As we look back at the year, there are a roller-coaster of emotions and moods that have engulfed us due to coronavirus COVID-19. The year started off normal except for the dreaded Brexit plans for cutting ties, isolating, restricting, control our access, freedom and creating havoc in our everyday lives, work and ambitions with our closest and oldest continental neighbours. Hearing the news on Brexit was one of the worst things you can listen to in the last four years in the United Kingdom – understandably unbearable, bored stiff or semi-engaged after 4-5 years. January was intentionally decided as the month that we left the EU with Brexiteers gathered in a cold miserable winter night in Parliament Square – good luck to them I thought! It was cringeworthy and anger inducing in great measures. Let them get what they have coming to them. It took Covid-19 to change the mood and tone a little.
Little did we know that the next few months (year in fact!) will bring about more blight, chaos, devastation and thousands of deaths would ensue. For January was also the month that coronavirus news from Wuhan started getting on our major news network in the West. There has since been disputed evidence when and where the virus actually started. But it has dominated and curtailed our lives and world since early 2020.
In February, there were signs that things were about to change gradually. The most significant for me was an Economist Intelligence Unit Breakfast Briefing in 13th February with first class experts give a clear understanding and forecast for the disruption and devastation to the global economy in months to come. I honestly thought that it would affect supply chains but not the enormous negative it would have on lives and the global economy with countries increasingly having cases of infections. Around late February, there were signs for using sanitizers in public and the office areas began to have signs asking you to use hand sanitizers in buildings. Italy was reporting ‘draconian’ measures to prevent the spread of the virus. There were more persons on the London Underground starting to wear face mask – it was then such a rare and novel feature considering that mainly travellers from the Far East usually wear them prior to Covid-19. Little did we know that it would be compulsory in public places indoors by the end of 2020. Even today at the end of December, I am still seeing tweets pleading with people to abide by the rules as the infection rates are still very high.
March is usually a happy month for me as I like the beginning of Spring and so it was a time for me to go out and about where I was able to go to the theatre and meal with relatives and friends. However by the second week in March, there was talk and signs that we needed to change the way we were socialising as the number of deaths by Covid-19 started to rapidly increase daily. We were observing Italy’s response to the pandemicbut didn’t realise that the UK death figures would eventually be worse! It was also the time of stockpiling and shortages with supermarkets struggling with normal online orders slot. By the 16th March, my colleagues and family were working and studying from home. I did go into the library on 18th March to tie up some loose ends as I was on leave a few days before then. I wouldn’t return to the building until September.
My team and I were able to thankfully transfer to working-from-home but some needed technological equipment and support to set up with working completely as a virtual library. We all remember getting very familiar with Zoom! I have used Skype and Go-To-Meeting but Zoom seemed to be the preferred options for most work related, professional and social meetings. Soon, I would be meeting my local book club on Zoom, lots of learning opportunities I took, and other work-related meetings and events. Zoom has been one of the biggest winners in this pandemic and I have heard that it was an enabler in allowing those with access to the tech to communicate with each other. I have held many meeting and webinars in this year and will try to tally it one day soon.
It was really freaky being in the first lockdown with the streets and roads all quiet. My biggest challenge to this day is the busy supermarkets and the social distancing queues. I am still trying my hardest to keep at a distance and to avoid crowds. It was nice, relaxing and admittedly a pleasure to spend time outside for daily exercise routines in local areas such as neighbourhoods, parks, local forest and wetlands. Nature has a magical way of reassuring and restoring. Someone said recently that the only real songs were sirens and birdsong in Spring in a pandemic. It is a little but like this again in December with the eventual ‘Second Wave’.
One aspect I remember is the availability of data and information on the pandemic. I am sure when we get to the end of the virus, we will have archives and memorabilia of what it meant for us. I still try to think of what life was like in previous plagues and pandemics such as the Spanish Flu. I was initially obsessed with the daily of cases and death and it was truly sad throughout the Spring. The virus was under control with fewer deaths by the end of August but as I write, we are back in the second wave with a higher peak than that in April 2020! It is truly sad and heart-breaking. I do know of people who have lost loved ones and it is a very sad time to leave this earth with little human contact and celebration. One of the best aspects of this Spring was the Clap for Carers where we saw our neighbours and clapped all the key workers for their hard work. The rainbow and messages of support in Walthamstow was great to see and even now in the winter months there has been school and homes initiatives in windows to help cheer us up.
The heart of the Summer was also a time for organisations and allies to support the Black Lives Movement as well as anti-racism in organisations. I had some of the most honest conversations with colleagues, professionals, family and friends. It is uncomfortable and requires courage to discuss these topics but it was an opportunity to finally make these deep feelings known and to work towards a more diverse, inclusive and equitable world. The world is not perfect but reminding us that social justice, equality and fairness are the true balancers of good people is a win-win situation in my books.
At the beginning of 2020, I was due to travel to the SLA Conference in Charlotte, USA and also to Trinidad and Tobago. Obviously, I had to postpone both of these trips and look forward to the day when I can go to my first SLA Conference as well as visit family and friends again. One think that was truly special about 2020 for me was being President of SLA Europe throughout this time and actually programming a different set of events and engagement than what we planned in the beginning. I have blogged about the challenges and achievements of this year here on SLA Europe’s blog. I also look forward to continuing our great work and supporting the new President Amy, our board and volunteers.
In Autumn, we were ready for returning to the Library physical rooms with reduced hours and less staff in the office. The most eerie was the journey there and back on the train as your try to maintain social distancing. Remember these trains are usually packed like sardines so it is a relief that less people are using them for work journeys – however there are some annoying persons who still don’t wear masks on the underground and also in shops. I guess they are arrogant, ignorant and don’t feel they are spreaders. There is little policing going on in London anyway so you really have to think if you want to put yourself in trouble’s way.
The Second Wave really started picking up in October with vast parts of North of England being affected and put into the new tier systems. It was possibly due to schools and universities opening up again. I also needed to get two Covid-19 tests in September to ensure that I hadn’t contacted it. There is the balancing of the economy with infection rates and so too pub, restaurants and hospitality were also closed again for the second wave in most of November. We were now back to working from home full time. I know I am fortunate as it is very testing for many people. I really do feel the anxiety, fear, sadness and uncertainties of those who are not working – it has been a very difficult year. The winter months are certainly different with less daylight and therefore if I am busy, I tend to go out at dusk. I miss plants and birdsong. The beginning of Christmas with decorations, lights and positive messages have been God sent (pardon the pun!).
December seasonal celebrations are certainly different, just as New Year’s Eve will be, but it really is a necessity for us all to be apart. I usually do make the most of things and so still see this as a special year to have that quality time with family. My neighbours are all here too as there is nowhere to go! It is strange and apocalyptic walking around in the dull coldness with closed shops, pubs, restaurants, cinemas and non-essential shops and venues. There are so many woes that I see on Twitter, and rightly so, on lack of ‘Track and Trace’, schools reopening and testing, loss of jobs, dependency on food banks, propaganda, distrust of government policies, and the NHS being overwhelmed with the virus rampant in the community. We are really deep into a difficult year.
As we end the year, both Brexit and Covid-19 are in the news headlines with one of the darkest and saddest day with 941 deaths. I am not taking any responsibility for the fallouts of Brexit! But I will certainly try to do my part and think of how we can continue to prevent loss of life and control the virus to a point to some normality. There are still problems and challenges we need to sort out…collectively. Vaccines do offer some hope, and so does every new year. Keep well, safe and healthy. Things are not going to be normal for a while but hopefully it will be better in 2021.
This month we have entered into a second period of lockdown restrictions as we are definitely in the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, as is seemingly happening in many places on Earth. I was half expecting this due to the colder winter months when infections spread more easily but I was hoping this wouldn’t happen. However in the last few weeks just as the US elections closed, the world was relieved and informed that Pfizer has created a vaccine that is has been shown to stop more than 90% of people developing Covid-19 symptoms in it’s preliminary trials. There are also other vaccines that are also due to come into the market, and therefore we are hoping that this will be widely administered with inoculation programmes hopefully by this time next year! Undoubtedly, the high number of 1000s of death is the darkest cloud in recent weeks but the roll out of the vaccine is certainly one reason to be positive, especially in the long term. There will be much needed research and organising in the meanwhile but hopefully this will be a success over the pandemic for all of us across this world.
I was inspired to write about upsides and positivity as a topic this month as I felt that going into the festive period, it would be a unique time in this dreadful year for to do things differently to what we are used to. In addition it has been a time of great hardship, challenges, fear, loss and anxiety in most of our living memories. As one of our darkest times, families and loved ones have died, people have suffered, work has changed, businesses regardless of size has been affected, some industry sectors are devastated and people have lost their jobs or at the risk of redundancy since the pandemic took hold of our lives in early 2020. The level of loss is exacerbated by us not being able to freely (and legally) meeting the ones we usually meet for comfort outside our households, socialise with or to enjoy simple things such as meeting friends, going to cinemas, going out for a meal, travelling on overseas holidays without quarantine, meeting with a festival etcetera – the no-go list is long. This is the necessary life of social distancing and public health safety measure in 2020. There are more fallouts and negatives of the pandemic but as we go into the holiday period (and I am looking forward to a well-earned break), I want to reflect on the positives that we can take back from 2020. Believe it or not, I was able to find like-minded content on the web whereby people are also finding ‘silver linings’ and I will share some of these, and my own, with you here.
The landscape for businesses has changed significantly this year with as much as 26% of business affected negatively by COVID-19 – we are working from home so buildings are mainly empty or have been improved with hygiene, indoor cleaner air, improved cleaning, rubbish removals and also with people having greater appreciation of working in an ‘office environment’ when they do (or can return), as mentioned in this article on FM during a pandemic. Undoubtedly, one of the biggest shifts and possibly long term ‘silver lining’ is the benefits and acceleration of digital transformation for people working from home. I have seen some news about improved gender equality for women, as traditionally they were not encouraged to work from home as it ‘may interfere’ with their availability of looking after young children. This flexibility has now been tested and in most cases seems to be a success.
The last year has definitely given us an opportunity to test these scenarios and decide our preferences for working in and outside the office. I certainly know ways I can use my time effectively whilst in the office and physical library as well as what tasks I can do from home. There will never be a perfect solution in my field as we need both physical and digital spaces but it certainly has brought us real life and learning experiences on how we can make most effective use of our time with these restrictions. Remote working has opened up the next normal. And our greatest appreciation to key workers and other worker who have continued to go to the workplace throughout this period of great change.
(2) Gains in Business Transformations
The economic consequences are a major concern that there are lots of people who are not working, have been furloughed or are made redundant. The hardship must be terrible and the uncertainty is soul destroying. High street retailers, hospitality, events, arts and cultural organisations are closed…or there is only ‘so much’ that we can do online. These business types are obviously going through one of the most difficult periods in the modern era! The prediction for the next few years is also scary quite frankly with the economy panning and borrowing levels skyrocketing. I thought austerity was a curse-word but the current situation is worse. However, I attended a recently EIU event with predictions on how things may change as we come out of the pandemic in the next 10 years. It is interesting to hear how business models will change, for example with greater automation and AI. We know there have been great strides taken with digital changes as mentioned in this article on tech ‘silver linings’ in Tech Republic – such as greater digital interactions, cyber security and greater understanding of technology with these new ways of living.
In my local area, I have seen local shops that have remained opened in the second lockdown but they have transformed the way we interact, placed and fulfil orders and services with them. There is actually a term I saw in the following article in My Total Retail which call it ‘BOPIS’ – Buy Online Pickup In Store! Get it. This is what is better known as ‘click and collect’ in the UK but I imagine it is happening wherever we can make use of online ordering and in-store pickup. I do think there are still some services we can never ‘click and collect’ such as hair and beauty treatments, dental services, gym, arts and leisure services etc. However, I have decided that I would like to support some local businesses, such as this new Italian restaurant which only opened in early 2020 by order their pannettones for my friends this Christmas. I have also noticed that a few of the shops on my high street are closed but are still being used due to the studio space that makers and designers still need for their creative businesses.
