The Talented Dr. Ripley – Interview With The Librarian
It’s Libraries Week (8th – 13th October 2018) this week and to celebrate we wanted to show off some of our amazing librarians here at SRUC. James Ripley is the new librarian at SRUC Edinburgh and here he offers invaluable advice on how to get the most out of your college library.
“Greetings and salutations” (Heathers, 1989), my name is James and I am the new Campus Librarian for Edinburgh. I have worked in academic, legal deposit, special libraries for 13 years (both here in Scotland and back in Canada), and on & off this will be my eighth year in Edinburgh. That said, I grew up outside of a town of 500 people in rural Canada surrounded by cornfields, woodlots, dogs, cats, gerbils, ducks, and an assortment of other creatures. For anyone wondering, yes that is the proper Harvard in-text citation for a film.
How did you become a librarian?
Like many in my profession, I didn’t set out to become a Librarian. My background was in the fine arts and art gallery curation, so when I saw that the National Library of Scotland was looking for an Assistant Curator I thought they were looking for someone to create displays of old and special books. In reality the job was cataloguing journals, newspapers, and magazines collected via Legal Deposit. After seven years with them I decided that it would be a waste not to use what I had learned in my next position, so when I moved back to Canada I undertook a master’s and then a doctoral degree in Library and Information Science, though always with the hope of coming back to Scotland.
What would be your advice to students on how best to use the library?
Don’t wait and “don’t panic” (Adams, 1979). Try the Library Catalogue, play with it, have a go with the Advanced Search option, see what happens when you search with subjects rather than keywords. Play with the databases too, they may all look a bit different but they all want you to find what you need. Have a look at the variety of tick-able þ filters found along the sides of your search results. Don’t worry about making mistakes, that is what the Undo is for. Trying them out before you actually need them means when assignments come do and your time is limited you aren’t going in cold. Don’t be afraid to ask us questions, even faculty ask us for assistance sometimes. Needing help is not a failure on your part, in fact recognizing that you need help is one the most important things we want you to learn, followed by recognizing when you need information, being able to find it, to determine its authority, and then properly credit the authors (yes that does mean citing). We won’t do the work for you but we will help you to do it yourself. Moreover, the skill you learn here will absolutely be relevant to you whatever you decide to do and wherever you decide to go. Finally, save your references! Honestly, you might think you will never need them again, but programs such as EndNote Web or Zotero can save you so much time and effort.
What is available in the library that isn’t on Google?
So much! But it is more the quality of the information available via the library that is the important thing in that the vast majority is peer reviewed; which means that independent professionals in their fields have vetted the information as authoritative. In contrast, with Google you have to do that work yourself, and links to authoritative information are listed with those to mediocre information, absolute garbage, and even misinformation. Furthermore, what the library provides, be it journals or books (electronic or physical), are what we call Toll Access (library jargon for the college paid for students to have access to that information). There are Open Access journals and books (there is thankfully a growing trend in that direction), but at present it is still necessary for institutions to pay for access to these vetted resources; that is why you have to sign in before you can access full-text articles. Moreover, while Google as a search engine (and there are others) can be very useful for some things, however altruistic they may portray or even believe themselves to be, at their core they are a company with stockholders who expect profits; their priority is not for you to find the most relevant and authoritative information for your work.
What do you like to do outside of your job in the library?
I’m a voracious reader (honestly this is not a job requirement for Librarians, but it does seem to be the norm), I’m attempting to learn to play the concertina, I practice Taoist Tai Chi, and I like to knit touques (Canadian for woolly hats). That said, a good part of my free time I spend taking MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that are offered for free by universities all over the world. Some are work related (e.g. library advocacy, academic freedom, literature in the digital age) and others purely out of interest (e.g. poetry, history, the science of art). I have also recently discovered The Detectorists (2014-2017) and am very excited about the upcoming season of Doctor Who.
Finally, what is your favourite book?
To choose ‘a’ favourite from a list of cherished authors that includes Raymond Chandler, Alexandre Dumas, Jane Yolen, Charles DeLint, Douglas Adams, Laurie King, and Jon Klassen is not an easy thing to answer; is Desert Island Books a thing? But if I could pick only one it would be Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, which starts with the very useful advice “Kids! Bringing about Armageddon can be dangerous. Do not attempt this in your own home” (1990). The plot is based on the idea, what if there was a mix up at the hospital and the antichrist was accidentally raised by an average family without any influence from either heaven or hell. That it is currently being made into a seven part mini-series under the direct supervision of Gaiman and with David Tennant in one of the lead roles genuinely fills my heart with joy!
Adams, D. (1979) The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy. London: Pan Books.
Heathers (1989) Directed by Michael Lehmann [Film]. Atlanta, Ga.: New World Pictures.
Pratchett, T. and Gaiman, H. (1990) Good omens: the nice and accurate prophecies of Agnes Nutter, witch. Reprint, London: Corgi Books, 1991.