Sara Berghausen Obituary, Associate Curator of Collections in Rubenstein Library dies at 53

Sara Berghausen Obituary, Death – The Duke University Libraries lost a cherished friend and lifelong colleague on Monday, December 5, 2022. After a valiant battle with cancer, Sara Seten Berghausen, associate curator of collections at the Rubenstein Library, passed away at the age of 53. Many people in Durham, at Duke, and particularly here at the Libraries, will miss her terribly. Sara worked at Duke for a very long time; in fact, her email address was just She spent just over two decades working here, rising through the ranks of this company thanks to her knowledge and interest. She could point to several degrees, including two from Duke, from both ends of Tobacco Road. She came to this university as an undergraduate on a flute performance scholarship, but soon developed a love for Russian literature and culture, inspiring her to complete a bachelor’s degree in Comparative Area Studies and Russian (1991) and then stay on to complete a master’s degree in Russian Literature (1993). While a student here, Sara formed a number of friendships that will last a lifetime, most notably with her future husband Alexander (Sasha) Berghausen, whom she met when they both played in the Duke Symphony Orchestra as undergraduates. In 1993, they got hitched. In 1996, she added another master’s degree from the UNC School of Information and Library Science.

Sara returned to Duke as a library intern as a graduate student at UNC, working first in our International and Area Studies Department and then in Perkins Library’s Reference Department. Before returning to Duke in 2001 as the Librarian for Literature and Theater Studies, a position she maintained until 2014, she spent several years working for the library systems at the Universities of Chicago and Texas at Austin. Sara, who is always giving and up for a challenge, also filled in for important vacancies from time to time, working for Lilly Library for a year as the Interim Film and Video Librarian and another as the Interim Slavic and Eurasian Studies Librarian. She received a promotion to Head of the Humanities Section in 2012. She has worked as the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s Associate Curator since 2014. Anyone who spent even five minutes in a classroom with her could tell that she loved her work.

The Economists’ Papers Archive, where she collaborated with several Nobel Prize recipients, and various literary collections were among the projects she oversaw as a curator. The latter covered a wide range of fascinating and notable collecting fields, including comic books, science fiction, utopian literature, and Southern authors, some of whom had strong ties to Duke, including William Styron, Fred Chappell, Reynolds Price, Michael Malone, Anne Tyler, and Allan Gurganus. She also supported the Synergetic Theater and Manbites Dog Theater archives, which are all connected to Duke, Durham, and theater studies. Sara valued collaborating with academics, authors, and theorists to preserve their works, create curriculum around them, and create public programming. She was highly esteemed by collection givers and researchers, who were also drawn to her by her warmth and vivacity. “Sara had great contacts across campus and in the Duke community,” said Sara’s boss and friend Andy Armacost. She contributed to a greater sense of community among our university, our town, and our library during her time at the Duke University Libraries.

She made it easier for faculty, students, librarians, and the community to get to know one another. Sara was the person who asked about your parents’ health, knew your kids’ names and schools, and brought you food when you were unwell at home. Sara was an involved student as well. One of her favorite Duke extracurricular activities was the Common Experience Reading Committee, where she spent over fifteen years reading and discussing what book the following class of Blue Devils should read. She had a talent for bringing people together over books and ideas, and she eagerly and freely shared that talent every day. Over the course of her work, she advised hundreds of undergraduate students and was a devoted academic advisor. In the early 2000s, Sara worked to create the parents@duke listserv as a place for working parents to connect and locate parenting services within the Duke community. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Sara bled blue for Duke, and her intimate knowledge as a former student at the university made her a particularly excellent librarian, adviser, and team member.

Sara led by example at work and in the Triangle community. She was dedicated to social justice and Durham. She volunteered or served on the boards of numerous charitable organizations, including Schoolhouse of Wonder, Preservation Durham, Urban Ministries, and St. Phillips Episcopal Church, among many others. Her list of these organizations might fill an entire page. One of the high points of her career was meeting the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, after the Class of 2020 selected his book Just Mercy as their summer reading option as a result of Sara’s efforts on the selection committee.