One final business silver lining, which is bittersweet, is that people who have loss their jobs due to detrimental business performances due to Covid-19, there are new businesses or persons trying to start their new ventures now. There have been shops that have sadly closed, but also some going ahead with opening in my local area. This is good for the work I do in my current professional role and department – I know there is a lot of support if you put your heart and mind to it. Not everyone is able to be successful entrepreneurs or make their idea a success but the best silver lining is that we have the time now to research, plan and test ideas. That is a big boost for anyone who eventually wants to work for him or herself and succeed in business.
One silver lining in the coronavirus pandemic has been a rethink of the need for certain business travel; many who used to travel extensively across the country are welcoming videoconferencing. Source: Practice Management 17 August 2020
(3) Better Environment
Video conferencing has changed the way we work and also the way we are communicating with colleagues, communities, friends and family. We have no choice but to avoid socialising in the pandemic. There is also very little to do but to enjoy the great outdoors. The new tier system in the UK has meant that we do not want to travel anywhere far and we are also not allowed (this really is the current situation that no one ever predicted a year ago). The best silver lining has been literally the benefits for the environment with less vehicle and air travel. We are also encouraged to shop, work and play locally within reason – the streets are a little bit busier now but looking back to the first lockdown earlier this year, there were pigeons walking around my street as there were hardly any cars. The busy urban area where I live is definitely quieter and people are taking advance of the green spaces and places to explore nature close by. I know once we get back to the ‘next normal’ with optimum vaccine efficacy stage, there may be a return to the hustle and bustle that we had pre-Covid-19. I am hoping that some of these clean environmental gains, behaviours and ‘magic purification dust’ will stick around for a long time. An appreciation of our green spaces and better environment are essential for our wellbeing, physical and mental health.
(4) Social and Cultural Appreciation
Cinemas, theatres, festivals, churches, museums, art galleries, gyms, entertainment venues, bars, pubs, restaurants and sporting areas are all closed. They have been the hardest hit in all of the pandemic restrictions. People’s livelihoods have suffered gravely and there is still no end to the challenges they will have to face in the next few months as we get back to full confidence of being able to ‘go as we pleased’. We are drinking, socialising and eating more at home. KPMG puts this shift as the ‘home is the new hub’ and the centre of operations. There might still be some who are getting food take-aways all the time, but I also understand we are just spending time indoors cooking, with old fashion home entertainment and leisure activities. We can to some extent still use the television, books, music, gaming and any other entertainment, which has seen a boost in sales and consumption. I am looking at Netflix more than I ever did in these last few months.
The main silver lining is that people will gain the appreciation of new and old entertainment mediums. Perhaps when we are able to take advantage and experience these simple pleasures in life, we can financial, socially and emotionally give more support to these basic human activities that make us connected and feel good about ourselves as well as being somewhere with others outside our normal bubbles.
(5) Healthcare and Well-being Improvements
As you know, there are great improvements and support for our health services across this world in this mad time of Covid-19. There would be many gains made from the insights and business practices for countries that haven’t had to deal with such a grave disease. Processes, information sharing and patient care had been one of the upmost benefits of the lessons learned in this pandemic. Normal routine check-ups have also seen a transformation with video-conferencing with patients invited for online consultations. I have spoken to a few people and this is now common practice compared to earlier this year when you had to physical make your way to the doctor’s office/surgery even though you may be really unwell. Perhaps in future we would automatically be given the choice of an online consultation. I do know that we still have to see medical staff face-to-face for certain ailments and treatments but this new way of consultation has been a shift that would have taken ages to go head if it wasn’t for the pandemic. Medical staff can also get the credit and praise the rightly deserved after many years of lack of investment and appreciation. Let’s hold governments to this!
People are now also opening being mindful and talking about mental health issues as the lockdown periods become more prolonged. I read another great blog about finding that ‘silver lining’ in Today (Singapore) which mentioned ‘slow living’ and hygge – which was exactly we have been doing in the last few months. The hustle and bustle, the diary packed with work, events and things to do – these have all been curtailed for time spent inside to keep us safe. There is a brilliant explanation that we should enjoy the hygge and simple pleasures in life. This is what the Danes do and there is no wonder that they are ranked as one of the happiness people in the world. Perhaps we can put this label on our activities and try to remember to do this always to ensure that we have that level of happiness balance in our busy lives.
(6) Innovations in Research and Science
This virus has thought us many things about ourselves and therefore there are many innovations that have come as a result of the changes we have had to make. We are already learning new ways to improve hygiene in public places, research, medical, digital and scientific innovations and new insights have been on of the brightest silver linings in the race to find new treatments and a prevention of the disease as mentioned in this map by Medcity.
Telehealth is Improving Access to Health Care: Digital care interactions emerge as a silver lining to pandemic’s dark cloud.
Source – Irish Times
(7) Quality Family Time
There have been some great stories on using this time for greater connection with family and close one who live in the same household. I know that has been a very negative experience for some families where they are not getting on or able to have the basic needs in a time of great stress, anxiety and hardships.
Personally, there is really no choice but to make the best of the situation that we are in and some families have thoroughly love the slower pace as mentioned in this Elle article, the no commuting time and the quality time spent together. This has mainly been my ‘silver lining’ in the last few months and I loved the spring and summer months when I was able to enjoy the outdoor spaces a bit longer. I have also love the ability to see nature, sunlight and all the elements of the day working mainly from home and at the weekends.
Going in the last festive month of the year 2020, I wanted to end on this high note after a year that has taken us over in urgent changes and various twists in the basic necessities of life. I am tired from working harder in lots of new ways in a year that has been overwhelming with the pandemic, fighting for social justice and basic empathy to get through this pandemic. However, as we go into the festive and traditionally happy month of December…even though it is dark, cold and grey, I will think and be grateful for these little gifts of hope and silver linings that are shining.
In a professional capacity, my recent activities seem to want a more equitable world and they have similar themes around topics such as structural inequalities, patriarchy, white supremacy, anti-racism and decolonisation. It is this reason that I feel compelled to work through some of these topics on this blog post. The pandemic has affected many communities and more so in those that are disadvantaged, plus the anti-racism work brought about by the reaction to the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Movement protest this summer, as well as and the move to a more inclusive and equitable profession and society in general. All these topics have definitely, and rightly so, been pushed up the agenda, discussion themes, organisational and personal missions of events and content I have consumed this month. Collectively, we still don’t have all the equitable answers but there certainly are lots of questions, and new marginalised stories being unearthed from some communities.
A more diverse and inclusive current generation of academics and professionals are researching, working and creating new stories to make sure that imperial, colonial structures, white supremacy and racism which underpinned power and control of places and peoples, societies and communities are now being rattled, dismantled and abolished. The most poignant discussions are not to overwhelm or dominate another culture, race, religion, place, people et cetera – it is simply to reclaim lost identities, re-balance and acknowledge that change is necessary…and happening now. It is a quiet revolution without guns, ammunition and brutality, but one of thoughts and actions based on evidence, research, compassion, empathy, discussion, understanding and respect.
Coinciding with Black History Month, essential television viewing this month was ‘Enslaved’ which looked at the 2000000 slaves that were killed on the ocean crossing alone in the Transatlantic Slave Trade over 400 years. Although I studied Caribbean history in secondary school in the Caribbean, I still learnt new facts about this horrible crime against humanity. We didn’t have a documentary like this when we studied the subject in the 1980s. Therefore, it was gripping and sad seeing the visual landscape and underwater shipwrecks as evidence that these atrocities happen in human slavery, and you despair at the brutality and conditions of enslaved people in these crossings. It was good to learn about some of the ‘trading’ stations on the African coast, slave rebellions such as the Maroons on Suriname, slave escapes from the USA to Canada, European-wide slave trade (I wasn’t aware that Danes also traded in slaves), and the African slave shipwrecks close by on the English coast around Devon.
African history didn’t start with slavery. African history was interrupted by slavery.
– Enslaved TV Series 2020.
The United Kingdom played a huge part in the Transatlantic Slave Trade but is most keen to forget it. As the recent departed US Politician John Lewis said in episode two of ‘Enslaved’ – “it is brushed under the carpet”. There is also a great article this week in The New Yorker entitled ‘Misremembering the British Empire’ which mentions brilliantly the amnesia, denial and pretentiousness that has whitewashed history. There needs to be a re-balance with remembering the slave trade and also the rich histories of African culture before slavery. You can ask most Black British who agree that this is not taught in detail in UK schools. British slave trade and slavery are skimmed over, not explored for greater understanding or empathy, with most suffering from amnesia and ignorance. There is no two ways on this – it was a horrible fact and African slavery used for capital, which built and propped up Britain with the riches and imperialistic power from slave labour from the colonies. The rulers, leaders and elite in Britain supported and knew all along that this inhumanity was happening…but did nothing to stop it until the abolition movement in the late 18th and 19th century.
Even in the 21st Century, the current tone of imperial might and successes are still reiterated today without balance and scrutiny which is harmful and causes devastation to communities and peoples. The nationalistic tone of Brexit has highlighted this blinkered way the UK thinks of Empire. …”Through the lens of pivotal moments in the post World War II world, this essay examines the breakup of the British Empire and how the vision of empire lives on, particularly in the context of global populism and a rapidly globalizing world. Brexit, the 2016 vote by popular referendum in the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union, is closely tied to the identity forged a century ago, at the height of the British Empire”. Source: Populism and British Stories of Decline by Joe Murphy in The American Journal of Economics and Socialogy.
The distasteful word Empire is still used in national awards with the word for honouring persons in the UK, which really is backwards if these persons have to engage with persons from outside the UK. It is ignorance at the highest level. There is a great article I read which mentioned that if your heritage is from a post-colonial culture of anti-colonialism, rebellion and independence – the rejection of imperialism is natural as part of a contemporary psyche and freedom. This is explained for Americans, who have seen centuries of imperialism and colonialism. …”The United States was formed through rebellion against the British empire, but well after the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, resistance to that empire continued to shape America’s history. The civil rights movement, for instance, was not only deeply influenced by the thought and practices of the Indian anti-colonial movement, but it was also part of a wider anti-racist struggle in the era of decolonization that connected activists across Asia, Africa and beyond, mobilizing the global diasporas of Asians and Africans that colonialism had created”. Source: Prita Satia at Stanford Department of History entitled ‘We can’t tell Kamala Harris’s story without British Empire we can’t tell Americas without it either‘.
With this context in mind, you would be delusional to want to go back to that dark part of genocide, slavery and pillage that made people fight for their independence and freedom. The UK also seems to believe they were the ‘civilising force’, the best and only empire compared to their European counterparts, who started empires before the British. Posturing in true dominating style, empire is built on twisted power, influence, domination, destruction, looting and capital on the back and blood of other people and communities. The apex of this system also encourages and perpetuates white supremacy, which was used to control the new world order at the time. It really has no place in modern and equitable societies. There is no level playing field, structural equality or unity due to the divide and ruling structures that was used centuries ago to control the colonies. This is why we are experiencing so much racial and human discord at present – a true quiet revolution.
This month also saw an interest in stories of resistance, rebellion against slavery, and the fight for independence. I remember studying the Haitian Revolution 1791 in 1986-1987, whereby I had to write a eulogy for Toussaint L’Ouverture. Believe it or not – my eulogy was so good, the Caribbean Examination Council Board kept my eulogy possibly for preservation. In those days, I didn’t think about keeping a copy, so I can’t remember the words I had written. I remember my inspiration for writing the eulogy and making the actual hard copy headstone eulogy out of coloured paper, markers and a crinkle scissor.
Back to the present, it will always be great to see that the story of the revolution is brought up today to discuss rebellion by self-liberated Black slaves. The use of ancient voodoo and other African culture was also used to empower and fight for freedom. I also attended a virtual event today on the new book ‘Black Spartacus’ by Sudhir Hazareesingh, which discussed Toussaint being a devoted Roman Catholic but also there was the use of voodoo. A Black British friend recently described the Haitian Revolution as ‘our first revolution’ and I am grateful for studying Caribbean history in Trinidad, pedagogy starting with the ancient and first nations people who inhabited the lands there. It puts history with evidence, details and facts on the correct footing (pardon the pun) and in context. No wonder we are able to move away from an imperialistic perspective and create our own national pride. The same can’t be said for Britain’s imperial and colonial past in their UK history lessons. Is it too traumatic to teach about the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery in detail to young British children? Or to intentionally not covered the topic to keep the imperial status quo? Or to keep the military and capitalistic might?
