Lady M had to pop out this morning to drop some things to the post office, and then get some ingredients to do some baking. All things that sound innocuous enough, but when she returned, she was exhausted – and revealed that her stress levels had spiked so hard when getting to the supermarket that she’d had to stop and have a bit of a breather. This is not unlike the sort of conversations I’ve been having with staff this week.
The UK government decided to lower it’s pandemic severity rating from a 4 to a 3 this week, to catch up with the announcement the week before that it was going to recommend more places opening up. There are more than a few medical and clinical workers facepalming at the moment, but in truth it is a political decision as much as an interpretation of the highly contentious statistics of infections and deaths.
Lady M, like many of my staff, have obeyed the lockdown – in no small part because they’ve been working from home and so haven’t had the experience of seeing people getting used to the strange interpretations of social distancing and mask wearing that different people have been making. I’ve been able to get out and do grocery shopping while she’s been battling work issues so my usual internal grump is around the anticipation of queueing a while.
By comparison, Lady M has also had to battle the stark clash between media sources urging care and the reality of the Great British public who are worse than a bundle of cats for staying and doing what they’re told. I shall continue to bear this in mind as we work to get the libraries open safely for both staff and customers. On both sides we will have people who are rightly nervous on some level about accessing the buildings and the treasures they contain – and I hope we can maintain both understanding and kindness in the process.
I’ve started the process of talking to staff to identify concerns and issues around reopening the libraries next month if things continue as they are. For the most part so far there’s a general pragmatism and desire to be getting on with things – as much for the sense of not being in limbo any more as anything else. The biggest concern so far has been around using public transport.
The concern has ranged from contamination risks and distancing to potential delays due to any distancing preventing their getting the bus on time. We’ll see what tomorrow’s interviews bring.
For the most part, bringing people along on these risk assessments is part of a process of getting their active involvement in thinking about their own responsibilities to themselves and their families.
I can and have done assessments of the work places alongside colleagues against known recommendations, but the only people who can give me an informed assessment of how they’re doing and especially what their fears are are the staff themselves.
It is a good excuse to get to see familiar faces again as well. Even where we’re discussing contentious or difficult issues its still a pleasure to be catching up properly. We’ll see if tomorrow manages to be as productive.
I’m taking advantage of the hard work yesterday clearing down old archives to make sure that the bags of confidential waste are prepped and ready for collection by our secure shredding service. If nothing else its giving me a workout, so I’m pausing a moment for a cuppa.
If there’s one thing this week of clearing out rubbish and shelving has made clear to me, it’s how the lockdown has affected my stamina levels. Before this week I’ve been having aches and pains, but now I have muscles letting me know that they’ve been used, and that’s a good thing.
What I shall need to be aware of is that many of the people I work with will be in similar states as and when we reopen in whatever capacity to the public. It can be very easy to forget that working in a library is quite physical between shifting stock, being on your feet most of the day, and of course moving around to help people all over buildings that frequently have multiple floors.
When are we reopening? Well we don’t actually know yet. We were working to the assumption that it would be July, but the announcement this week of non-essential shops being allowed to reopen in a couple of weeks time has also folded libraries into that umbrella.
We’re still working out how to best do it safely, and are doing assessments on how to phase some sort of service back into play. In the meantime, data cleansing and physical cleansing are an ongoing process in preparation of any announcements.
I’ve been putting it off, but yesterday I went into one of my libraries with a colleague to do a cleardown of surfaces and a general clearout of expired leaflets and paperwork. Eight large bags of recycling and three large bin liners later, we called it a day.
If nothing else it helped keep my back limber as I’ve had a trapped nerve for a couple of days.
The other good thing (aside from it being easier to clean surfaces), is that it has given me ideas for jobs for staff to do when they return, such as having a sort through craft materials. We have an archive of old crafts ideas dating back the best part of twenty years that needs a critical eye too.
Today I’ll be going back in to start going through the drawers behind the main desk. There’s a lot of rubbish in there…
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.
Well, that was a day. I think my body is trying to collapse into having a cold, with a sinus headache that’s lasted three days so far. So as you might expect I wasn’t full of the joys of spring this morning when I got into work and started to do the float and cash up.
