Librarians at Play

After several weeks off while people had holidays and various bouts of not feeling well, we managed to get everyone together this week for the second session of Dungeons and Dragons I’m running with some colleagues from work, as well as Lady M and the boy s. We’d left them in the middle of a fight with two apprentices and their animated champions: a small shrub, and a broom. Chaos and hilarity ensued as the broom flew around the room smacking people as it passed, and people variously tried to grab and wrestle it into submission.

Lila, a thief with an extensive knife collection, was able to intercept one of the pair of miscreants and pin him to the wall. She told him to get his shrubbery under control, but at more or less the same time the cleric Wilhelm cast cause light wounds on it and it shrivelled away to dust.

The artificer, Xander, was knocked unconscious by the broom, but was stabilised by Pan before Caitriona (the other cleric) arrived and got them back on their feet. The distraction was enough for the second apprentice to flee to the other side of the chamber and say something into a rune-carved stone that he produced from his pocket. Moments later, a shadowy portal appeared in the air and a gaunt hand pulled him through. The portal promptly disappeared.

As a distraction, Xander imbued the broom with a fart-generating property – and blamed it on their concussion. Between them, in the meantime, Pan and Caitriona were able to smash the broom into several now-noisy segments.

The captured minion confessed that he and his companion had been practicing the animation spells to gain the favour of “The Maester” who had promised them power and work if they could manage it. He was offered a job in the kitchens of Wilhelm’s husband’s mansion and allowed to leave – and was last seen running as fast as he could. A few moments’ collective thought identified the portal as having been the manifestation of a dimension door spell – which meant that the Maester would have to have been at most 500 feet away. With no obvious additional ways out however, the group decided to gather up the abandoned book that they had been sent to retrieve and return it to the Morgrave University Library. They then gathered back at the inn on the campus before going their separate ways.

Wilhelm informed everyone that his husband had extended an invitation to them all to attend a black-tie event with rare book dealers who may be able to provide more information on missing books – or indeed this mysterious Maester.

We’ll be regrouping in two weeks’ time, and I’ve told the players there will be downtime activities to resolve and to think of what they might like to do with that time.

Creative Use of Library Space

We had a dance company in at one of my libraries yesterday performing a series of 10 minute pieces based around the interactions of people on the doorstep – inspired by lockdown among other things it features love blooming between a shopper and a delivery person. Fast, funny, suitable for all ages, and a great way of opening up library spaces and the way people think about them. The series is called “Doorstep Duets” and its presented by New/Adventures – they’re touring all over the place so keep an eye out for them.

Libraries are being used more and more for creative purposes, and its wonderful to see new people coming in to experience them. We did a recent survey of the sort of activities people would like to see, and a striking number wanted to see performances and music more often. Between that and a resurgent interest in local history we’ve got some good places to start in reimagining how we grab people’s imaginations. There were certainly a lot of smiles at the performances yesterday, so that’s a good start.

Productive Day

There’s a project close to my heart that I’ve been slowly pushing forward over the last four to six months, and that started to gain traction today. I’m aiming to improve access to items helpful for people with sensory processing issues in both schools and libraries – essentially a range of tactile, audio, and visual objects that can help or ground people with Autism or Alzheimer’s. The idea is that loaning these items will enable people, their families, schools, and carers to identify what best works for them at a reasonable price.

Today we agreed a project brief, and proposed some time scales to put a pilot together with some partner groups. It feels like a very concrete first step towards something quite special.

I also dropped in to the Pride In Surrey hub in Woking to introduce myself with my co-Chair hat on, and had some brief conversations around the upcoming Pride event at Camberley. I may also have bought a new mug and a snap fan in the colours of the Progress Pride flag.

Various other operational irons were stirred in the proverbial fire, but I’m mostly glad that today actually felt like I was moving with purpose again.

Just Work Things

Back to work on a Saturday and so far there have been comments about sick on a carpet that turned out to be a water pipe leak, a query about lone working for a teenager in a quiet library, the payroll/HR system not being available, and the sun shining straight in my eyes while I’m on a call. A pretty ordinary morning so far then. I’m usually senior cover in my libraries about once a month and by far the most noticeable thing about that is that the geographical range of things that I get pinged about is more diverse. This is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination as it keeps me aware of the wider state of how things are going rather than just on my patch. It’s also generally not an onerous duty as the staff are proactive and engaged and usually just need a nod to continue.