In the academic and research world, there is pedagogy and student intervention work on decolonising education, universities, museums, places and research. In an open and fair world, especially digitally, there is no place for ego, imperialistic behaviour and power. I attended two virtual events which covered decolonisation – one at ‘Open and Engaged 2020’ by the British Library, and the ‘Festival of Ideas – Decolonising Knowledge’ for SOAS.
It was interesting seeing examples of decolonising research such as in language and context. Also the most horrifying was the use and study of Eugenics and the UCL Bricks and Mortal project on slavers, white supremists and persons with shady colonial pasts. …”Eugenics – the science of improving human populations through selective breeding – is generally associated with the Nazis, but in fact has its roots in Britain. It had its roots at UCL. The story of these origins is seldom told”.
Looking back at the slides now, this was such an eye-opening as well as mind-blowing event. From looking at the recurring themes of lack of diversity in books, professional research communities, the North-South global hemisphere divide, research content, acknowledgement and the recognition of indigenous original stories and representation. Some of the presentations showcased the Palestine open maps projects, indigenous tribes of the Americas and stories from varied voices, such as the herb that was consider a weed by Western professionals until corrected by a South African researcher. With the lack of variety, scrutiny and diversity in scholarly research and structures – there is an imbalance, incorrect and false truths of the world.
At the SOAS virtual event ‘Decolonisation – not just a buzzword’, it was an art verbatim video with the sentiments, anecdotes and thoughts that were similar ones to those that are resonating in anti-racism discussions I have participated in recently. Due to the remit of SOAS, they are working aptly and proactively to address decolonisation. …”It begins with the assumption that global histories of Western colonial domination have had the effect of limiting what counts as authoritative knowledge, whose knowledge is recognised, what universities teach and how they teach it”. Source: SOAS https://blogs.soas.ac.uk/decolonisingsoas/about/
It was interesting to hear one French speaking Belgium student said that when he was in India, there is distrust for him (possibly as a white European ex-coloniser coming to steal knowledge) when he wanted to view ancient manuscripts in Indian. This student sounded in awe of the rich Indian items still to be discovered and explored. Though distrust by Indians perhaps is a culmination of years of abuse, destruction and removal of Indian manuscripts during colonialism. The knowledge kept in ancient manuscripts is vast and comprehensive, as my ancestors have ensured we were told in Asian, and African, oral traditions and ceremonies. It was great to hear harsh and truthful global perspectives of imperialism, colonialism, racism, biases and international views from current academia at SOAS.
I have written about my Indian heritage on my blog before and therefore there are myriad ways of looking at the world, as well as hanging on to the intersectional of indigenous traditions, religion, culture, race and identity as a British-Indo-Caribbean married to an European. This week it was a real privilege for me to visit the British Museum to see the ‘Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution Exhibition’, and I am able to understand my Indian heritage a bit more. Not everyone from the diaspora can do this though as mentioned too by one of the students at the SOAS event, and as mentioned by me on social media a few weeks ago. In this exhibition, it is great to learn about Goddess Kali and her role in anti-colonialism. To be honest, we were told in Trinidad that her puja is dangerous, savage and powerful, which may have been tainted by imperialism, and intended to control the religious practices in the Caribbean as well as India. However, Kali puja was totally acceptable in Kolkata (previously known as Kalikota and Calcutta), and they used her imagery in revolutionary ways by indigenous Indians against British rule to instil fear and to empower. Goddess Kali is certainly Badass!
We should be proud to have such ancient and powerful feminine images and forms in various Goddesses, and Navratri is a great as an auspicious time to remember the feminine form and cosmic energy. We held prayers at this time in my home in the Caribbean. I liked understanding the belief in feminine power and that women have Shakti all the time. Also the Tantra counter-culture of the 1960s was great to see – from John and Alice Coltrane, The Rolling Stones to artwork. John and Alice Coltrane were fans of the higher consciousness of these traditions and knowledge obviously. These arts forms have accepted and moved with the mutually respective times to fused cultures in new innovative art.
It is great to learn about provenance and to see decolonisation in context to items held in museums that were once part of imperialistic acquisitions, treasure hunts and domination.
Another common thread recently was land acknowledgement of indigenous and first nation peoples, which I witnessed at professional events and discussions including both by the British Library and SLA. This really shows up pretentiousness, falsehoods and insensitive rhetoric from colonisers that still insist on dominating with their imperial ‘brand’ to this day. It has been decades whereby ex-colonies have achieved self-determination, independence and freedom. The post-colonial shift are by nations and citizens who have matured with new self-identities. I am not that naive – I also know that there is reverse racism and bias in all people. We really need complete balance, truthful and fair understanding of history and colonisation now. We need to peacefully revolutionise and abolish the white-centric power struggle and structural inequalities that still exist in western societies, institutions, organisation, countries and the media. Or at least know how to best deal with it. Perhaps to even ridicule inequalities and colonisation as a message, as reiterated by a student at UCL, and by other freedom revolutionaries in the past.
I conclude with a statement: I was born on Caribbean indigenous land, which belonged to ancient tribes, and now live on Briton land (once colonisers if my homeland) – which makes an odd but balance view of the world. Going forward by the events this month, it is time for some post-colonial truth and equality. Prejudice, structural racism, inequality and dominance are prevented on our watch.
Often it is Tenacity, Not Talent that Rules the Day. – Julia Cameron
As we move into the winter months in the pandemic, there is a personal concern that we have left the bright sunny and warmer months in what will be a very tough year for all of us. Autumn is not my favourite time of year but I do usually cope and settle in by the end of October for Diwali, Halloween cheer and November Bonfire night. I do remember arriving in the UK in late September 1980s and not minding my first autumn, which was a huge change from a tropical climate I knew. One thing is for sure – the temperature is going to get colder, the physical landscape, flora and fauna will change with autumnal colours, with the nights getting longer. If like me, you have been working from home and actually making the most of the outdoors in the Spring and Summer… things are going to be different with the possible double whammy facts of a second wave in the pandemic and Brexit unpreparedness.
Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
September has already brought new changes with schools reopening fully. The last week has been dominated with university students who are having to self-isolate in their student halls to protect themselves, and stop the spread of the Coronavirus Covid-19. The news does not stop there – there is also the economic fallout in all spheres of life. Businesses are facing further necessary restrictions with some of my friends not planning to return to the office until January 2021. The redundancy and insolvency levels are also increasing daily with people having to bear all the hardship that comes with losing their jobs. There are many reasons to be pessimistic. The optimistic vibes are scarce but if you know me – I am a trouper. I do have the unbelievable capacity to be tenacious despite the negative aspects I have faced in my life (mainly professional). I do tend to focus on the important issues and despite my happy-go-lucky demeanour with a smile, I can be determined, knuckle down and get on with it! Call it what you like but it might just be tenacity.
The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. – Amelia Earhart
I haven’t been into the Central of London since March 14th but have returned to the office and library for one day a week since 3rd September. It is an odd feeling getting the Tube again knowing that you have to be very careful and conscious of other passengers, the public surfaces, social distancing etc. It is quite natural to look around the carriages to see who is wearing a mask – and who is wearing it like a dodgy condom! I haven’t had to move away or tell anyone off as yet but there are a few cases of annoying mask non-conformity on the Tube, but generally it is good to go (pardon the pun) and people are being great.
The impact on London’s economy is obvious. I think that TfL are going to be struggling financially this year because as an example, I have only spent £30.00 this month to travel when I would usually spend about £149.00 a month. Of course I do not want staff to lose their jobs but it just a reminder to government that they should be more kind about raising their fares in future. But who knows…we might still get some nasty price increases too compensate for us not using the tube in the pandemic. You can never really win here with inflation! The fat cats executives at TfL must be a bit worried too – I know this from when I paid attention at City Hall. One positive is that the Poems on the Underground are out to entertain us, and also Dettol has partnered to remind us to maintain good hygiene. The saddest feeling is seeing how quiet the commute and shops are around St Pancras.
I have now also returned to the British Library one day a week and it has been good going so far. There are lots of social-distancing measures in place, and the British Library has opened to a certified standard, which is great reassurance for our readers and staff. There is a difference in the building as there are so few people in the office, public, networking and workshop areas. We are still serving people in the ‘Reading Room’ who have pre-booked, and we are very much providing digital services remotely.
We are being cautious and it is good to be back but we also know that we are still in a pandemic and therefore most of my time is still spent working and volunteering from our little box room study at home. It is a little more challenging as there is a family trying to study and work from home too. I am finding this okay but I know I am fortunate to have the space and technical equipment to do this. It is certainly not the case for many, and the digital and socio-economic divide has been discussed a lot in the last few months for most people everywhere. This is another reason I have thinking of self-motivation and keeping up personal standards in this very challenging time. Some things are going to lapse but demonstrating and being tenacious helps to get it done. I do look forward to return back to normal circumstances, but we just don’t know when that will be and it certainly ain’t looking like this year!
This month has been filled with several professional activities with my role as President of SLA Europe – I would be a liar if I said it has been easy. It has been difficult especially this year as my day job is very busy and even more so in lockdown as it very intense with my digital activities and video conferencing, as well as one full day in the office. I will have to tally the number of webinars and meetings I have had. I do know it has been worth it still working and applying myself to helping customers and other professionals as much as can. I do like having the flexibility to go for a walk and then catching up later, otherwise I just won’t be able to cope. I usually catch up with volunteering later in the evening into the early morning. I am really pleased that I am able to contribute to my professional network and take part in some really interesting events such as Reopening Specialized Libraries Roundtable Two, presented on Economic Data and Entrepreneurship, attended talks on Feminist Walk in Harlem and Veganism, Knowledge Management presentation by SLA Europe, as well as participate in a Gurteen KM Café as I had the time. The great aspect of working during this pandemic, is that it has made this year more global than I initially intended. I will be presenting at two events at the virtual SLA Conference 2020 with the theme Driving Forward.
So what else is there to do that can demonstrate tenacity?
My neighbourhood is still pulling together with the use of social media especially with a higher increase in Anti-social Behaviour (ASBOs) in the recent weeks. There is no support on the street from local police and we have to rely on community activists. There is also pressure on community policing still due to non-existence presence in my area of a heavily populated borough plus they are under pressure which the current Covid-19 restrictions.
I haven’t been far away except for work this month but it is great to see signs of positivity in my neighbourhood. These include businesses that are operating old and some new ones. I also went out for tapas with my friends a few weeks ago for a socially distant dinner. However the most comforting and strengthening is the London Mural Festival, which took place the last two weeks. Some of these are exceptional as they pay tribute to local heroes, as well as the artists themselves. The best one is the one dedicated to NHS staff, which was put up a few weeks ago (and perhaps not up specifically for the festival). It is the exemplary public display of positive roles models that anyone can see on their local walks.
TENACITY, n. A certain quality of the human hand in its relation to the coin of the realm. It attains its highest development in the hand of authority and is considered a serviceable equipment for a career in politics. – Ambrose Bierce
As I end on one of the dullest days of September, the level of deaths are rising rapidly again in the pandemic. There are politicians trying to get a grip and scientists telling us that the data is predicting threats to our well-being with some more terrible news for public health and society…still. My dearest wish to you is to keep well, safe, upbeat and obviously, tenacious. Hold tight.
“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
The last few months there have been several stories of countries that are now in the quarantine list if you are thinking of going on a summer holiday abroad due to COVID-19. However, way before the summer holidays came long, we decided to cancel my flights and travel to Trinidad and Tobago. I prefer to go when it is safer to go as well as to go in a time when I can experience the beauty of the country. I probably would have to go into quarantine on my return if I went now. So it was necessary that our flights are cancelled, and our summer holiday plans redirected to local areas and within England. It is a necessary decision has made by several holidaymakers as reported in the news. This was my third staycation in eight years, and a great way to do spend time in this country.
