share my passion for folklore and my knack for archives with the future generation of scholars.
Do you have any advice for someone coming into a position similar to yours here?
I think the best thing I could say is that imposter syndrome is extremely real, but you have made it this far for a reason. Whether you believe it or not, the work you have done has led you to where you are. No matter your age or your past, or wherever you may be, you have made it there, and you deserve to be there.
Published on September 20, 2023
Interview by Brandon Johnson, Communications Strategist
Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications