ELISA mini-quiz: Emily Prince, Scottish Poetry Library

Our first mini-quiz in a while comes from Emily Prince from the Scottish Poetry Library:

Your name:  Emily Prince AALIA (CP)
Library:  Scottish Poetry Library
Job Title:  Librarian


How did you become a librarian/what was your career path?
After completing an undergraduate degree in creative writing in Melbourne, Australia, I was looking into opportunities for further study. I’ve always loved books, and was working casually as a shelver in the university library where I had undertaken my degree. A friend from work had enrolled in a distance learning Masters in Information Studies at Charles Sturt University (also in Australia) and convinced me to give it a try – I fell in love with it almost immediately. Since graduating in 2014, I have worked in public and academic libraries in Australia, before moving to Scotland in 2016. I worked at an academic library in Scotland before going full-time at the Scottish Poetry Library (SPL).


Did you need any specialist training for your current role?
The SPL has a very unique collection, and is not governed by any larger organisation or council, so we have an unusual amount of autonomy in how we manage our collections. This also means, however, that the collections benefit from a wealth of specialist knowledge. I was very lucky when I started to be working with staff who had spent decades developing these collections, and also got a crash course in Scottish poetry while doing so. Constantly reading poetry helps with ongoing training!


What makes your library/department unique?
The focus of our collection! Poetry libraries are not common, and we are a national authority on Scottish poetry. We also have a largely physical collection, mainly due to lack of funds to support digital resources. This means I still update and maintain collections that some people might refer to as ‘old-fashioned’, like our cuttings collection which is largely comprised of actual newspaper and magazine clippings focused on Scottish poetry that we manually locate, cut out, and catalogue.


What is your favourite aspect of the job?
Working with poetry, and cataloguing. There aren’t too many libraries these days where the cataloguing is done in-house, and it is one of my favourite activities!


What has been your most complex/funny/unusual enquiry?
Where do I start? I hold lead responsibility for the enquiry service, and my favourites are the ones where people ask you to identify a fragment of poetry that they have forgotten the origin of. It’s usually a 50/50 chance that we will actually locate an answer for some of the more unusual or rare fragments, but we do our best! Other enquiries come from students doing dissertations on Scottish poets. I did some extensive work for an academic locating mentions of grandmothers in the work of Jackie Kay. There are also ‘lost’ poems that we have been asked about several times over the years that still elude us – and one of them is about the ‘cludgie [toilet] on the stair’ in a Glasgow tenement. If anyone has heard of this one, do get in touch!

Thank you so much for that Emily! Most entertaining and informative. Please contact Emily at the SPL, dear readers, if you have any information on that mysterious cludgie poem…

And, if you’d like to submit a mini-quiz of your own, you can find the details here: mini-quiz.

ELISA mini-quiz: Lorna Mitchell, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh


Your name:  Lorna Mitchell
Library:  Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Job Title:  Head of Library, Archives & Publications

How did you become a librarian/what was your career path?
I originally studied Biological Sciences at Napier University and, by the end of the course, it was clear that I wasn’t cut out to be a scientist; what I was cut out for was less obvious! I spent some time in the Careers Office and found a leaflet on the Postgraduate Diploma in Librarianship at Robert Gordon University; that sounded interesting and so I applied and, to my amazement, they said yes.

On leaving RGU I was lucky enough to get a job as an Assistant Librarian in the Library at the Natural History Museum in London. From there I moved to Queen Mary, University of London to be their Natural Sciences Librarian and then to Brunel University as Assistant Director for Academic Support.

In January 2013 I took up my current post which seemed to offer the opportunity to bring all of my previous experience together. It also offered the chance to come home to Scotland after more than 20 years in the Big Smoke!

Did you need any specialist training for your current role?
My time at the Natural History Museum gave me a good grounding in managing special collections and so I didn’t need any specific training for the library side of my role although getting to grips with another new area of literature brought the usual challenges (I’m still trying to get my head around botanical nomenclature!)

What makes your library/department unique?
The Library at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is Scotland’s national collection for botanical and horticultural resources. In addition to the 70,000 (ish!) books, the earliest of which dates back to the 15th century, the collection includes many unique items including original works of art, manuscripts (letters, diaries, etc) and some very unusual objects, e.g. bits of a Spitfire that crashed in the Garden during the 2nd World War.

The Library is also unique in terms of the relationship between our collections, the RBGE Herbarium and the Living Collection (i.e. the gardens at Edinburgh, Benmore, Dawyck and Logan). The connections between these collections and the staff that manage them create a unique resource for researchers from a wide range of disciplines.

What is your favourite aspect of the job?
My favourite bit of the job is probably working with the RBGE staff – their enthusiasm for what they do is infectious and their creativity is inspiring. One example of this was a “small” exhibition that we put together for International Women’s Day in March 2017 – so many people came forwards with fascinating stories of current and past women at the RBGE that the exhibition had to be expanded and a much larger exhibition is now planned for 2018.