It is also necessary to find time for a holiday. We have been working doubly hard from home in a very challenging situation. On top of this, my volunteering is very intensive and busy this year which means that I do actually want some time to myself and to go away from the urban sights I see on most days. We all need downtime like this regardless of the current situation with COVID-19 and this blog post covers the few mini-breaks I have had in the last few weeks.
Earlier this month, we were still in COVID-19 alertness stage so I left it to the last minute to book some time in Norwich. I only live two hours away from the rural and quiet areas of Norfolk and Suffolk but never arranged a time to visit these areas in the past. We were experiencing some hot weather at the beginning of the month and it was really promising to visit these areas. The two most remarkable items are driving through the forest near Thetford where there were signs on the historical sites of the Iceni Villages that existed on that region. The Iceni lived there about 2000 years ago and are famous for resisting the Romans for their land and property. Boudica was the wife of their Briton leader of the Iceni tribe and the story of her battle and leadership is still legendary today. Perhaps another time I will explore the area again to learn more about their story.
I do love driving in the countryside and seeing rural scenes of crops, tractors, fields and country lanes. I am a country village girl by heart and appreciate how these rural communities keep traditions as well as provide valuable food and other suppliers to us who live and work in city centres. It is so much easier now to drive with satellite navigation and smart technology.
Our first stop with the Catholic Shrine at Little Walsingham where there was a sighting of the Virgin Mary. The shine as mentioned in this tour blog states: “In the year 1061, Lady Richeldis, owner of Walsingham manor, had a vision in which she was taken by Mary and shown the house in Nazareth where Gabriel had announced the news of the birth of Jesus. Mary asked her to build a replica of the house in Walsingham”. When we arrived at the Shrine, it was very hot on that day and it was great to finally visit the shrine after it being on my curious radar for a while. I said a little prayer and it has a beautiful garden and pilgrim areas for large tours but being a pandemic – it was quiet.
My husband had also visited the shine as a child and has photos at the shrine and the seaside that was close by. The village is also known for the Abbey ruins which I didn’t have time to see and it is also great for snowdrops in spring. The village was quaint and quiet and I loved the little red building there and the surrounding countryside on the way to Wells-Next-the-Sea.
The next stop was the northern Norfolk coastal town of Well-Next-the-Sea where it was busy with English holiday-makers during a heatwave in a pandemic. It was nice to walk around the main roads to see the high street and have some lunch. They also have this small library and it was a reminder that obviously people do live and work here with some essential buildings and shops. It really makes you think about your own surroundings and whether you can live in a quiet and quaint place like this outside the holiday season. The coast at Wells-Next-the-Sea was something I have only seen in photos or seen on Google images. The sand dunes and port were small but busy with people walking along the bank to the sea. There were also a lot of holiday homes or caravan parks all along the Norfolk coast and it was quite a quintessentially English thing to see families spending their holidays.
We also drove along the coast to Cromer and it seemed a little bit more built up with a pier and seaside promenade. It was nice to grab an ice cream and look across at the sea just before sunset.
The sea, sand and beach huts were great to see especially at a time when you don’t want to venture abroad. If the seawater was slightly different in colour and warmer, there would be little reason to travel abroad on holiday during the summer months permanently. I always admire our Italian and Trinidadian relatives who go to the beaches in their countries without having to travel abroad. I did see some photos on social media with water being clearer, blue and warm in the English south coast. I hope to visit another time.
The next day I spent the morning in the market town Norwich, which I have always wanted to visit. I loved the little streets with shops, river with the Norwich Cathedral steeple striking an imposing structural icon for the surrounding areas. I have a friend who said she always liked it as a university town and the surrounding countryside. I also found out about Edith Cavell, who was born near Norwich, as I went past the pub and monument dedicated to her. Edith is well known for being a British nurse who saved British and Belgian soldiers from during the First World War. She was arrested and then sentenced to death: “despite international pressure for mercy, she was shot by a German firing squad. Her execution received worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage”. No wonder there was a pub and monument dedicated to her humanity and life.
Norwich seems like the biggest city in that area, the home of chef and food writer Delia Smith, and also Norwich Football Club. I attended a family wedding reception, which was a beautiful day. I would like to visit the Norfolk broads and also see some more of the countryside another time, especially as it is not far from London.
I also popped into Southwold on my way back to London the next day. It was a lot busier than the last time I visited as we were in the height of a heatwave, summer holidays and in the staycation pandemic.
I was able to walk on some of the sand dunes I have been seeing on Instagram and it really is a lot nicer when the weather is warmer. There were lots of shops serving food tp take away due to COVID-19 restrictions, and we were able to find a café for lunch for those who wanted to eat in. It was the first time we had to give our phone number and the waitress took our temperature to see whether may have COVID-19. It was also nice to finish my a few days away by just driving back home with no airport security, baggage check and long aeroplane or train journey.
A few days away made me stop thinking of work, which is mainly in my home at present, and it also took me away from my surrounding neighbourhood, which I love but can also cause aggravations with urban irritations such as environmental pollutions such as rubbish and noise. My time during lockdown has been spent walking the lovely quieter streets of Walthamstow that has fewer people, nice flowers or homes for me to ease my busy mind, as well as part of my daily walking exercise routine. Even this time outside locally is special as I found myself having to self-isolate after having two possible COVID-19 infections, but they both were proven as negative results. It is hard staying in for those 3-5 days until you get your test results.
There is one reason why we still go abroad on sunny holidays abroad…the weather! The last three weeks the weather has been awful with rainy summer days and colder nights. This is one of the reasons I sometimes prefer to go abroad as the days are guaranteed to be warmer and the seaside pleasures a little bit nicer. We have come to the end of August and it would have been a little bit more bearable if the weather had remained a little bit more pleasant until we reached the end of summer. Today would have been Notting Hill Carnival weekend and it is so cold…I am pleased that it has moved to online due to Covid-19. Perhaps if the virus is controlled, I look forward to a better warmer year next year.
My trip to end the summer on a high was the visit to Whitstable because the weather had been forecasted to stay sunny. I had always planned to visit as my manager lived there for many years and you always see articles of Londoners moving there, or going on day trips. I went this weekend where it was nice to see it at last! It was great to see the seaside high street shops and the library.
I also liked the promenade to walk, stalls selling arts and crafts on the seafront. I had paella in a café but the oysters are famous in Whitstable, perhaps for another time. I also was happy that I was able to visit in a day and able to drive back home with only a little bit of a queue at the Blackwall Tunnel.
Covid-19 has prevented us from visit places and family in faraway lands. We have had to re-think our need and purpose for travelling during a pandemic. It has given us opportunities to travel within our own countries…like we used to 40-50 years ago. I am still discovering parts of the UK and the staycation of summer 2020 has helped me tick off a few places I have wanted to see in the UK that are not very far away from me. I am still to visit Devon, Cornwall, the Lake District, rural Wales and Scotland. I look forward to seeing more of these regions in the years to come.
The last few months has been very intense in our personal lives but also in our professional lives. For most libraries and information services, it has been a time for us to close our physical spaces and switch completely to digital services. We have not been closed behind the scenes – we are diligently working to re-open libraries like many other sectors with physical spaces. For example, I have seen NHS libraries still operating in providing critical information and evidence in this very challenging and critical time in essential services. We certainly owe them for the great work they are doing as medical practitioners. I have noticed most other libraries I have seen also emphasize that they have always remained open since Coronavirus COVID-19 disrupted our global lives. I have decided to dedicate this month to looking how this has affected me in a professional capacity as it has been unavoidable for me not to think of work, libraries and the whole process of initially shutting down very quickly to… gradually opening up libraries and information services again. It really is an extraordinary experience.
It has been four months since our official full time working from home, and initially, it was difficult to switch to all virtual and digital services. However, in the last couple of months, I actually got into a pattern of my working from home during the day, with fitting in some exercise, errands as well as family time. I was able to do some of the digital things I have been hoping for a long time, in terms of using more digital platforms and working from home tools – it has also made me super…super…busy. I am very much ‘living and breathing’ video conferencing for everything! This includes my local book club, social events and even family catch up. I haven’t been keep track of the many Zoom meetings I have attended but they have been intense for adjusting our current services, plans on reopening the physical and special resources, giving business information and advice as well as providing the face to face sharing of ideas, information and knowledge.
We have also had to focus on Black Lives Matter as a very urgent issue. I will remember this time too for the Black Lives Matter and how it is being discussed with a new hope for genuine change within the library and library profession.
I was also able to join a great chat up on a SLA’s Virtual Mocktails, Cocktails hangout – which was great for talking about visiting other countries, the social and cultural impact of drinks such as beer, bourbon and gin! Obviously an alcoholic drink was not compulsory for attending and it was nice to see persons I have met on my trip to New Orleans in 2019, and who I hope to meet in the future! It also made me realise – just like in my professional capacity – I will see and meet people virtually but may never meet them in real life. I still correspond with a contact in Singapore for over 25 years although I have never met her in real life.
This really has given us the opportunity to create the digital transformation that we all wanted but never had the time or the resources to do. It has made me remember the time when I work for a global accountancy firm but even now I am learning new systems and providing different services by current technology. Since the lockdown in March, I am impressed that our wider department has implemented a new library enquiry system by Springshare called LibAnswers. I am also using Lib Chat to answer, “real live queries in the clouds”. Springshare’s slogan in their website says they are making librarians into rock stars!
The Springshare system has lots of customer interaction and relationship features that are also used for retailers on the high street and is beneficial for global teams who are working virtually and remotely. It reminds me of chatting online with someone from the retailers Monsoon who was based in Scotland, and also when I use the ‘automated’ chat on Go-to-Webinar when I need to clarify my queries or my curiosity! These are some of the new skills that we are all learning or refining in a truly digital space. Just like retailers, gyms, cinemas, restaurants and all physical spaces – we are communicating with our customers virtually but it is likely that we are going to reopen more of our physical spaces with new safety measures, social distancing, clear signage and new ways in the ‘next normal’.
I have only seen my local library reopen but have not been inside although we have a project with local libraries virtually in Covid-19. They are also offering a reduced service in my local branch but their current campaign is hashtag #ALLTogetherNowWF. It is ironic that I am seeing more little free libraries than local libraries in my walks. In the last few months, I have interacted and met 1000s of customers and library patrons without leaving my home! That is phenomenal.
This a time to really learn from each other and I am really developing at a very accelerated speed in the last few months. I was asked to moderate the fabulous inaugural ‘Info Trends’ for SLA with Eugene Guidice – who is great at chatting, sharing his knowledge and making you feel at ease. We haven’t met in person but we already seem to get on great! I learnt so much from the presenters, the new virtual conference format was on the Remo platform, and it really was mind-blowing hearing of the new technological trends in the sector being used such as virtual reality, chatbots, AI, Fab Labs, search developments, social media for research etc. In hindsight, it was a great honour to participate on this global and high level at a virtual conference, and to represent SLA Europe, my current employers and the libraries and information profession here in the UK. It really was a highlight of the last few weeks and I am very pleased I was asked to take part. I will try to attend the Info Trends event next time too! I wanted to also say a special thanks to Tara Murray, Diana Shapiro, Eugene Guidice and all the SLA headquarters for the opportunity.
And again, I was pleased to be asked by Tara, co-present with Eugene, for the Madhya Pradesh Library Association in India. I knew some of our hosts from SLA Connect virtually, and it was really nice to make new contact with professionals in South Asia. I also had to present on the very topical and important topic of ‘Libraries and Librarianship in times of Crisis: Covid-19 and Beyond’, and this was some initial finding on the bigger project I am working on as the Chair of the Task Force on Reopening Specialised Libraries. I found the session exhilarating and personally good for my development on a very pertinent topic to a very large and diverse audience. Apparently, there were about 1000 professionals registered, and they were really pleased and appreciative of our work. It was the first time I used Webex by Cisco, and made lots of notes from Eugene and Tara as we spoke for 1.5hours. My team do a lot of public speaking in our roles at the British Library but this event is really special as it took me back to my roots in India as a descendant of Indian indentured labourers to the Caribbean. My family was really happy for me, especially my mother. I hope these links made will be used again in the future for sharing insights and collaborating on professionals issues.
