Community Voices - Alison Ricker

alison rickerAlison Ricker is a Science Librarian at Oberlin College. She has held this position for thirty-one years. She has also collaborated with other science librarians in Ohio to present a poster at the 2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science Meeting, on digitization projects in the sciences among the Five Colleges of Ohio.

 

Q: What words or images would you use to describe Oberlin?

A: Friendly. Small. Walkable. How many do you want? My home [laughs]. Peaceful. Green. That’s all I can think of!

Q: Why would you choose that/those words or images?

A: Well, I thought of Tappan Square, and that’s where the peaceful and green came from. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life, so it must be my home, even though I tell people that I’m from Michigan or Pennsylvania depending on what time period in my life they’re asking about. I’ve always found it to be very friendly, and when I travel somewhere else and walk by people on the street, if they don’t even look at me, let alone say hello, I’ll think, “Wow, if I was in Oberlin, people would at least look at me and smile!” And I know so many of the people who work in the stores downtown and they know me, so it’s very friendly.

Q: How is it you came to live and work in Oberlin?

A: I came here for my job at Oberlin College. I was at a protest in 1982 in Washington D.C. and there was this enormous banner that said “Oberlin for Peace and Justice” and a bunch of students, probably a whole busload of students, were holding up the banner—this was when people were calling for a nuclear freeze—and I thought, “Wow, that’s really cool! Here’s a school that has sent an entire busload of people to this nuclear freeze protest!” So when the job opening came up, I was very interested. It just fits well with my idea of social justice and ecological awareness.

Q: Can you expand on that a little bit?

A: Well, I’m a Science Librarian and I came from a Biology major background with a strong emphasis in ecology, and am very interested in making our ecosystem as healthy and sustainable as possible. I feel that Oberlin has that same level of consciousness, generally, and works hard to ensure that other people have that same understanding.

Q: Some people use the word “sustainability” to mean actions that enhance or maintain the economic, environmental and social welfare of the Oberlin community. What does sustainability mean to you and what does it mean in your life?

A: Well, it certainly means those things but it also means making conscious decisions that don’t hurt other people, other living beings, or any part of the world in which we live. For example, sustainable would be not just buying organic products but also ones that were not sold to you through slave labor or underpaying workers, which means buying fair trade products. I think fair trade products are a good indicator of sustainability so that the whole cycle of production and consumption is done in thinking about how we are living on this planet and to ensure that future generations will also be able to live here and live in balance with all other species.

Q: What actions are you engaged in that relate to sustainability?

A: Primarily as a supporter through donations to groups like Sierra Club or the National Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Environmental Defense Fund, among others. I often send $25-$50 contributions and at the end of the year realize I’m sending all kinds of small contributions to many groups. I also respond very often to calls and email requests to sign an online petition or send a letter to a legislator or someone in a position to make decisions that impact the environment. But I don’t, outside of my own personal way of living, I don’t go out and proselytize that much. I was involved in a group called the Interfaith Committee on the Environment or ICE, which represented several churches in the area, not just churches but any kind of faith or spirituality group, that joined together to raise awareness for environmental issues within our own religious groups and faith-based communities. I’ve also participated in some calls to action from FaCT, the Faith Communities Together for Frack Awareness here in northeast Ohio.

Q: What is your favorite part about your job?

A:  My favorite part would be building collections—meaning from print and electronic resources—that help to inform and engage people about what I think are some of the most important issues facing us, and that would be understanding climate change, working towards a healthier environment, and understanding why that is important beyond just the economic considerations that some people seem to focus on solely, and taking a more holistic view. So it’s creating an environment for both learning and study where students, especially, feel that they are supported in whatever they’re doing as they’re studying.

Q: If you could look 20 years into the future, what would you like to see stay the same in Oberlin? What would you like to see change?

A: It would be great to see more people adopting a vegetarian way of life because I believe that our reliance on mass production of livestock is simply unsustainable. It requires so much water, so much land, and so much fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide use, so it would be great if we could all start living lower on the food chain. Also, the Green Belt vision for around Oberlin, I really like. It would be wonderful if that was flourishing and there were all kinds of farmers and other producers that were providing local goods and produce and that we were all taking advantage of that. For example, my husband and I often buy spinach that comes in those plastic bins, that’s already been pre-washed and I don’t know where it was grown. It’s so convenient, but I know at the same time that it’s not the most sustainable way for me to eat spinach. I should be buying spinach at the George Jones farm, or another local grower but it’s hard to grow spinach and have it year-round here. So, those kinds of tradeoffs are hard to make for personal reasons.

Q: Is there anything you would like to tell your fellow community members regarding care for the environment or sustainable living or respect for nature?

A: I think I would encourage us all to be much more mindful about how we eat, what we eat, what we wear, where those things come from, the impact that they have on the environment and on the humans that produce them. And it’s a difficult thing to do because when you’re in the store, at the moment, and you want or need a particular thing, it’s very hard to stop and think about how it got produced, and where, and who was negatively impacted by it, and who benefitted from it, perhaps unfairly. But those are the kinds of considerations that I wish everyone could be keep in mind. And not just mindful, but, you know—and this is true of myself—also able to live with my conscience much more consistently. I wish I was much more consistent in acting out my own beliefs, so for me to suggest that other people should do that when I don’t always do it myself is not completely honest. But that’s what I would like to see.

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Melissa Cabat is a first year Environmental Studies major from New York City. She is also a member of the Oberlin Student Theater Association and a DJ for WOBC 91.5 FM.

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Melissa Cabat
Melissa Cabat is a first year Environmental Studies major from New York City. Sh
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