Very quickly, from phonecalls and emails, my to do list grew rapidly – and then I had to stop and search in the safe for extra money put aside by a colleague earlier in the week as the till draw started to get full. There was no note left to let me know however, so that was a nervous five minutes working out how I could be significantly under on the expected total.
And then I got a call. Bear in mind we’ve only been open half an hour or so by this point. Could you come over to Chertsey to supervise the coder dojo? The person who was going to do so has gone sick. There’s a volunteer to run it but we need you there as someone sensible.
Well there’s a lot to unpack there. The last coding I ever did was visual basic as a database front end some fifteen or more years ago. It also meant that I wouldn’t be there to meet an artist and supervise him putting up an installation, or any number of staff support and management things rapidly pinging on my radar.
On the other hand, what’s the worst that could happen?
It went okay. I stayed hands off and interpreted a few things for the children if they didn’t quite follow the volunteer’s directions – and otherwise managed a number of issues by phone. The kids were happy, the staff were happy, and I discovered new bus routes I was previously unaware of.
I do enjoy a bit of chaos to shake things up, but today was a bit non stop. Let’s see where the pieces I had to drop today ended up…
Is it worse to have no working IT systems, or to have most of a working IT system? After today, my vote is for the latter as we could work around most issues with alternatives, but then feel frustrated on our customers’ behalf at the inability to wholly resolve one or two types of interaction.
It also meant that it took longer and more convoluted routes to answer certain queries – which was somewhat irking as we’re all about providing or at least pointing the way to information.
What today did prove, reassuringly, was how well we know our stock. A great number of book enquiries were resolved by being able to walk to the exact section with the customers – and in some instances to reach for the exact thing they had asked for.
That was deeply satisfying. I may have appeared to be almost supernaturally knowledgeable – especially with my growing beard and tendency to silently appear beside people just as they started looking lost.
Okay, I may enjoy making people jump. I am a sadist, after all.
We’re trying something new as part of our links with the local schools and the arts community. Over the next three months a number of schools will be working with a dance theatre group to create and produce interactive performances in one of our library spaces.
This week the group has begun rehearsing and getting to know the area – and today was their first experience doing so with the public in the building and interacting in that space.
It went rather well. Both in terms of logistics with nobody getting in each others way, and in terms of public response and reaction. The latter ranged from a very British nonchalance, to families engaging the team and joining in.
One of the libraries I manage is right in the heart of its community’s high street, and so when an opportunity arises to be part of a wider event we’re very pleased to be able to help however we can. Last night was a Christmas Fair, and following the success of an impromptu involvement this year, staff volunteered to be more engaged and make a bigger contribution.
To that end we agreed to host Santa’s Grotto in the children’s library, and had a number of characters available for people to take photos with. We ran a crafts table, ran a lucky dip, had computers available for STEM software activities, and also just kept the library systems up and running for anyone who just fancied using the library.
It went incredibly well, and I’ve been making sure to let the managers of the various staff involved know just how valued and valuable the volunteers’ time and efforts were.
It was a late evening, and everyone is back to work again this morning with various degrees of tired shellshocked impressions in their faces, but also with a huge morale boost for just being able to do something fun as part of the wider local community.
I was in a meeting this morning with other managers, specifically the other managers for our cluster of libraries, and I generally think I was able to steer the conversations away from agreeing anything too daft.
Indeed, in general when staff were mentioned it was to praise their achievements and highlight good practice. It was one of those positive meetings where we were able to catch up, make sure we were all doing things the same way, and mitigate some of the sillier upper management suggestions.
Then I got hit with being told that I would be interviewing prospective weekend library assistants on Saturday – somewhat the opposite of what I’d been previously told. I may have growled a bit before capitulating – mostly buouyed by the thought that I’ve already set up a drinks evening for that night in which I can recover.
This motif of changing plans then became writ large across the day, which is how I ended up getting home late after supervising an engineer whose installations of new public kiosks had gone a little awry.
It’s fine. I’m tucked up in bed with the whole thing to myself. Lady M is out on a team drinks night so won’t be home tonight, and lady s is at home sweating and swearing over her new cosplay project.