Due to COVID-19, I was unable to give a Presidential talk and presentations in-person at both the SLA Conference in Charlotte USA, neither the flagship SLA Europe summer soiree and networking event. We have still put on great new and topical virtual events, which have been reactive to the current situation ranging from Mindfulness, Business Research, Mind-mapping to using Data and Insights for recovery in Covid-19.
This year SLA has moved conferences for 2020 and 2021 to virtual events, so I am not likely to go to my first SLA Conference until 2022. I know virtual conferences are better for the environment and stretched finances, but I hope I do make it one day to meet some of the fabulous people I got to know over 15plus years. I am usually very active in SLA Europe and love going to their events, so hopefully sometime in the future we can go back to hosting events that are safe and socially appropriate. These are some of the reasons why networking in real life and person-to-person contact are still essential and part of what makes us human. I do advocate for us working together virtually but also for conferring in person to make human connections with shared missions by being in a physical space together.
I thank my fellow volunteers at SLA Europe who give up time freely to do this in their own time and go out of their way to support the organisation, come up with great events and ideas on how we can support each other and the wider profession. We inspire and learn from each other – I would be lost without being part of this great professional community over the years!
One of the biggest honour and tasks I have been given by Tara and the SLA Board is to chair the Task Force on Reopening Specialized Libraries. This topic is HUGE! Working as a library and information professional during Covid-19 really is hopefully a once in a lifetime experience in crisis management. It should also be a great opportunity to learn from little and large organisation, local and global libraries on how we can take the next steps in providing services to our stakeholders and customers in a global pandemic. I have since been in touch virtually with other task force members (two members I met the New Orleans Leadership Symposium 2019) and others only recently virtually. It is very interesting, developing as we speak, creating some brilliant collaborative learning, exchange of insights and knowledgeable ideas on reopening as best practices and guidance.
Remember this is a global pandemic and has affected everyone we know, everywhere! It is very interesting learning, seeing and reading how libraries have responded everywhere. I have seen and learnt about libraries and information services, systems, processes, challenges opportunities and staff and customers safety and well-being issues that we are facing at this time. Yes, we are making full use of digital and virtual technology, but it is interesting to see how much people also want and need physical collections, spaces and our human in-person services. You might understand and see the re-opening synergies with the way we react to retailers and hospitality in the pandemic. The Living Knowledge Network has also hosted great webinars from public libraries in Denmark, who are a little ahead of us and Christian Lauersen is a superstar! Their talks have been great at inspiring as well as motivating me to keep on track of these necessary, and heart-warming services we provide to citizens near and far.
So this is definitely a challenging, busy…as well as an exciting time. It is certainly right up there with unexpected changes, crisis and preparedness such as the launch of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s, the Millennium Bug crashing our Library Management System, working from home due to terrorism or riots, social media introduction in our lives, and other unique watershed moments in the library and information world. I said this in my presentation to Madhya Pradesh Library Association but I have since seen it repeat by others…and we truly are in this together.
In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.
– Angela Davis
If being in the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t challenging enough, the last month brought about an intensifying and urgent need for social change and activism in the short term, and hopefully in the long term. The reason for this watershed moment is the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Police in Minnesota USA, with bystanders recording the arrest showing officers restraining him and one, in particular, resting a knee on his neck, whilst Floyd can be heard pleading “I can breathe”. This racial violence was recorded on smartphones and shared on social media, which made the brutality of his death on camera go viral across the globe. You can only imagine what happens between the police and black men off the camera – hold that thought. Shocking and uncomfortable to watch and discuss. Floyd’s death has given greater coverage and a wider mission to the Black Lives Movement (BLM) from the across the USA, UK, Paris, Rome, India, Hong Kong to Oceania. In the same month, there was the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks. This has exposed the emotion, anger, annoyance and the solidarity with the BLM cause and movement. It has made the social justice fight more obviously to everyone’s consciousness, and this is an opportunity for positive change to correct the disparities in inequality between rich and poor, black and white, good and bad. I also know that there are good cops… and there are bad cops but some reform, training and education are needed.
Obviously, I am speaking on behalf of the black population that are marginalised and systematically oppressed over four centuries. For balance, we must also remember there are lots to celebrate in the black community’s resilience by the successes and excellence they gave and have achieved in all walks of life.
Don’t get me wrong, I wish there were more police walking the beat in my neighbourhood after having two police stations decimated about 10 years ago, and even greater reductions across the United Kingdom. However, the main issue is that Black Lives Matter, but there are high levels of the black population who are more than twice as likely to die in police custody, with little justice received by families. There are fewer opportunities for black people due to inequalities of wealth, education, employment and numerous barriers due to the colour of their skin. The prison service has a large number of black people who may not be able to live the normal peaceful life that most of us take for granted. There is a cycle of lack of opportunities and social mobility in very rich countries such as the USA and UK. In addition, there are not enough opportunities for black people in normal organisations…and higher up the corporate ladder.
It also seems that centuries of history of Afro-American slavery, the Americas’ and Europe’s relationship to the black community are being put to test due to the systemic, institutional racism and prejudices that continue to exist in society. We cannot deny this fact.
The Black Lives Matter movement started about seven years ago to respond to high levels of deaths and discrimination in the Black population and has a wider remit to encompass and campaign with activism for more equality in a world, which has been shaped like this over centuries of inequality, injustice and white supremacy – especially in former colonies. The shackles of slavery to the Americas have created insurmountable inequality and racial tensions throughout the centuries – Atlantic African Slave Labour was used for consumption and industry in Europe too. The wealth and remnants of slave traders, “West Indian Trader” and merchants are still honoured in our city centres, buildings, and richness treasures – procured, stolen or extracted with human slave labour and is still very much in our midst.
I didn’t study American history but we were taught indigenous history of the Americas and the Caribbean up to the modern-day. It is no shock to learn about the brutality and de-humanisation of slavery. There was no whitewashing of history and there is intellectual confidence in my peers in the Caribbean. Luckily I have personal insight and experience to know that the story is one of redemption, reconciliation and resilience for the descendants of slaves who still live in my homeland. The Afro-Caribbean community in the Caribbean are mainly okay now and have excelled in their chosen fields. They do not have the same levels of inequalities and barriers you get from the USA and UK. The societal structures are less rigid or oppressive, and you can have great levels of social mobility with a well-rounded education and opportunities. There was no knowledge deficit.
Learning about the Caribbean, and Europe, gave us a well-grounded and balanced reality, which meant we are able to rise about it. I am also the descendant of indentured labourers and business migrants from India, and so I empathise and understand with my Caribbean heritage its’ global influences. One thing the British Imperialist get wrong is the imbalances in the historical narratives – the feeling that they are better than others because of the Empire, the imperialistic pomp and ceremony, riches and splendour that accrued over time from the colonies at the expense of black (and other people of colour) lives. You just have to look at some modern-day black lives film(e.g. Twelve Years a Slave or Selma), and TV dramas to see that it was one rule for them and one rule for the others.
Putting this simply – the term white privilege and white supremacy was brought about as a form of oppression between classes and races that the elite-controlled to keep the status quo. The rules and infrastructure of segregation between the races were created for the so-called ‘white supremacy’ to uphold privileges and prevent integration of races. We are talking about systematic and institutional racism that still exists in the UK, and most evidently still in the USA. You just have to look at the issues with Windrush Scandal in the UK, and other major inequalities to see that this issue has not gone away. Lack of empathy and knowledge is the real impact of colonisation in the 21st Century. There is also a need for humility and recognition of injustices in the past from our white community as the celebration of Empire and colonialism had deep scars and hurt. This is one of the reasons for a call for decolonisation of history and adding Black British history to the curriculum. In recent weeks, I have seen many discussions on the lack of teaching about centuries of African Slavery in British Colonies in British schools today.
I am not naive to think in the Caribbean and other parts of the world do not have their own racism. I also think it will not ever go away and we will need to keep reminding people to think of our privileges, unconscious and conscious biases. We must aim to be anti-racist as civilised human beings in the 21st century.
It was twenty years ago that I was asked to catalogue the Macpherson report when it was released on the 1993 killing of Stephen Lawrence, and the institutional racism that prevented his family from getting the justice they deserved. You could say that I don’t know what I am talking about, or that I am a trouble-maker but these are the same issues we should be talking about as librarian and information professionals who are serving various communities across our countries in a global world. At the SLA Leadership symposium in New Orleans, there was a strong focus on Diversity and Inclusion with a practical exercise on white privilege. This endorsed my libraries and information professional stance. There is also a test for you to check your privilege and there are numerous resources, best practice and reading materials I have helped collated, seen and shared in the last few weeks. We are also looking to make these into actionable targets, to make a genuine change with organisation culture and in wider ways with the Black community and everyone.
I also mentioned the Black Lives Movement and Decolonisation campaigns in my talk in September 2019 at the SLA Europe conference. It is rigid and unfair institutional racial structures, media irresponsibility and personal unconscious and conscious bias that makes humans behave this way. In recent weeks, the sheer shocking emotions and discrimination witnessed by everyone are being discussed now and has come to the forefront of our social consciousness for social justice. It is with this momentum that I was asked to take part in the SLA Diversity Inclusion Community and Equity (DICE) arranged talk on ‘What is the reality of COVID-19 where you live now; What does the protest movement look like where you are; and what have these individual or combined epic events mean to you? ‘. This solidarity and standing up for the injustices for people in our community is not something we can just let it go by until it blows over. There does seem to be a real sea change for action and genuine empathy and understanding in the current mood during a global pandemic that is not just a few weeks old…but a couple of centuries late!
The protest movement in Bristol a couple of weeks ago on the dismantle of Edward Colston’s statue was a defining moment in British Slave History. I don’t know much about British Slave owners in the UK but I do remember learning in secondary school about the champion of freedom such as Toussaint L’Ouverture in the Haitian Revolution and abolitionists such as William Wilberforce. It is a shame that slave owners and traders are still glorified today without some context to their supposed acquired wealth and glory. I must admit that I was pleased to see that the statue was dismantled considering the enormous part Colston played in slavery, death of Africans bound to the Americas and the pretentiousness of his philanthropy in Bristol. When we talk about plantations in the Caribbean and America – we know whose labour was used for the sugar cane, cotton, minerals etc. These products were then sent back to Europe – where there is very little to explain where and how the raw materials and wealth came to Britain. The death of George Floyd in the last few weeks created a wave of protest against institutional and systematic racism which still perpetuates today and the dismantle and vandalising of statues and buildings that glorify this dirty and seedy economic and human history are only catching up with the shady past. Obviously, I don’t encourage the damage of property but the wounds, emotion and feeling in the current generation of all races are raw as ever. The Black Lives Matter movement has given an identity and a label to this energy to make a difference just like Toussaint and Wilberforce.
A lot of white people are saying that ‘All Lives Matter’ – yes they do but…the correct argument is that Black Lives are more disproportionally at risk from death in police custody, poverty, inequality, injustices, employment, promotion, reward and life chances. A young black boy may be stopped by the police 40 more times than a young white boy. The young black boy may be more exposed to crime due to the area and the lack of opportunities he has (I do know that not all young black men are into crime). The black role models in our media are lacking in the UK in positions of authority and power. Even as an adult, there are still struggles, barriers and oppression. White Privilege means that you are unlikely to experience these barriers, obstacles and constant judgement based on the colour of your skin. I am brown and I am certain that I do not encounter all the issues that a black person may experience throughout their life. You Gov have recently published a survey on 1001 BAME persons which states that virtually identical numbers of people believe racism exists in the country today (84%) compared to (86%) thirty years ago. This is the true negative ‘lived experience’ of being Black and British from four hundred years ago…to now.
I am also grateful to see that my employers and others leading businesses have taken a stance on correcting some of the wrongs, allowing and partaking in open discussions in large groups, which is being enabled by video conferencing. On the one hand, we are still trying to work through a pandemic of COVID-19…and on the other hand, we are trying to focus attention on Black Lives Matter – a pandemic within a pandemic as it has recently been put in protests. It seems that racism within the police force mentioned in the Macpherson Report is still happening now in the 21st century. It is not enough to just not be a racist. It shows great leadership to demonstrate and work towards being an anti-racist organisation at all levels in a global community.
