Warm Welcomes

Its all been a bit of a scramble but there’s a network of community resources opening up across the UK to provide warm spaces for people, free of charge. We were already planning to be part of it as a response to the cost of living crisis, but the cold snap this week has only underlined how important it is. Local government services, faith groups, and community groups have been working together to try and provide support – and now there’s a searchable resource online – www.warmwelcome.uk – that should help you find warm spaces or to recommend them to other people. You’ll be seeing more about this through the winter and I hope its helpful to amplify it here.

The Warm Welcome scheme was started by the ChurchWorks Commission and is enthusiastically open about partnering up with anyone who is providing assistance across the UK. There’s an extensive FAQ on the website with all sorts of advice on setting up and partnering to provide safe and warm spaces so please do have a read through.

The libraries in my group are going live as sites as a soft launch while we finalise comms and supplies, mostly as it builds on our general availability around the year and existing mission to be safe and neutral spaces for all. The enduring appeal of working in libraries for me is the supporting role we play in our communities as a social space and its no leap at all to extend this winter. The paperwork is extensive, but the risk assessments are worth it…

In Praise of Library Staff

One of the qualities I admire about so many of my colleagues is the quiet steadiness. Sometimes its fuelled by bloody-mindedness, and often without even realising just how creative and caring they are. Libraries work in the heart of our communities and hear people’s stories day in and day out – often struggling through transport and bad weather themselves to provide warm welcomes and activities for all.

Even when times are tough and we’re stretched thin, there’s a resilience that keeps people smiling and turning up. The reasons vary from person to person in their particulars but the overwhelming majority cite helping people as a major reason to do what they do. Sharing their love and knowledge of books can sometimes feel far away from the grind of making sure that people can do their printing, but its a rare person working in a library who doesn’t light up when someone is excitedly telling us about a new book they’ve discovered. It doesn’t matter how old or young that excited discoverer is, a library person will listen with a broad grin on the face.

Being at the heart of our communities we’ve seen a natural call for schemes aiming to raise quality of life. Whether that’s warm banks or trading standards testing equipment; firefighters advising on alarms and prevention, or offering space to Citizens Advice to meet their clients there’s a growing realisation that libraries are continuing to provide safe and neutral spaces. More importantly its becoming clear to a wider audience that these actions and interactions are nothing new. Libraries have been doing this for decades, quietly supporting and boosting local groups and being spaces for growth.

As a manager I occasionally field complaints about how libraries should be quiet spaces and all this bustle should be dismissed, and depending on the context of the conversation there are a number of responses that I find useful. In essence, there’s a world of difference between academic libraries and community libraries. Public libraries are firmly in the latter camp, and have been for many years – with ebbs and flows in the focus of activities of the day to provide a rich variety of ways to use the space.

We couldn’t do it without the staff. They bring enthusiasm and delight, along with steady professionalism and a spice of gossip. I continue to count myself very lucky to be working in libraries – there’s no job like it

Surrey Stars

I was invited along last night to something that Surrey County Council hasn’t really tried before – an awards ceremony for outstanding individuals and teams. Various nominations, including some I put forward for my team, were whittled down to a select few, and my invitation lay unnoticed until my co-chairs in the staff LGBT+ network started commenting about how the date clashed with various family plans and asked if I was going. One hasty brushing off of the spam filter later I’d got the paperwork sorted.

Hosted at Sandown Races, the traffic was… heavy as only rush hour can be in that neck of the woods, but I was there on time and headed for the very sparkly-dressed people standing at the main entrance to gain entry. I’ve not been to anything like this before, so the nerves were firmly squashed, and I stepped forward all suited and booted.

It was a good evening – partly to meet people I’ve only ever met on Teams and Zoom, and partly to make new connections with my staff network chair hat on. There was live jazz and reasonable food and drink for a corporate bash, but the people there were definitely the draw. I think setting it right at the beginning of the Christmas period was a good move as it gave people an excuse to break out the glad rags and let their hair down a little bit. The mood was light, the networking was non-stop, and I was somehow surprised still to find how many people either already knew me by sight or reputation – or who wanted to talk in my network capacity.

There were some amazing stories that came out through the awards of the amazing work done with and for people in our local communities and in the pursuit of equality, diversity and inclusion for all. I don’t say it lightly, it was inspiring and I’m determined to get more library recognition in for next year. As it was, our Young Employee of the Year award went to a Saturday Assistant based in Camberley Library – much to his complete surprise.

I was even home at a not too late time – so I was quite buzzed for work this morning and spent quite some time making sure my peers and staff knew about the awards and how we need to get nominations started for next year. Pleasant to have something nice to plan really.