The building I work in is one of those radio shadow lattices from all the metal in its construction that plays merry havoc with mobile signals – which includes the official wifi – and so connectivity for me in this location has become a matter of hotspots via strategically positioned work mobiles and uncapped data tariffs. Never underestimate the creativity of library staff to overcome data issues.

My challenge for this evening is to not forget that I have counselling – unlike a fortnight ago where I got caught up in watching something on TV and then realised I’d missed the whole thing and saw the reminder texts from an increasingly concerned counsellor that I hadn’t seen because I normally have my phone on silent. Oops.

Could You All Just Stop?

My day started with one of my branch managers phoning me while they were having a panic attack on top of what turned out to be an acute asthma attack. They were worried that they might have to close their library as they were working on their own. There’s a lot to unpick there, and once I’d talked them through getting their breathing a bit less on the edge of collapse I wasted no time in telling them that I couldn’t care less about closing the library – their health is far more important. This is an individual who is new in their job and feels they have a lot to prove, despite my telling them many times over that they are doing a great job and literally have nothing to prove and they need to slow down.

Grumpy? Me?

While still reeling that in I got a call about another member of staff wrenching their back while reaching for christmas decorations in a cupboard, had an update on another person about to undergo surgery, and had calls from the cub’s school that he wasn’t well and could someone come and retrieve him. I may have growled about that as he’d pranked me this morning by walking out of his room with red vaseline around his mouth so that it looked like he had foot and mouth but was thankfully at that time okay. Lady M meanwhile had called in sick with a heavy cold, and while down in Portsmouth boy s had also succumbed to the same cold.

It turned out that the cub has, you guessed it, got the same heavy cold as Lady M and boy s – so I’m chalking it up to Con Flu from the weekend. Lateral Flow Tests have remained negative.

Me? I haven’t got time to be ill. I had school runs, building health and safety inspections, job shortlisting, event risk assessments, and partnership meetings to sort out – and retrieving boy s from Portsmouth after hours. Tomorrow I have more of the same, so I’ve quarantined everyone else in the flat in the other rooms and laid claim to the sofa. If I get this in the same week that I’ve had my blood pressure medications increased, I won’t be happy.

So, could you all just stop falling apart please? I haven’t finished my turn yet.

Library Life Behind the Scenes

I’m just back home from doing a quick tour of my libraries this morning and it has at least given me a chance to be outside the four walls of my flat. There are a number of things we’re doing while we’re closed in preparation for when it is safe to reopen, and they range from some simple maintenance of the buildings to measuring up for potential protective measures. The libraries are big enough that we can observe social distancing while a few of us go in to sort these things out, but it still feels strange to be doing so.

The first library was just a very brief stop in before we handed the building over to decorators. I was there the other day clearing surfaces, but today was the official start of works. I’ll not be returning there until works are completed on some repainting and minor repairs and the company hands the building back to us. Having been there for about two or three minutes, it was then on to the biggest of the libraries to catch up with a fellow manager while we went through and started throwing out outdated manuals, empty biscuit tins, and all the minor detritus that seems to build up in workrooms and staff areas to take over every surface.

Along the way we found training manuals for IT systems that don’t exist any more, procedures printed out from seven or eight years ago that have been superceded, and new homes for all the cash paying in stubs that we need to retain for a few more years. Waste disposal companies got politely prodded to come and actually empty bins that weren’t; air conditioning units got inspected and maintained; water tanks and sinks checked for legionella/water temperature controls – and yes, okay, we gossipped and caught up on how things are going because these things too are important.

The other libraries it was just a quick glance on the way past to check the doors were still locked and nothing looked out of place. We’ll get to them next week – we’re pacing ourselves.

More importantly the majority of our conversations are debates on how to interpret the guidance being wafted around in such a way as to promote safe access to services and buildings for staff and public alike. We’re already pushing our digital services and online presentations – with rhymetimes, storytimes, and craft events all being presented online via social media – on https://www.facebook.com/surreylibrariesUK/ – and a big part of our debate is how we can safely restart doing these activities in the branches. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Oh yeah, World Book Day Happened

That said, I’m not too worried about not blogging on the day about it as so many schools have decided to do things on the Friday before the weekend rather than have dress-down days. Only this morning I had a number of Harry Potters appear for Rhymetime, making me wish I’d brought in one of my replica wands with which to join in the fun and practice some spells with them.