There are other issues too with lower-paid and front line jobs compared to the white middle-classes who tend to have better jobs, reward packages and benefit from social mobility and better quality of life. In COVID-19, there have been higher deaths in the BAME population both for health and social care staff employees, but also for patients who have died. Inequalities, being in the front line for lower-paid jobs and racism are some of the reason for the disproportionate levels of the death being higher in the BAME community in the UK during COVID-19. We have every reason to shout BLACK LIVES MATTER!
Only in darkness can you see the stars.
– Martin Luther King
The Black Lives Matter protest movement has been great for bringing communities together to protest and campaign for better rights, better equality, understanding and respect to the black community for their part in building societies from America, the UK and other parts of the world. For far too long the rhetoric and the ‘systems’ have been prejudiced against black persons, indigenous and people of colour. I loved seeing the Rolling for Rights protest videos last week in San Diego – there were thousands of young and mixed supporters marching for Black Lives Matter, this has been replicated in various cities of the world.
In my own neighbourhood, the Stand Up to Racism campaign with volunteers has brought about solidarity and support for the Black Lives Matter causes from the long term and new instances. It is a meeting place for young and old supporters to tell their stories of biases and what still needs to be done to improve relations and representation in a multicultural city. Multiculturalism and multiple ethnicities are the legacies of colonisation and imperialism. There is a disconnection with other cultures and the people in this world that played the part of all our shared global histories. The saddest part for me is hearing of deaths in police custody or at the hands of the police at this event. I am also not happy with the high level of deaths of young black men in the city that I live in too due to gang culture and drug dealing! I also do not like terrorism in the city that I live in. There is a lot of hatred and misunderstanding as a result of race, cultural and religious differences. In all aspects of life, we try to avoid talking intelligently and fairly about race and politics, but they have been put on the agenda in the last decade (or forever!) due to the current political and racial tensions. Race is uncomfortable for all of us to discuss but there are some tips here by the Smithsonian Museum.
So what do we do now?
Big and small businesses are responding to the situation by being proactive with changes and actions in their messages, recruitment and corporate culture in a world that is diverse. At my employers, the British Library, we are working on Black Lives Matter and it is on the agenda for the long term. There have been some proactive demonstrations of leadership on BLM and I hope this will be sustained in future. Some best examples are SONY,Ben and Jerry Ice Creams,KPMG, Netflix etc – this is the best practice. It is also up to us to have a personal responsibility to be anti-racist and to check our own biases and privileges for a fair society for humanity. We should use creative arts, culture and education to connect us to our history and the myriad of colours and people that are part of the same history. We should also re-balance history with the great ancient civilisations of Africa, as I saw mentioned recently by a Black British celebrity.
We should be allies of the Black Lives Matter movement just as you may want gender equality, LGBT+ equality and rights, and even white-male-bonding-without-the-racism. We should aim to make steps forward, take positive and confident action to bring about genuine change in a colourful world that is far more interesting in just black and white.
I have had my own little battles over the years but generally do not encounter overt racism. People tend to look at me and see an Indian woman – they do not know that I am Trinidadian and I am way ahead of the game in my knowledge of slavery, my respect for black role models and black culture, which is part of my Trinidadian culture and identity. What I can do for my black brothers and sisters, is to share my insight, support and knowledge of our place in global history, the present and hope for the future. I will take personal responsibility to stay true to my authentic self, and will stand up for other races, cultures and lives in a multicultural connected world.
We may have come on different ships, but we are on the same boat now.
As we move into the 12th week of shutdown and lockdown in the UK, some part of life now seems like the new routine but there are changes being implemented this week to see our lives returning with adjustments to the old normal. This is not likely to happen overnight and therefore humans, organisations and society will return different and with varying levels to these increased freedoms and enticements to ‘get the economy going’. For our healthcare workers and key workers, they have been working throughout this pandemic and therefore, hopefully, will not have more strains than the present and will remain as resilient as we go into the next phase as other countries have in the last few weeks. This virus has not made us all resilient – it has shown the cracks, the weaknesses and the fragile areas where it has won us over as we collectively and personally struggled to cope in very challenging times – be it the politics, economy, social and health care system etc. The last few weeks have been an endurance test as we are protected for our own health, safety and wellbeing in our homes.
I met with friends for a chat via a Zoom meeting – one friend is a nurse and reminded me how privileged I am working from home, getting on full pay for now and having a home with a garden in a nice part of London! I was certainly in accord to my position compared to other people are furloughed, redundant, far away from loved ones, alone, vulnerable, stuck in indoors, don’t have access to green spaces and who are in other desperate situations during this pandemic. It is with great respect and admiration that I heard first-hand stories of her working with colleagues who had the virus and who are treating patients in a COVID-19 ward. They are exhausted, very busy and only just getting some relief after the peak of the pandemic – however, we also had a ‘wait and see’ discussion about the ‘second wave’ as more and more people go about socialising in the era of ‘social distancing’. Personally, I can give beauty spots a miss and have stuck to local areas to exercise and for relaxation.
In my book club via Zoom conferencing, I have now heard from neighbours who have lost relatives and more of us know someone who has contacted or even died of Covid-19. The sheer numbers of official deaths due to COVID-19 has been staggering to see in the last few weeks and the UK is undoubtedly one of the countries with the highest deaths in the world. Therefore, this will have a real impact on personal and professional interests and does have effects on our psychological and physical wellbeing. I have seen many examples of people trying to keep up with the changes we need to survive and stay clear from the dangers of the virus. There are also personal fears and anxieties that are very valid with so many changes in the way we live, work, play and…socialise with other people outside our own household. Therefore it is very important that we seek ways to maintain our good mental, physical wellbeing and develop resilience. I will shortly be doing a course on resilience but hopefully, I am practising this in my own little ways.
A couple of weeks ago we held a SLA Europe webinar with tips on how information professionals are coping in a pandemic, and due to direct feedback, we also programmed a follow-up event on managing stress in a different working environment as government and organisation make plans to facilitate employees back into their workplaces. In May, it was also Mental Awareness Week, which helped a conversation that is sometimes difficult to communicate on a normal day. We have come a long way in a decade and this is being discussed a lot more by organisations, the media, high profile persons and thankfully too on ‘positive’ social media. Some of the tips I picked up are really useful – such as spending time in nature and exercises for the various moods that we go through as ‘life gets in the way’. The one thing we need to remember is that persons are experiencing various levels of anxieties and fears especially in a pandemic and we just have to be conscious and mindful of these emotions. We should also make time to proactive take time out to maintain good levels of mental and physical wellbeing.
As there are now plans, strategies and steps being made to prepare us to return to workplaces, travelling as well as the risk of redundancies – trade unions have seen a revival with campaigning and working with workforces to ensure that they can voice their concerns and come to a consensus on various safety and wellbeing issues that do not put people at unnecessary and unexpected risks. There has been increased in trade union memberships as people look for collective influence from their trade unions to protect and support their interests in very choppy waters.
As I write, we are still in a phase where most employees are still not in the physical workplaces and sectors – schools, university, retailers, restaurant and hospitality, manufacturers, transport, aviation etc. Our key workers are also still fighting for the protection and enough equipment to ensure safety so it is obvious that the next phase would require planning, testing and adjustments to ensure robust mitigation against the obvious risks we will all face as we go gradually back to what was normal. In this period – we have seen redundancies announced by companies such as Roll Royce…who supply aviation engines to…British Airways who employ…thousands of people who are at risk of redundancies. This connectivity with business and people is very important and therefore all sides must remember this in good and bad times. It should not be a one-way approach for profiting – it was about a decade ago that governments had to bail out banks and now the situation is even worst and far widespread in a pandemic. There are forecasts for a global recession but hopefully, there will be a new way of doing business in future that will ensure that the balance is redressed.
I was due to leave for the USA this coming week and also travel to Trinidad to see relatives in July. However, I obviously can’t travel at this time as was happy to get a refund and also future travel vouchers to use up to April 2022. I would prefer to have this cash but I understand this is one way of helping the situation and all those people in the aviation industry. Although, it has been great to see the bright skies and sunny days during this working from home period due to better air quality in London. As you know, there are fewer aeroplanes in the skies and we should seek to think of air travel in terms of the environmental impact. I would use rail travel more to continental Europe, but this is not always cheaper when you are on a budget. There have been people flocking to beaches and other beautiful parts of England as lockdown has eased. It is worrying to see from a distance and I personally don’t see the attraction of going to the beach in a pandemic. The beach and the beauty spots can wait for a few more weeks…months…or year.
With England and other parts of the UK having different rules – we have been in the ‘Stay Alert’ phase of the pandemic. As usual, there have been several reactions on social media and real conversations I have had where there are mixed and unclear messages coming from our policymakers. It has been a benefit in this digital age to see the collective views and echo of the pandemic. Most of the time, people are not happy with the messages and the rules as they seem to be open to interpreted differently by different people. I presume most people are sticking to the rules, but there are a few issues in my local park and the high street with social distancing so can imagine some other places too.
In the last week – there has been public meltdowns with one rule for us, and one rule for others. Seriously, this was no joke – there were references to George Orwell’s book ‘Animal Farm’ where double standards exist to govern. Some other countries, on the other hand, have shown great examples of leadership and are working with their people to instil faith and positive examples for taking us to the next phase of this pandemic. Everyone seems to love Jacinta Ahern, Nicola Sturgeon and Angela Merkel. The most common feature is that they are female, but also seem to display humility and cautiousness in a time of grave danger to human life. There messaging has also been on point and exemplary.
Sadly, our Thursday evening neighbourly ‘Clap for Carer’ has come to an end – this has been one of the truly best aspects of the human side of praise for the keyworkers in a pandemic. As this disease continues, I will continue to remember and support them in my little way and hope you will too.
In my book club, one of my neighbours said that we should all be keeping journals that we can look back on for future researchers, historians and family. I have been thinking of this and my reason for focusing the pandemic in my last three blog posts. However, I have been extremely busy in this period of working from home, as we have mainly switched most of our offerings online. I am also volunteering, catching up on CPD and various activities such as the news using digital technologies. This can be overwhelming during the day so I make sure I do get some exercise and have a wander around my community and neighbourhood. I frequently catch up later in the evening as we have family time in the evening. The digital divide is real. Also, the divide between those able to work from home and those on the front line is also explicit. Undoubtedly, I am privileged to have access to digital equipment and okay with my level of ability but we must remember that not everyone is able to work from home and so we have to also be empathic and careful for those who will eventually have to return to those physical settings whilst the pandemic is still around.
Travelling are our main concerns – there are more initiatives for cycling but I personally also dread going on a crowded bus or underground train as I normally do. These are hard options to face as we hear about the relaxed in the rules. I still think of my grocery shopping as the most dangerous exposure to the virus as the busiest place I go to in the week. I still haven’t reverted back to online shopping for groceries. In the meantime, I am happy to make the best of my remote working as well as staying locally as much as I can.
It has taken a long time but I have finally looked at the film Contagion 2011, and it does give you an understanding of what the world is going through at present. The film can easily show the similar stages that we still working towards until there is a cure to COVID-19. There are also some uncanny foresight as it was based on SARS – such as the global spread of the virus, working digitally, the unruliness of stockpiling, social distancing and contact tracing, experts and truth finders, budget issues, death and the race for a cure. There is one line between the two investigating infectious diseases doctors – ‘if you are not doing fine – tell me’ that rang a bell to what is happening to persons during this month.
In this time of surreal comfort, I have been making the most of my home as my office, my oasis and my temple of calm. My garden has had my full attention and one of the main highlights of Spring 2020 has been the time seeing Walthamstow in bloom, the positive messages for the community and support for key workers displayed. Gardens and flowers have been an absolute avenue for me to find solace and beauty.
