Interview with Matthew Baker

Interview with Matthew Baker

Pre-College Programme
  • Matthew Baker, librarian at the Reims campus ©Sciences PoMatthew Baker, librarian at the Reims campus ©Sciences Po

Matthew Baker started his career travelling the world for work. After leaving his home state of Michigan, he spent time in Belgium, England, Canada, Ethiopia and Switzerland before finally coming to Reims in 2012. During the Summer School's Pre-College Programme, he will introduce the Reims campus library to students and orient them in their academic research.

1) You're American and you've lived and worked all over the world. What brought you to Sciences Po and Reims?

I already knew of both Sciences Po and Reims through reputation before coming here, Sciences Po due to its leading role in the social sciences and as a training ground for many of France's political elite, and Reims through its connection with the royal coronations and champagne. I came to work at the Reims campus due to the ambitious development project  which is still underway, as well as for the atmosphere on campus. I knew when I first stepped onto the site during my interview that I wanted to stay.

The Reims campus opened in 2010 and I started in 2012 on what was then a much smaller campus. There were slightly over 200 students at the time, as opposed to nearly 1000 today and 1600 in two years' time, while the library had a few thousand book and space for only 40 users. My role was to continue developing the collection of books as well as the library services to meet the growing demand presented by an increasing student body. I have since been joined by two other librarians, and together we see to all aspects of the library's services on campus, from training to help with research questions.

2) As part of the Pre-College Programme, students will have workshops on using the Reims campus library and doing research. What are some of the useful resources and methods that they will learn about?

The first step will be to acquaint students in the Pre-College Programme with the role of a library in a setting like Sciences Po. The library is an essential part of the student experience, and I would like participants in the programme to feel comfortable in the library and begin using our resources for their work. So, from the perspective of the library, the first week will be dedicated to introducing the library to participants, just as we do for our regular students. In the second week we will be begin a more focused round of training sessions to help with the specific assignments.

I hope that by the end of the Pre-College Programme participants will have a better idea of library research in an academic setting, which they will carry with them in the university studies. Sciences Po, like most university libraries, offers countless resources which can help students with just about any research needed. It's just a question of knowing what's available and how to use it, as the value of a library lies in its use.

3) What do you enjoy the most about the Reims campus?

It's really a privilege to be able to come to the Reims campus on a daily basis. Dating from the 1600s, the buildings have retained their historical aspect while benefitting from the recent renovations. So we have both a historical setting and the facilities and comforts offered by a more modern campus. Students carry the experiences they gained on our campus with them in their subsequent lives, due to the close community which such a pleasant and protected environment creates. In particular, there are several areas of the campus which should be visited while here, including the old library, the refectory, a medieval kitchen, as well as 300 or 400 year old vines which still produce grapes. 

4) What are some of your favorite activities or places in Reims?

Reims is a very interesting city in a pittoresque region of France best known for champagne. It's a historically important city, having served as a Roman capital and then medieval trading center where the French kings came to be crowned, and more recently the site where the document of capitulation was signed ending the Second World War. This history can be found in the museums in town, which would certainly be worth visiting. Also, the many champagne cellars provide both a view of the production and storage of champagne, with kilometers of underground tunnels filled with champagne bottles, as well as a glimpse into the lives of many in the city during the bombardments of the First World War. You can still see the carvings made in the chalk walls during that period. There are also good markets, including the impressive marché Boulingrin. And, of course, a visit to Reims should include the cathedral as well as the Basilique St.-Rémi which is next to campus.

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