Yesterday was the day itself though, and as libraries we did our best to fit it in with our general mission of getting interesting books in front of variously interested people of all ages. I was unable to convince any of the staff working with me to actually dress up as anything, so I was left to fly the flag and adopt most of my Harley Quinn cosplay while still remaining professional and unscary to the majority of our customers. In other words: no weapons, no facepaint, no fake tattoos, or blood (fake, or otherwise).

Just an average day at the library

In practice this meant a white shirt, the red and black waistcoat made by Lady M, and the old red and black nail varnish. This was fine, and bemused a number of elderly customers who didn’t dare ask what was going on. My staff are used to it, so all was well. We just didn’t get any children older than two and a half in all day. You might think therefore that this was a waste of time, but I say any excuse to wear cosplay at work and be paid for it is no bad thing. Then again, I am famous for having no shame over these things.

I couldn’t be bothered to remove the nail varnish last night, so I’m still wearing it today, along with my more general casually smart library manager attire. So far I’ve had ten people admire and compliment my nails while I’ve been serving them. I’ll take that.

The V On The Roof

One of my libraries has a building site next door – as in, just the other side of the wall of my office – and it has been a noisy year as they demolished the old buildings and then started to build the development from scratch. One of the big complaints from people in the area was that it was removing an architectural feature from the area – specifically the imposing front of what had been a college, complete with an impressive facade – even though the site had been closed and falling apart for quite some time.

As I was walking in to work the other day though, I could start to see the final shape of some of the buildings in the development coming together as the peaked roofs are added to the bare bones of concrete and metal. The shape and colour of the tiles is reminiscent of the older building that had been there before – and I thought it a nice touch. Then I noticed on one of the roofs a lighter coloured V shape, which looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. I mentioned it to a member of staff whose family has been in the area for generations and she got excited enough to jump out and go round to take a picture.

Apparently it exactly replicates signs of bomb damage from World War Two, where a device hit the road a short way away from the school (as it was at the time), and lightly damaged the tiles of its roof where it faced the explosion. Builders rapidly replaced the tiles from bombed out buildings nearby so that the school could keep running but the colour didn’t quite match. This left a distinct lighter coloured V shape that was never repaired or replaced until the building was demolished last year to make way for the new buildings. It had become part of the fabric of the local community – a sign of it pulling together in war and adversity to help its members – and so the reappearance of this V in the tiles on the same alignment and location of the original has been grudgingly admired as a nice nod to the past and the continuity of that spirit.

Little things go a long way

Lanyard Inclusivity

I may have mentioned previously that I have a number of badges on my work lanyard. Some are representations of fandoms, or of work initiatives, while others are for LGBTQIA+ representation, or are purely decorative. They serve a multitude of functions – not least of which is being visible, which may seem a strange option, but does serve a function when people are struggling to describe who served them last time. “The man with the badges” works just as well, especially with the amount of swapping of staff we have to do at the moment between sites.

From time to time, a member of the public tries to interpret some of the badges that are less common in appearance, which can lead to some interesting conversations – some of them useful, some of them an exercise in confirming or denying nothing depending on the tone of the questioner.

What has been heartening recently however, is seeing the slow spread of LGBTQIA+ badges on a number of other staff members’ lanyards – either as quiet declaration or as allies – and finding the very reassurance I’ve hoped to project to others coming from seeing them in front of me.

It just reinforces how important representation in the workplace is.

Back to Work

Ah, its as if I’ve never been away – and so this week I’ve been striving to change things in my work environment – little but important things, especially given the recent walkabouts we’ve been doing looking at fire and building safety. I may not be able to conjure fresh staff out of the ether, but I can at least have a tidy and make sure life is a little less complex where I can.

So Tuesday I spent most of the day clearing out shelves and paperwork from a workroom at one of my libraries – removing anything financially related that was more than seven years old, and disposing of all sorts of broken bits of junk kept “just in case”. A fellow manager has maintained the charge today at that site, with the grudging assistance of staff who know better than to get in the way of someone described as “contagiously enthusiastic”.

Today I’ve been overseeing surveyors and engineers looking at leaks and other issues in another building, using my advanced knowledge of the building to accurately predict where the next domino in a cascade of events was going to wander next. There may also have been some more cleaning of surfaces, decluttering of access corridors and careful removing of wedges behind fire doors. I’m in equal minds as to whether the latter has been in the spirit of safety or spite.

Tomorrow will be more of the same – and no doubt there will be fresh assaults on my sanity and patience.