Garden centres were reopened three weeks ago and they were heaving on my first visit – with lots of plants… and people. However, the one I went to was very large and had enough social distancing guidance and signage. Linking this to my own spirituality and consciousness – I am hoping that regardless of the next few weeks, I have found new and old ways to ensure that my endurance and resilience are in tune to the next few weeks in a pandemic to help me cope with this unnatural way of working and living.
Last Spring, I remember on my morning off work, wishing I had more time to enjoy my garden in what I thought would be the best time of year. I remember telling my colleague I wish I could spend more time at home enjoying it. They do say that you should be careful about what you wish for! One year on, and we are in week six of lockdown with Coronavirus Covid-19 where our homes have become an office, place of play and everything in-between as we try to prevent the spread of the virus and keep ourselves safe in what is now known as the ‘new normal’ for the time being in the global pandemic.
It is now weeks since we have been living in our homes since lockdown, and our lives have had to change as we sacrifice our freedom in the societies that we live in across the world. Easter has come and gone and will be one to remember. We may have now gotten into a routine and begun to accept that this is what we have to do to get through this phase in controlling the virus. Since I last blogged, the devastating effect of the coronavirus on the world in the sheer high numbers of deaths has been sad and heartbreaking. The number of deaths has peaked in many countries with the daily data on deaths in hospitals and the community is still being counted. Since last month, I have also had the sad news that a distant relative in New York has died of the virus and have also seen friends on social media who have lost loved ones. It is absolutely sad and devastating to lose a loved one to infectious Covid-19 without a proper good-bye in most cases. It is with this deep sadness and survival instinct that we carry on at a time as if it is normal, although we are in desperate times to prevent more deaths, stay safe and live in what is now our ‘new normal’.
The most devastating story has been the number of medical and other key workers who have been at risk or even died by contacting this dangerous virus, exacerbated by the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Other countries have lost many keyworkers too, but in the UK due to (including lack of preparedness and a focus on Brexit) the high level at 64% of Ethnic Minorities and immigrant persons working in the National Health Service (NHS), there has been a disproportionate amount of persons who have died or been at risk. A Black British friend called me to discuss this and she thinks it was very obvious that this is true, and also she is looking for a better term to discuss the term BAME (let me know if you have a better idea). In some USA states, there are reports of low levels of Afro-Americans residents…but higher levels of coronavirus cases in this demography. The virus does not discriminate but it does seem to affect those exposed in the front line due to circumstances.
There are several poignant stories of death and its effect on families. One of the saddest is Dr Abdul Chowdhory’s plea for PPE a few weeks before he died. There are many more whose lives were not supposed to die so prematurely and unpreparedly for this pandemic in a country as rich as the UK. There are several critics to the government’s policy and their spin on this that I see on social media more than mainstream media, especially when you compare the performance, competence and accountability of other countries.
“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
It has been remarkable that companies have used their facilities to help provide PPE, support the NHS and keyworkers in any way they can. There are several reasons for the shortage of PPE, but it has been great to see some libraries using their facilities to create PPE, and some companies who have also help in this effort to control the pandemic. Companies and employees are affected all across the world. There have been high levels of unemployment in the UK, Canada and the USA – as with everywhere affected by the economic fallout of the lockdown. This is a real issue for families on the bread line, facing redundancies or being furloughed. Businesses are also going to find it a huge task to survive, and recover when we come out of this ‘new normal’. This is a time when collectively the economy, people, government and society must come together to reset from the shock of a pandemic and humanitarian crisis.
Key workers are proving us with essential services in public services, and some private organisations such as shops and contracted services. They have been our supermarket workers, postal services, rubbish collectors, pharmacists and other services we just cannot do without in these strange times. A great number of community groups and volunteers have been providing services to people in the community in my neighbourhood, and also in all parts of the world. The ironic memoir for me is that I have been busy working during the day and so I am unable to volunteer as much I would like to. Also, I don’t want to put my family at risk so I have been sticking to the rules of social distancing. It is rightly so that communities across the world are paying tributes and appreciation to these special people with messages of thanks, support and hope. They are sacrificing their time and continuing these important activities in dangerous circumstances, which will not end for a while yet. In my neighbourhood, it has been heartwarming to see this display of support, solidarity and hope with the rainbow symbol and other messages of compassion and empathy. The reality in hospitals and care homes must be worst.
As the weeks have progressed, there is more organisation in the shopping queues and local shops are getting great support. Some of them have had to adjust their service such as the local gardeners, home supplies (e.g. Homebase) and take-away services – with some of the essential services like pharmacies and post offices are still operating. This is some of the local businesses I have observed. I haven’t been on public transport since the 18th March 2020, and I am very grateful for those key workers who are out there providing essential services. So how am I filling up my days in lockdown? Believe it or not – I have been steadily busy with work since the lockdown with switching a lot of our services to online and therefore we have adjusted and adapted our service offerings using digital and web-based resources. We have used all the video conferencing services I mentioned in my last blog post, and I have since used some new ones such as Microsoft Teams for a webinar this week. Most of the time these are well attended and there are only minor issues with sound and connectivity. Our team is now virtual and we have been having regular meetings to ensure that we are supported, communicating and working together in challenging circumstances.
For our users and our staff across the information industry – we are all very digitally aware but there is so much to learn always, and we all do not have the same skill levels. I also understand that the digital divide does still exist even in a ‘first world’ country like Britain. In addition, there are inequalities in accessibility for the young and old. Some classes have switched online. I live in a mixed neighbourhood and therefore parents are trying to home school their children but there will be other parts of this world where parents will find this extremely difficult as they may not have access to simple educational materials like books, much less so with computers. I have seen articles where it really depends on your access to home equipment and parental support that will make lockdown learning a success. It is difficult enough to do everything at home – it must be harder to become qualified teachers and trainers to children in the last few weeks. If you are doing this comfortably – keep up the great work!
I believe that most public libraries are closed in lockdown. I recently mentioned in an SLA Europe Webinar that although we are on the vanguard of delivering digital services remotely – one of the main challenges with delivering library services in lockdown is the obvious barriers for delivering person-to-person services, access to a rich plethora of hard copy materials, the events and exhibitions that a physical space facilitates. There will always be an essential use of physical space in libraries and museums.
In a lockdown, I have been so busy working that I have little time to do that extra Zoom lesson exercise or dance class on offer now. I have been mainly catching up on Continuous Professional Development (CPD) with all the free webinars that are available. However, I have made an effort to take my exercise time seriously and have been out on my walks most days.
Mindfulness has been a keyword we have been seeing more in the last few years, and this has been some of the ways we are able to cope with the pressure, anxiety and mental illnesses that the lockdown is sure to cause in all of us. I think you are superhuman if you don’t feel a little bit uncomfortable in lockdown without our normal freedoms and human interactions. Therefore, finding the time for conscious wellbeing, wellness and fitness are essential and I have been making full use of my time in the open air.
I have been enjoying time in the garden and really do appreciate the time I have spent in it recently. I have even managed to do some guerrilla gardening in my neighbourhood as a form of exercise and swapped plants with another local resident. In this time off, I have absolutely loved my exercise time walking around my neighbourhood and discovering new parts. This is the best time of year for seeing all the blooms and to appreciate all the support and community solidarity that is shown in windows in Walthamstow. I have particularly liked discovering local persons who lived in the area as displayed on blue plaques or local heritage signs. These are great signs to see the soul of the area and to reassure us that things will hopefully be better in the future. It has also been great encountering the Free Little Libraries in the neighbourhood.
I have also had a wander in the natural areas around or close to Walthamstow. I want to cycle and may do so next week. I was able to go out in the fresh air to visit the Walthamstow Wetlands, Epping Forest and the Chalet Wood Bluebells in Wanstead. There is also something very positive and energising being outdoors in nature that takes you away from the claustrophobia of being in lockdown. Nature has an amazing way of reminding us that some things are bigger than us and we need access to escape to these beautiful areas. I do understand that not everyone is able to get away and therefore may be stuck within their home walls, and in urban densely populated areas. Some persons have been reprimanded for not observing social distancing rules in parks, and even my local park has reduced its’ opening time to prevent gatherings in the evening. It is a time for us to really appreciate our green spaces, and ensure that we maintain our social distancing so we can continue to use it in lockdown.
One of the most treasured memories of being in lockdown (and we still don’t know how long this will last) is spending time with my family. We are watching film, listening to music, cooking and baking in our time. We are getting our groceries locally, and weekly at the larger supermarket. The supermarket is a lot better but still short of some supplies – the toilet rolls are back but the flour supplies are extremely low. Everybody is baking apparently. I have gotten some flour from the Turkish shops locally. I am enjoying my time with family, but I am thinking of family and friends who are on their own. It has been great to chat and share some time, over the fences, with our neighbours close by too. This must be a deeply challenging time and we must try to stay in touch – even if it is a quick hello.
As I end my thoughts for this month, it is now almost 40 days in lockdown as I was away from the office since 13th March and I know a bit more on what to expect and have developed a routine. I am more than grateful to our healthcare and keyworkers who are on the frontline of this pandemic, and my sincere condolences to the families of the thousands of persons who have died across this world. Take care of yourselves, stay safe and well. There is no doubt about our role in helping and supporting each other in our societies in this great time of need.
Like you, I didn’t realise that our lives and way of living would change so drastically since my last blog post in February. I have been keeping an eye on the developments in China since January and I have mentioned Coronavirus in my last blog post, and social media since February but there was very little to prevent us from what we are now witnessing and experiencing in our own lives.
On 23 February on my drive back from the South East, the radio mentioned draconian measures enforced in Italy to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) – little did we know that this will lead to other lockdowns in the UK and most parts of the world. We are truly in this together and I am covering my experience of this time in quarantine, social distancing and social isolation, as they are now known. We are also going to give this virus a good fight and there are amazing human stories that are a result of this strange and exceptional time in history.
The Coronavirus (COVID 19) virus is evidently infectious, contagious and dangerous to humans all over this world. It is currently having a devastating impact with a high level of mortality in China, Italy, Spain, Iran, France – with growing numbers in the UK, USA and other countries to follow. This virus has not only affected our working lives but the whole essence of our being and freedom with uncertainty in unprecedented times. We must stay in our homes with our immediate families to prevent the spread of the virus, and to decrease the pressure on health systems. The only places we are allowed to go to are places to get food, necessities and exercise.
I have read about the history of pandemics but never thought that there will be a time when we will be in the same situation. I was amazed to see that these plagues or pandemics were threats that humans have had to fight off since the beginning of time. The infographic above was shared on social media and is a great eye-opener for previous pandemics, to the modern epidemics like Ebola, SARS etc. I still remember reading as a child that we say ‘Bless You’ after sneezes due to the plague whereby the Pope Gregory encouraged it as a blessing for the ill. Quarantine is also the Italian word for 40 days isolation (Quaranta) from the Middle Ages when merchant ships return to ports to prevent the spread of foreign diseases. It is also interesting to learn that Shakespeare also lived and wrote through the plague with references in some of his major works like ‘King Lear’ and ‘Macbeth’. It was also a terrible time for the theatres and other social gatherings such as theatres, which were closed in that period.
The most intriguing for me is the Spanish Flu 1918. I vaguely heard it mentioned in the past but due to the current coronavirus, there are similar references to it and a reminder that only a few living persons now have memories of it. The National Archives has a letter from 28th October 1918 by E.S. Bennett from Walthamstow with the rate of death is mentioned as “Doctors are on ‘constant call’, while undertakers ‘can’t turn the coffins out or bury the people quick enough”. IWM 96/3/1 (28 Oct 1918)
There are some other interesting blogs on this topic if you have the time to read – “In 1918, the death rate in Britain exceeded the birth rate for the first year since Government started maintaining records in 1837. Yet this was not due to the First World War, but to so-called ‘Spanish Flu’’. It is reassuring to see other human experience of this in the past and that it is not going to last forever despite the high level of death. These experiences will hopefully make us more resilient for the future.
