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March 6, 2023

Director of Ohrstrom Library Sarah Ludwig shares the power of words.


Growing up in Woodstock, Vermont, Sarah Ludwig spent her after-school hours reading in the library where her mother was a librarian. In high school, she was drawn to such classics as Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” (before, as she puts it, the book was completely co-opted by the TV series) and Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”; dark stories, but stories about young women whose internal lives resonated with her. Still, she didn’t set herself on the direct path to becoming a librarian like her mom. As most of us find, her path to St. Paul’s School — where she has been director of Ohrstrom Library since 2016 and teaches Humanities electives — was a bit more circuitous.

We’ve already established that you didn’t necessarily plan to become a librarian. What brought you to St. Paul’s School?
When I was little, I wanted to be a writer. I worked in New York City in academic publishing for a few years after college, but I really loved doing research. I was trying to figure out how that might play into my career when I started looking into library school. I got my master’s in library science and heard from a friend who worked at a boarding school in Western Massachusetts. She said I should look into the position she was leaving. I had never considered boarding school; I didn’t go to boarding school; I didn’t know about boarding school. I applied and got the job. Later, when I heard about the position at SPS, I had the sense that it would be an amazing next step in my career. I also was excited about moving closer to the area where I’d grown up. We were living in Connecticut at the time.

What’s it like teaching Humanities at SPS, and how does teaching affect your role in Ohrstrom?
I teach History of American Journalism, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Feminist Literature and Media, and I’ve also taught American Film and Culture. I absolutely love teaching, and I’m very glad that I get to teach here. The classes are small — you might have 14 kids — and the conversations you’re having and the way you’re engaging with the students is really powerful. I’m a better library director because I teach, since I have a greater sense of the students’ classroom experience. I think if I didn’t have that, I would feel a bit more removed.

Can you talk about your role as adviser to the student newspaper, The Pelican, and the changes you’ve made at the paper?
COVID really hurt The Pelican, so we are working on getting it back up to speed. This is my first year as adviser to The Pelican and we hit the ground running. We set an every-three-week publication schedule goal, and in December we ran our fourth issue. The kids work really hard and the faculty has been incredible in terms of responding to interview requests; the kids are like investigative reporters now. The faculty are so supportive. I think they’re happy to see The Pelican coming back to life a little bit, too.

What makes you smile when you get up in the morning?
My children. This is an amazing place to raise them, and so far from my own experience growing up, right? Living in a boarding school. I did grow up in a beautiful place, but this is an incredibly beautiful place. Just being able to be part of this community and part of this place with my own kids is a joy.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Perfection is not the goal. I’m always trying to do everything perfectly, and I think a lot of us at SPS share that quality. We work really hard, we want things to be the right way, we take a lot of pride in our work, but life is messy. When we try to be perfect, we just stay in our little zone because we know how to control that zone. I can’t give 100% of my energy to every single thing all the time. So, I try to prioritize and give myself permission to focus my attention on the things that really need it.