I’m also very lucky to work with our special collections, in particular the RBGE Illustrations Collection which includes works by some of the most famous botanical artists, e.g. Lilian Snelling, as well as by up and coming new artists. Looking out works to include in an exhibition or to show people coming for a visit is always a real treat!

What has been your most complex/funny/unusual enquiry?
There isn’t really such a thing as a “normal” enquiry for the RBGE Library. The nature of our collections and the people that use them tends to mean that we’re often the library of last resort and so all of the easy questions tend to have been answered before they get to us!

The Special Collections can always be relied upon to raise some interesting bibliographic challenges, particularly in relation to tracing the provenance of items in the collection. The inscription in one volume led us on a virtual trail from Leiden to Japan via Indonesia, Berlin and Wageningen!

One of my most embarrassing moments in the Library happened on a day when we were slightly short staffed with the result that I found myself working at the Service Desk. All was well until a visiting researcher asked about getting access to a document on microfiche …

Having located the relevant microfiche (a challenge in itself!) I confidently approached the microfiche reader and then spent the next 10 minutes crawling around it trying to work out how to switch it on. Having finally located the appropriate switch, I loaded up the fiche and turned triumphantly to the researcher who then asked the terrifying question “Can I print from this machine?” I can but hope that the visitor never worked out that the bumbling idiot that she spoke to was actually the Head of the Library!

Thanks so much to Lorna for that very interesting read. If you’d like to take the mini-quiz, or to contribute something else to the site please contact me, the Webmaster

ELISA mini-quiz – Donna Duff, East Lothian Council Library services

49e77dc1-63de-41e1-a014-0df02da7b1deYour name: Donna Duff
Library: East Lothian Council Library services
Job Title: Senior Librarian – Digital and Adult Services

How did you become a librarian/what was your career path?
I wanted to be a Librarian since the age of 4 when at school in England we visited our local library and I was allowed to date stamp all the books for my class. Throughout school my aim was always to go to University to become a qualified Librarian.  My first foray into libraries was in Glenrothes as part of a TVEI (Technical, Vocational, Education Initiative) scheme when I was 15 and spent a week working in a local branch library.  From that I was offered a Saturday job and then spend a year on a YTS scheme in the central library in Kirkcaldy.  After a spell of working in a consulting engineer’s library in Edinburgh I moved to Falkirk Libraries before going to Newcastle to study for a BA (Hons) in Library and Information management.  Throughout my three year course I worked in West Lothian Libraries as a casual assistant during summer breaks and once qualified worked at the University of Dundee’s Kirkcaldy campus for 12 years before moving to my present post 9 years ago.

Did you need any specialist training for your current role?
Not really but experience I had picked up during my previous roles helped.

What makes your library/department unique?
I think my department is unique as we appear to be one of the few public library services still to have a separate Adult and Junior department who each handle all aspects of that department. I am responsible for the purchasing of all stock, stock circulation, eResources, promotion of the library service, LMS for the adult sector of East Lothian and my counterpart in the Young Peoples service does the same for anyone under the age of 16 living in East Lothian.

What is your favourite aspect of the job?
My favourite aspect is the variety of the work I do on a daily basis – I deal with public enquiries, staff enquiries, publishers, authors and no day is the same.

What has been your most complex/funny/unusual enquiry?
When I worked for a consulting engineering firm I had to find out how much a giraffe weighed as we the engineers working on building the new enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo. Recently we also been asked to twin a Library toilet with one in the third world as part of the Toilet Twinning campaign.

Many thanks to Donna for taking part! If you’d take the mini-quiz, or have anything else you’d like posted on this site, please contact me – The Webmaster!

ELISA mini-quiz – Graeme Forbes, National Library of Scotland

nlsexterior2Your name:  Graeme Forbes
Library:  National Library of Scotland
Job Title:  Head of Collections Management

How did you become a librarian/what was your career path?
After graduating with a degree in English from the University of Stirling, I wrote to every University in the UK (there were fewer in 1979) asking for a job. I accepted an offer of a trainee post from Edinburgh and I was on my way.

I subsequently worked for Edinburgh City Libraries, West Surrey College of Art & Design, Leicester Polytechnic, and Napier College, Polytechnic and University before joining the National Library.

Did you need any specialist training for your current role?
I read for a Master’s degree in Librarianship and Information Science at the University of Sheffield, and later, whilst working, I gained an MBA from Edinburgh University.

What makes your library/department unique?
It’s the only National Library in Scotland! And of course, the breadth and depth of our collections, and our Legal Deposit privilege.

What is your favourite aspect of the job?
Working with so many smart and interesting people.

What has been your most complex/funny/unusual enquiry?
I was once asked for my trousers!

[Whilst at Napier I taught on the HNC Librarianship course which involved a trip to Mauritius for a distance-learners in-college week. On one of the days I returned from a lunchtime break, with my linen suit sodden after being caught in a sudden tropical downpour.  The students (all female) were very insistent that they take my suit to dry it.]

Many thanks to Graeme for becoming our first ‘mini-quiz’ respondent. If you’d like to take part, or have anything else you’d like posted on this site, please contact me – The Webmaster!