Now back to the present time Coronavirus pandemic. When Ebola was getting under control a few years ago, I do remember this video by Bill Gates but it is interesting to hear his prediction on the current pandemic and the state of unpreparedness if this was to be on a larger global scale as it is now compared to the West Coast of Africa. This is now real. Believe me – I have family and friends in lockdown all over this world and we are worried and concerned about their safety and welfare. We have been hearing first hand from relatives from Italy as the scale of the pandemic increased, and they were put into lockdown. We were having first-hand stories on the situation and the changes they have had to make for work (getting permission to move about by Commune in Italy) and remaining at home. This was soon to be our own experiences. I remember seeing the sale of pasta flying off the shelves and the queues outside supermarkets in Italy as the country went into lockdown. However, they have generally been organised and didn’t have the level of panic buying as in the UK for groceries. Their tone has become more and more concerning as the weeks progressed with further bad news with the viruses devastating effect in Italy.
Italy is by far the hardest-hit country in terms of recorded deaths as I write this blog post – even more than China where it starts perhaps late November 2019. It has been heart-breaking in the last few days seeing the level of deaths and this has to be investigated further for the reasons for the spread of the disease there. There are probably a number of reasons for the spread of the infectious fatal virus – Milan has links to suppliers in China, there was a football match in Milan between Atlanta (from Bergamo) and Valencia, the commutable towns close to Milan which are affected, and the whole social way of life and extended family life in Italy. It also has one of the highest aged populations in the world and other contributions to the spread – from the Italians communal living in flats, church attendance, general close human contact with the extended family and friends. This was sadly breathing grown for the virus and contagions to spread. This is just my personal view and thoughts from what I have read, but hopefully, there will lessons learnt from this devastating impact of Coronavirus in the Lombardy region. Similar stories are also now unfolding to various degrees of death and virus cases in Europe and other parts of the world.
In the early weeks of lockdown, the Italians in quarantine were able to use their time to spread cheer, joy, happiness from their balconies and neighbourhoods. This has changed in recent days due to the sheer devastating number of death and virus cases coming out of Italy. In Spain, France, Iran and the UK – we have all been cheering on our healthcare workers and key workers through this difficult, anxious and dangerous time on the front line.
In hindsight, we could have all been more prepared for the pandemic with critical care information, preventative and preparation for our lives and the health service. There has been a slow build-up of information for us to be more vigilant – with was your hands better, sanitizer and eventually with social distancing and self-isolation. Eventually, the state had to step in due to much movement in our everyday lives to work, school, business and other commitments. Coincidently, I was off from work from the 13th March and only went in for a few hours on 18th March. Since then we have been working form home and adjusting to life.
At short notice too, I had to drive to Derby to pick up my son from University. My 16 year old had just finished his mock exams but was told that same week will be the last week of his year. This was also an abrupt end to his secondary year with a quick assembly to wish his friends and teachers goodbye…for now. Graduation ceremonies are also postponed. I do agree this had to be done because I think we were not aware of the impact on and the dangers of children spreading the disease further to others in society. Nurseries and other children services are also now closed. For parents with young or special needs children – this will be a challenging time. However, I think in the next 5-10 years, children will understand this shut down was for the greater good and it is to help with the prevention of the spread of the virus and support for our health systems.
Just like my colleagues at work, we were also unprepared and shocked by the lockdown that has been happening in China in the last few weeks. I made the decision to go into work on the 18th March to tie up a few loose ends, and even though I have worked remotely one day of the week when my children were younger, I haven’t done this at all at the British Library as we are very much face-to-face interactions with our customers in the reading room, workshops and in one-to-one advice. In the last ten days or so, we have really had to adjust our offering with continuing some of the digital information services and knowledge that we can share remotely. We have been working swiftly to change our programmes where possible to be delivered from our homes and I think this is going as good as you would expect considering the unexpected and unusual circumstances we find ourselves. Our physical events have moved to online events and we are seeking research resources that are open-sourced on the Internet. However, most of our resources are still unavailable due to the contractual and technical issues and are not available remotely. The library’s rich hard copy collection is also locked up securely until we are able to access them again. Information Professionals in the 21st century are digitally advanced and some of us are able to offer services remotely, and curate content that is available for free.
Some of the winners in the digital switch in lockdown are systems such as Zoom, Skype, House Party, Whats App and VPN (Virtual Private Network). Also, effective digital communications have been an enabler in this real-life crisis management scenario. I have hosted and attend video conference meetings at home using Go-to-Meeting in the past, and will continue to do so in lockdown. We are also looking to host online learning and workshops with Go-to-Webinar. In both my stay-at-home day job and volunteering with SLA Europe – we are using these technologies. As with human behaviour – there is a lot of humour and reassurance with some technical issues that we are all experiencing. It certainly is a learning curve! However, I have been through the 7/7 London Bombings, the London Riots 2011 and other causes for working from home in a crisis.
It is also great to see that people are looking after their wellbeing, mindfulness, kindness and exercise routine despite being stuck at home. We have also hosted webinars for working remotely and doing research from home. Some of the best tips are to make sure you have a routine, a positive mindset, exercise, be realistic on what you can do from work, and also use your time wisely. This is where our home lives merge with work life and you have to understand your own boundaries.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the pandemic was access to food and essential supplies. As I was off work on the 13th March – I noticed that there was panic buying and the supply chain was disrupted to a very severe level. These carried on for about two full weeks until my supermarket was able to introduce social distancing and more sanitised procedures for their customers and staff. Local shops have also been useful to supplement some of the supply issues the UK was experiencing. The whole joke about toilet rolls selling out was amusing…but seriously, it was also the same for fruit, vegetables, rice, bread, pasta etc. Online deliveries were also most affected and I was unable to get my normal slots. Even if I do online food shopping now, I am not sure if I can get everything I ordered with the disruptions in supply. The use of bidets in Italian homes may be one of the reasons there wasn’t the toilet paper panic buying there. In the UK since lockdown, there are also cases of people breaking the stay-at-home rules by having parties or going to beauty tourist spots when they should really stay in their vicinity.
One to the biggest impact is that we are not allowed to travel and fly as freely as some may like, but seriously it is also one of the components for the escalation of the infections of the virus spreading so easily in the age of globalisation. It is also great that we may have some light relieve on our CO2 emissions in this quiet travel time. Airlines and travel agencies are obviously struggling due to travel restrictions but it may be a good time for us to reflect and change our behaviour with regards to unnecessary flying.
The virus has no boundaries and affects all of us. It really brings to mind the way civilisations are organised, governed and the role of citizens. Businesses have had to shut down and are only able to open in cases of necessity. There are still some businesses that are still open like take-away food services, pharmacies and pet shops. The others are closed due to public health orders to protect staff and the public from gathering. This fatal disease has not discriminated and so, big as well as small businesses are affected. The self-employed, charities and other voluntary organisations are also affected. Even if you are retired – you are still affected, as you do not have your freedom to roam. The pressure is building on businesses to adapt and implement their business continuity and crisis management plans. There are some positive aspects and re-purposing such as companies that are helping with changing their models – such as producing sanitizers, ventilators, Personal Preventive Equipment (PPE), food supply rather than restaurants, etc. However, it must be clear that the global economy will be affected and there are hard days ahead with a recession predicted. There are some companies that are stepping up to the challenges, collaborating and also protecting their staff and clients. The trade unions are also busy looking after workers and making sure that workers are protected in this very difficult time. We will also see that the use of goodwill and kindness will be essential when we press the reset button when this is over.
Local community groups were foreseeing these changes before workplaces and government. One of my neighbours quickly organised community leaflets for older or non-digital neighbours to contact us should they need help with shopping or anything in the imminent lockdown. Thankfully we are able to coordinate and support each other on various local services and also cheer each other on in these difficult times. It is strange going around with shops and businesses closed. As we are allowed an hour of exercise, I have tried to go out every day for a walk locally to get some fresh air. It is difficult in an urban setting to practice social distancing but most of us are trying to keep our distance. In the run-up to lockdown, I had to cancel three social events with friends, and even birthdays and Mother’s Day are celebrated apart. We have been in touch with friends and family by Whats App, Facebook Messenger and Zoom – just imagine if we didn’t have these technologies and only had to rely on letters.
People are also using this time to catch up on all the leisure and homebound tasks that they do not have had time. This is one of the best aspects for using our time in lockdown to do the things we never really had time for – film, music, reading, gardening, talking more and spending time with dear ones in our homes. I do recognise that not all of us have families and there is a lot of loneliness, anxiety, depression and mental illness that will be exasperated by being confined. I dread to think of the homeless, people with mental illness and in the community who are less fortunate and how they are coping with this. I do believe that they are being cared for by social care and local government agencies.
As the pandemic has spread across the globe, concern for the wellbeing and safety for family, friends and communities near and far has become an obsession. This is a global issue for human life where ever we are. It really is unique in our living collective experience. We are facing the same issues from within our homes and we are reliant on the same care systems to get us through it. Unfortunately, this is still on-going and we are still to know the devastation that the virus will have on less prepared and poorer countries. Italy, Spain, China, France Iran and USA are leading the death barometer, and they are struggling – we can only hope that the impact will not be as devastating in less developed countries. The assistance offered from Cuba and Russia and other countries to Italy has been good to see online and restores your faith in humanity. This story from the New York Times is a must-read on the situation for families in Italy during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Since January, there has been news coming from China but the number of deaths at first is alarming and the lockdown was weirdly fascinating to see in the news. However, since the virus’s exponential spread to Western Europe and the Middle East, this has been one situation where you can look at the news on social media and get information, news coverage and datagraphics that is supplementary from the normal broadcasting agencies. I am also able to keep abreast of the developments in the Caribbean and North America from social media and website feeds. I have been looking at facts and figures at BNO Newsroom, World in Data and the Financial Times (who has loosened their usual pay-wall). There are also the usual suspects – fake news, misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, fraud, cybercrime and scams by rogues. This is also a gentle reminder that the NHS has a great number of information centres and libraries with professionals who are providing library and knowledge services.
With the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelming healthcare systems and some level of lockdown in all corners of the world, we find ourselves in an unprecedented era of information demand. At the same time, the pace of discovery and dissemination of information is faster than ever before, creating uncertainty and stress about where to find reliable answers. …While these initiatives have not been associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the urgency of our current situation has shifted the focus to developing solutions to improve the knowledge ecosystem today.
– Dr Brian Alper EBSCO The Development of a Covid-19 Information Portal
The most important lesson to learn about Coronavirus Covid-19 is that we are fragile as humans. Good health and access to healthcare are the most important factors in our lives. This is something some of us have known for a long time and it is with utter respect and understanding that we should invest, support, provide and reward our health services in this country and around the world. Public services and local government services are also in need of our support to keep the engines of society and humanity at an equilibrium. Outside hospitals, good hygiene and sanitation are getting attention now but there is still a lot to be desired. Low paid ‘key workers’ have been providing us with our essential foods in the urban environments but we should be grateful to everyone – from the rural farmers, delivery drivers, the rubbish collector, postal services, local shop keepers, emergency services, police, firemen, park keepers, pharmacists etc. Those who do not use these now vital services, or any public services should go live in their own isolated country! Whilst we are inside our homes, the key workers are out in the front line fight overtime in the good fight for us.
We still are in the heart of the Coronavirus pandemic and I am not sure how this will turn out for all of us. The cost of human life is enormous. And the impact in the economy is also bad. However, we need to support our health care systems and services. We also need to support everyone whilst we stay at home, follow instructions to avoid social gathering and practise social distancing. The human stories that find their way to the media are exceptional and very heart-breaking such as the medical staff who lost their lives, to the thousands who have died or been affected by the virus. One thing about past plagues in previous centuries is that life carried on to a certain extent and humanity was not totally wiped-out. Obviously, it is very sad for the millions of lives lost such as in the Spanish Flu 1918. I am not sure what the situation will be with Coronavirus by the end of April (or in future months) but we will come out of this hopefully together.
Everything and everyone has become a player in this real-life apocalyptic movie with this deadliest disease in our modern memory. As we spend time with our families and dear ones, we must cherish and care for each other. We are discovering things about ourselves, and hopefully using this strange and quiet time in quarantine to do some fun and creative things we didn’t have the time to do. Love sustains. We will also be better resilient persons for understanding life and love in this time of coronavirus.
You just have to walk around in the quiet streets to realise that our human life is on pause until we beat this virus – country by country, community by community, and human by human.