If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
– Marcus Tullius Cicero, Epistulae AD Familiares Vol. 2 47-43 BC
One of the best ways of trying to keep sane, calm and upbeat in these very difficult and challenging times is spending time outside, exercising and…gardening. After almost five months of lockdown, I can write about other pressing issues as the UK opens up on retail, leisure, cultural centres, libraries etc. However, it will be a missed opportunity to now see the beautiful displays and sense of change that comes with the changing of the season. Without a doubt the last winter has been one of the most difficult in our lifetime which the cold spell compounded with restrictions to group festive celebrations, New Year’s Eve parties, carnival get-together and birthday celebrations. The green shoots of spring bring us new hope of a coronavirus that is under control here (for now) and gaining some more freedom to spend time outside to enjoy the coming spring and summer seasons.
According to Mintel report on Hobbies and Interest February 2021, the lack of commuting and space time as the lockdown took over, meant that there is more time for hobbies such as “Baking, Handicrafts, Gardening and Home Improvements”. There was also a spike on Google Trends for people researching for these topics. We also have surplus time to spend on our hobbies and exercise due to the lack of commuting time. Gardens are great places to find peace, tranquility and mindfulness.
“The power of hobbies to improve mental wellbeing is set to drive growth throughout 2020. As mental health continues to be in the spotlight, hobby operators that position their services and products as beneficial in this respect stand to benefit.”
(Mintel Hobbies and Interests – UK, February 2020)
Garden Centre were some of the shops that remained open most of the last few months were garden centres and as soon as the weather was a bit better – I went to two of my favourites in my vicinity. I spent time looking at acid compost that I needed for a Magnolia plant present I received. I always end up spending more money than I intended when I visit that garden centre as it has some amazing plants that I do know find in the commercial garden centre. The centre is called Northfields and has been going for a number of years and seems to have some great photos of its’ horticultural historical business. It was really busy last summer at the peak of spring reopening in the pandemic! I plan to go back in the next few weeks to find some plants on my wish-list. So fingers crossed.
I was able to germinate some courgette seeds and I hope to plant them in the ground in the next few weeks. I also put in some herbs and lavender plants this month. There are some local friends who seems to have access to allotments. There photos of their progress and the ‘fruits of their labour’ (pardon the pun!) on social media is always great and inspiring to see. This allotment hobby is not a programme that happens in other countries, but our Italian cousins in Rome had an allotment with lots of impressive and delicious Mediterranean vegetables, fruits and herbs. I used to enjoy the visit there when we went a few years ago. Italians also process and bottle their tomatoes into ‘passata’ from the summer for next year ahead. My mother-in-law was also doing this in Bedford up until a decade ago. I also saw on social media that my Trinidadian-Canadian friend who is married to an Italian-Canadian doing this same tomato processing recently. I can only imagine the great flavours of the sauces they make! There must be something special about making your own vegetables but I don’t seem to have much luck as yet with tomatoes.
Over the years I have bought a few gardening books and love looking at photos in books and magazines. About 20-25 years ago, there was a great interest in gardening design and make-over TV programmes. It still seems to be some during daytime TV and I tend to catch up on ‘Gardens World’ on BBC iPlayer if I can’t look at it live. It does make me feel happy to see the plants and stories from other gardeners. The format also shows other members if the public in their gardens and sharing their tips with us. I love the diversity of the gardens and their presenters. I also take inspiration from some of these and can easily spend more time looking at this sort of light-hearted shows. I may also splash out in a few gardening magazines soon.
To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.
– Aubrey Hepburn
Due to traffic-calming and environmental improvement measures in my neighbourhood, there have also been continued guerrilla gardening in my community to help with these issues. In our local neighbourhood, some of my neighbours are also planning a Chelsea Fringe this June as a spin-off from the Chelsea Flower Show. And guess what? …I have never been to a Chelsea Flower Show even though I used to hear about it on the BBC World Service when I lived in Trinidad. Trinidadian horticulturalists do take part and sometimes win at the Chelsea Flower show too!
I have noticed that there are lot more plant and gift shops in my high street and hear that the twenty-somethings are buying more plants. There are definitely more plants in the shops in my local areas, and flower retailing were busy for Valentine’s Day and Mothering Sunday in London despite the lockdown. I received a few flower bouquets as presents from friends in March and it was nice to receive them even though we could not meet. Getting flowers by post is also something that is new to me. Bloom and Wild is a popular brand that is used for home deliveries. Flowers are one of the treats I have been buying myself in the last year as I am home to enjoy them!
Horticulture businesses are generally doing well in the pandemic as most people are spending the time in the garden spaces that they have. Garden shops are one of the main retailers that we can still pursue at our leisure without causing too much of a commotion. There is also the birth of the new type of business – the Lockdown Gardener called Doorstep Gardener, whereby garden centres were initially closed and persons were buying plants and seeds online. My local supermarket was the only place where I could buy plants and seeds at the beginning of the first strict pandemic lockdown but it was interesting to see the innovations online as well as in-store evolutions. There is also Pleydell Smithyman who offered a drive through ‘click and collect’ for plants.