National Libraries Week

Here in the UK, its National Libraries Week and I’m very proud to be doing my bit to help promote it. I was asked to put together a ‘day in the life’ style blog post about my role, answering some questions in common with other people in the service at different levels – and we’ve had various bits released through the week.

Libraries are a thing that I get very passionate about, especially when it comes to supporting and engaging with our local communities. We see people at their best and their worst through their whole lives; and at our best equip people with opportunities and knowledge to take control of their own lives.

Libraries have never just been about books. Librarians have always been subversive in the face of censors. I’m proud of what I do, and I’m proud of the people who work for and with me.

I’ll just put this soapbox down over here now…

Quiet Improvements

After the whirlwind of the last few weeks these last few days have been quite pleasant. That’s not to say there haven’t been moments that prompted the odd eye roll, but in general my stress levels have been a lot lower

Mostly that’s because the frenzy of events has finished for a little while, and also because my staff reminded me I can actually give them jobs to do on top of their day to day stuff. This was all wrapped up in a concern for my health that was heartening.

In the meantime I’ve been carrying on with a piece on Allyship that I’m starting to socialise now I’ve got the basic copy done, and have spent an afternoon wrangling accessibility issues. I need to get some more sensitivity reading done but I’m feeling confident in the piece at the moment.

And this evening we had the regular Destiny stream on Lady B’s Twitch where we pretended to be space pirates for a while.

Tomorrow we need to get the cub’s school clothing sorted ahead of the new term in Monday. He is not looking forward to it.

Camberley Pride

I was wearing three metaphorical hats today and no physical ones as a sunny day dawned on Pride in Surrey at Camberley’s Recreation Grounds.

Eight in the morning saw me assembling the library stall as part of a wider group putting together stands in the Surrey County Council marquee and there was very little let up from that point.

My metaphorical hats were those of being one of the Library Group Managers, of being co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Staff Network, and part of my extended polycule as we coordinated various vehicles and modes of transport to get there. Somehow the plate spinning didn’t get out of control and I was able to slip between the competing roles with ease, which was helpful.

The whole day has been amazing – a much bigger site than last year at Godalming and thankfully all on a level rather than the entertaining slopes we coped with previously. The route of the parade was also far longer, weaving through the town and shopping centre before heading through residential streets to the park. Barring one very small group of teenage boys trying to be edgy we also had nothing but support and cheers from the crowds who had turned out. If there were counter-protestors (as had been threatened) they didn’t disrupt or dismay anyone.

Instead I was able to support colleagues, network with politicians and other organisations, mind our library mascot for their appearances, and still spend time with my loved ones and the assorted children we had with us.

We may even have persuaded our political portfolio holder to get his face painted with flowers and he very gamely let us decorate him in celebration of his being a fantastic ally both of libraries and the lgbtq+ community.

I’m home now, footsore, slightly sunburned, but fed and watered. Everyone has been delivered home to where they need to be, and I’m having my last cuppa to round out the day. It’s been a good one, and so’s the cuppa.

Approaching Pride

Even with having a part in preparations for work’s presence at Pride In Surrey this year I’m still feeling unready – but mostly because I’m not sure how I’m actually going to get there. There are train and bus disruptions so I suspect I may have to get a taxi, and this just considering me. Somehow we’ll get the whole Entourage there

In the meantime I have a stack of flags in my bag to use as table cloths on the day. So that’s useful. I need now to start thinking of what I’m going to wear on the day and use as props. To be fair if these are the biggest worried I need to deal with I’ll be fine.

Then next week starts my Leadership training, which I’ve gained access to with my Network Chair role as well as my managing and mentoring a group of managers in the day job. While I’m not expecting anything life changing, I am looking forward to it, and it is already opening doors.

Now, if the anxiety and depression could all nip off down the shops and not come back, that would be helpful.

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.

Knickers Everywhere

We’re starting to gear up for the Jubilee celebrations in the libraries, and I’ve just overheard two of my staff on the phone to each other assuring each other that they’re not copying each other and are doing quite different children’s events and crafts based around the book The Queen’s Knickers.

Independent invention is a wonderful thing, and in this case I know it’s been prompted by hardback deliveries this week of the same books to each library in the area.

At the library I’m currently basing myself from, the focus is on inviting people to decorate a template looking like a set of underwear with whatever colours, patterns, or cut out shapes and pictures they like. The resulting pieces are then being hung up on “washing lines” within the children’s library.

It’s all good fun, and I’ve only had to veto a couple of design choices suggested out of devilment by the staff as they make up some samples to start it all off. I look forward to seeing the collection grow…

And yes, I have contributed a design. Doesn’t seem to be up yet.