What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I made a decision rather late in my life to give up my job in Australia and move to the UK to live and work. I didn’t know anyone, and I was only planning to stay a year. Seventeen years later, I’m still here, and having made some career decisions which weren’t necessarily the safest, I haven't looked back, and have had some wonderful experiences.
What motivates you to do what you do?
I’ve been a librarian for 30 years now – my biggest motivation comes not only from being able to connect people with the information they need, but to share in their sheer enjoyment when they do find their answers. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with some of the UK’s most important collections, including Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, copies of the Magna Carta, scientific illustrations from Captain Cook’s voyages, and Charles Darwin’s papers. If that doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning, nothing will!
What do you owe your mother?
My mum was only 51 when she died. Due to family circumstances, she had to give up her dreams of going to university and travelling the world, to support her family. She and my father sacrificed an awful lot to to make sure my brothers and I would have those opportunities. I owe her everything.
Which women inspire you and why?
I looked after the manuscript collections of a number of paleontologists when I worked at the Natural History Museum. I was in awe of women such as Dorothea Bate. She talked her way into a job at the NHM in 1898 when only 19 years old - and long before women were officially employed as scientists there. She went on to explore Cyprus, Crete and other areas, discovering fossil specimens, many new to science and which significantly changed our understanding of evolution in isolated areas. She travelled alone, hiring local men as guides and interpreters. She did all of this, including abseiling down cliff faces and exploring caves, in Georgian dresses. I’m inspired by intrepid women who take charge of their own destiny when the odds look to be against them.
What are you reading?
I’ve just finished Willy Vlautin’s Don’t Skip Out on Me. It broke my heart.
What gender barriers have you had to hurdle?
I’ve been very lucky not to have faced any. I’ve always worked in environments where my managers have supported and encouraged me. I have worked for some very strong and inspiring women and men, who have mentored me and helped me find the confidence to take the opportunities I’ve been given.
How can the world be made a better place for women?
We’ve come a long way with gender equality, but there’s more to do. Creating the environment for women around the world to have access to education and career opportunities is vital, alongside changing social norms and cultures around equality.
Describe your perfect day?
A sunny blue sky day, a bracing walk on the Cornish coast by the sea, a pub lunch next to a roaring fire, and a couple of hours of uninterrupted reading!
We've noticed there really aren't many (if any) statues of women around Cornwall - who would you see remembered?
I would advocate a statue of Elizabeth Carne, a 19th century scientist who was born near Hayle. She was a geologist, conchologist, philosopher, philanthropist, and banker. Alongside her contributions to science, she funded new schools and other educational support for mining communities and purchased the land to enable the building of St John’s Hall in Penzance. And if that wasn't enough, she was an incredibly talented artist - many of her drawings and papers are held in the archives of the Morrab Library.
Give us a tip?
Be kind to each other!
About Lisa Lisa Di Tommaso is the Librarian at the Morrab Library in Penzance, the sixth largest independent library in the UK, and now entering its 201st year. Originally from Brisbane, Australia, Lisa moved to London in 2002, working for the National Trust, before becoming a Special Collections Librarian at the Natural History Museum. Prior to moving to Penzance last year, she was the Head of Collections at Durham Cathedral, managing the library, object collections and its new Open Treasure museum.
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