Libraries after lockdown!
Coming back to libraries after the first lockdown was surreal. I’d been redeployed to another part of the council for a couple of months. It’d been such a short time but it almost felt like losing part of your identity; going from “look mum it’s the library lady” to being working in a different department and being the “new girl”,who can’t find anything in a stockroom warehouse full of faces I don’t know.
I was really excited to be coming back and seeing other library staff. I remember walking into the library again for the first time and the streets were so quiet! It was like a ghost town and going into the building which seemed so familiar and at the same time so abandoned like that Larkin poem “Home is so sad”. Shelves of books left unread under a fine coat of dust. I soon got into cleaning and tidying up, it was nice to feel useful.
Setting up the one-way system, all the signage, putting up a cube in the entrance with the plastic sneeze screens and sanitiser. Getting ready for “click and collect” and wondering if anybody would even come…but they did.
Choosing books for other people was a change. I mean, I read a fair bit and I know what I like but that doesn’t mean that somebody else will like it. It’s like Christmas shopping for 100 people you don’t know. There were occasions when we got it wrong but most people were genuinely quite patient and lovely and grateful to have anything to read. It was really heartening to hear from customers what a difference reading had meant to them during this time when it was the only way to travel, if vicariously, in the pages of somebody else’s subconscious.
Opening up our services gradually has been reassuring, slowly remembering what we do here, that moment of excitement when you first see one of your regular customers who hadn’t been in for months and you know that they’re ok.
Fast forward a year and you’ve thrown yourself into this “new normal” with abandon, facemasks in every design for each day of the week and you go from your first really self-conscious recorded storytime on social media (that you rehearsed 30 times!)… to just lights, camera, action, lets record a few nursery rhymes before opening time – pass me the box of puppets!
As time went on we were able to open up more of our services, bringing back reservations and letting customers browse our collections again. I know people were very happy to be back in the library. Our customers who don’t have access to the internet at home were very grateful to be able to use our computers again. One of them told me that he had over 2000 emails – hopefully not all spam!
There was a point where slowly the children came back into the library, parents started asking us about Rhymetime and Storytime and saying how much they were missing it; the children benefit from it so much and for the new parents its like a support group. When we got the green light to start this up again (albeit with smaller bookable groups) I remember that this really seemed to motivate the staff and morale improved a good deal. Hearing families enjoying the books seemed to bring the building back to life – or maybe it’s just me slowly coming out of this daze, this brain fog, where it seemed like the world flipped into a dystopian novel there for a while.
Things are a bit more like normal now, there’s obviously some things that we can’t do yet.
Fast forward another year…..who knows. I am hopeful.