This interview, conducted by StFXAUT President Mary Oxner, appears in the Winter 2018 edition of The Beacon.
The Beacon regularly features interviews with StFX University Alumni on the topic of their relationships with StFXAUT Members who challenged, inspired, or helped in some way. This issue’s interview is with Rita Campbell (BSc, Math Honours, ‘78).
The Beacon: During your time at X was there a particular Professor, Librarian, Lab Instructor, Coady Program Staff Member, Nurse Educator, Extension Program Staff Member, or Learning Skills Instructor that helped you, inspired you, or was a mentor to you?
Rita: This is one of the most difficult questions to answer because there are so many people that I could list. There are awesome people at StFX. I know that sounds trite. If I have to pick … my librarian colleagues.
The Beacon: You retired in 2016. What is something that has strikingly changed since your retirement? Is there anything that has hardly changed at all?
Rita: StFX has changed drastically in the past 35 years. Much of the campus itself has improved. Sadly, I feel something has been lost over the years: a comradery and sense of common purpose between the Administration and rest of campus. There is so much stress now. The last few years I worked in the library were extremely stressful. These days I’m surrounded by beauty and nature and I’m thoroughly enjoying how time stretches and deadlines are non-existent. I’m rediscovering my creativity, and sleep. My sewing machine is getting a workout.
The Beacon: Why did you choose StFX for your undergraduate degree?
Rita: At that time StFX was the university of choice for most students in my area (Richmond County, Cape Breton). I had an older brother and sister who attended StFX. Five of the eleven members of our family have graduated from StFX. Antigonish was far enough from my home for me to think I was making a break from my family, yet close enough that I could easily make it home for long weekends.
The Beacon: At that time, what did you imagine you might do after you graduated?
Rita: I graduated with a BSc, Math Honours. I loved Math, I loved books and I loved the StFX Library. I would sit in different sections in the library and browse through the books around me. I was torn between becoming an Actuary or a Librarian. After graduation I worked for a year in the corporate actuarial department of a re-insurance company in Toronto and quickly discovered that my sympathies were not on the side of large for-profit corporations. I also wanted more interaction with people and the opportunity to work in towns as well as cities. I went to the University of Western Ontario for a Masters of Library Science. Incidentally, Mathematics is an excellent foundation for library science.
The Beacon: You’re now retired from StFX – can you lead us along your path from StFX to your role as Chief Librarian and as Librarian at StFX?
Rita: I started as a Librarian at StFX in 1981 on a three-month contract to correct catalogue records on a system called UTLAS but I think the University Librarian, Fr. Charlie Brewer, really hired me because I knew computer programming. The 35 years I spent as a Librarian at StFX were roughly broken into three phases – I have a threshold of about 10 years before becoming bored and needing a change of focus. I spent most of the first years working on library computers/systems, and programmed a computerized circulation system that was used by the library for eight years. I was University Librarian for 10 years beginning 1993. During that time we joined Novanet and vastly increased access to journal information through participation in the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN) project. I stepped down as University Librarian in 2003 due to health issues. I spent most of the next years as Special Projects Librarian – focusing primarily on digitization projects – as well as a Reference Librarian and Liaison Librarian.
The Beacon: During your time at StFX as a student and/or as a Librarian were there any particular people who were particularly inspiring or helpful? Someone that influenced your career path?
Rita: I worked with many impressive individuals over the years. Barb Phillips is the person who had the most influence over my philosophy as a Librarian. She was the Librarian who trained me on reference when I first started at StFX. She never wavered from emphasis on the library user, in particular the student, as our primary motivation. Barb would inevitably ask “what does this mean for the students” whenever changes were discussed. Oddly, one of my other big influences was not a person. The StFX Library holds a book that was published in 1524. For me, visiting the Rare Books Room was grounding: a reminder that libraries are not just about the immediacy, there is also significant responsibility to understand and respect long term consequences.
The Beacon: Did you work on any research projects when you were at StFX as a student? If so, what were these research projects? What about as a Librarian at StFX?
Rita: I didn’t work on any research projects as a student. When I was University Librarian I was part of the steering committee which created the Canadian National Site Licensing Project, now the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN). This was the first multi-university Canada-wide group to receive a Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) grant. I was the only Librarian from a small university on the steering committee and on the team that defended the project to an international committee. At the time we in Atlantic Canada were the only region of the country in which all our universities signed on to the project. To give some sense of the challenges in starting a project this big – before they granted us matching funding – ACOA required that all Atlantic Canada university presidents tag Canadian National Site Licensing Project (CNSLP) as their priority research project and that all four provincial governments provide matching funds. Prior to this project, StFX Library provided access to about 1,500 academic journals in print. Afterward StFX’s access increased to more than 15,000 electronic titles. It was an exciting time for libraries.
I also enjoyed playing a large part in creating the StFX Digital Collections. I did my first project during a six month leave after I stepped down as University Librarian. I digitized a rare handwritten manuscript of local Gaelic poetry by Alexander MacDonald. My interest in digitizing small local collections was as counterpoint to [the] purchasing of the large non-local collections. Subsequently, as Special Projects Librarian I led a team that digitized a number of StFX collections, such as the StFX yearbooks, Alumni News, and academic calendars, as well as a number of local history books. Two larger projects during this time were Gael Stream (an audio collection of local Gaelic) and the Coady/Extension project. I believe that preserving and providing access to local materials is an essential role for libraries.
The Beacon: Feel free to add any additional comments that you might like to add.
Rita: This has been something of a trip down memory lane. I have no doubt that I chose the right path when I chose librarianship over actuarial science. It has enabled me to work in a field where I was helping others, meeting interesting individuals, and learning continuously. Librarianship embraces grand values such as equality of access, lifelong learning, diversity and intellectual freedom. It is a wonderful field for the curious.