The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body but the soul
– Alfred Austin
The environment and outdoor spaces are a major part of our wellbeing and mental health factors. I have really enjoyed my local walks in residential areas of my neighbourhood, as well as venturing to some of the greener spaces. You can be assured that you will have lots of space to social distance with the added benefit of seeing beautiful nature. There is also evidence that we enjoy green spaces, meeting friends and family outdoor and use them as places for relaxation. For those in urban areas, the pandemic has been bitter sweet. We are able to enjoy a quieter city but if you lack access to green spaces at home, the parks and communal spaces have been really busy during this lockdown period. Apparently, there are 10% of Londoners who have moved to the rural areas as there are more opportunities to work from home with less commuting time and costs. This BBC article ‘How Covid have changed where we want to live’ in March 2021 explains some of the reasons why Covid-19 have impacted on property sales and moves out to the country.
Last week, I also went outside of my local area for the first time since December to visit Hatfield House Garden, which was about 50 minutes away from my home. It was reasonably priced for the garden visit and I have been meaning to visit even thought I have driven through Hatfield hundreds of times on my way to Bedford. Hatfield House Garden was the childhood home of Elizabeth I of England and apparently, she received the news of her accession to the throne whilst reading a book under an old oak tree. It was a lovely woodland and ornate garden, as well as a show of vintage cars on display. The walk in the woodlands, the sundial and hew hedges were interesting to see. The Old Palace is still used as a function hall and it was fabulous to see it being used for Indian weddings.
On our walk at Hatfield House, we actually bumped into 88-year-old twin sisters who were friendly and spoke to us on our walk. They conveyed their love of walking in the woodland park and local gardens to find what was interesting to watch and talk about. They were really special and sweet to share this with us as it is exactly what I do too! We wished each other a good day and safe journey to our homes.
I am looking forward to visiting some more outdoor spaces as the weather gets better such as Beth Chatto’s House in Colchester. When I am able to, I am hoping to visit Trinidad again to see family but, in the meantime, visiting places of relaxation and natural beauty are some of the few pleasures I am looking forward too and the green shoots of Spring seem to symbolise so much hope.
Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the soul.
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.
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
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.
‘I wish to be left alone’ said Scrooge. Since you ask me what I wish, gentleman that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry’. – A Christmas Carol
Ebenezer Scoorge is a miser and Christmas-hating protagonist in the Victorian book by Charles Dickens called ‘A Christmas Carol’. If you don’t already know the story, we have a classic tale of someone lacking in kindness, which is even harsher when it is told to us during the festive season of goodwill and good tidings to all men. Dickens created a character of pity, scorn and loneliness, but also one where he is able to tease out compassion and redemption by the end of the story on Christmas Eve. The themes of this story are in the forefront of my thoughts this festive season, but also due to my participation in a local pantomime run by local people for the community in early December.
Charles Dickens wrote the book in under six weeks in 1843, which was then published in time for Christmas. The novel gives us an insight into the poverty and urban living conditions in the Victorian ages. It is reported that Dickens was horrified after reading the government report: ‘The Parliamentary Commission on the Employment of Women and Children’ which showed the horrific conditions in factories. Dickens was moved after reading the report and visited similar poor conditions in Manchester. The result was the idea to write ‘A Christmas Carol’, and the most he felt he could do was to make the horror of the report more known by writing a story… “Something that would strike the heaviest blow in my power”. This was the conception of his now renowned timeless social and moral human story of ‘A Christmas Carol’.
“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?”
“Plenty of prisons…”
“And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“Both very busy, sir…”
“Those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” – A Christmas Carol
I remember seeing on television the story in a film of Scrooge as a child in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970/80s. I even remembered miserly persons called a “Scrooge”, and so the story has a wider readership and context than a Christmas story. However, the book was suggested a couple of years ago for our book club and therefore I was happy to finally read this classic story. I didn’t realise the meaning of the simple anti-Christmas term “Bah Humbug!” until I read ‘A Christmas Carol’.
The other characters in the book are interesting and add the element of wonder and awe to what is essentially a ghost story – the business partner Jacob Marley, the three spirits of Christmas past, present and future, the Cratchit family and Tiny Tim are like a conscience for the mean, bitter and solitary Scrooge. The spirits take Scrooge on a journey through his sad life and display his obsession with money and callousness, but also with some remedial twists like Bob Cratchit still toasting to Scrooge although he is a mean and demanding employer. The spirits are there to have Scrooge’s life flash by him highlighting his wrongdoings, but also the spirit of the future brings the perceived truth of this own demise…and death should he not change his wicked ways. This is just my short synopsis but ‘A Christmas Carol’ has the recurring theme of compassion and redemption that can help us to lead better lives, especially in a Christmas story during the wintery December month.
This is the even-handed dealing of the world!” he said. “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!” – A Christmas Carol
There is a lot written about the book and I am lucky to stumble upon a whole page dedicated to it on the British Library’s Discovering Literature website here. There is much to learn from the book about the historic Victorian way of life, the issues faced with publishing the first copy, and the importance of the book in cultural terms. It is just as popular as it was then as it is now!
Dickens apparently was not protected by copyright laws, as there was no copyright legislation at the time to protect creative works. His novel was copied and performed by theatres within weeks, and there were various versions of the story being circulated at the time. It is mentioned in this Osgoode Law School blog post that he was annoyed but also one of the first advocating for copyright laws to protect creative works. You can also see how profitable the show was for its’ time by the Theatre playbills, which are available to view digitally. What is remarkable to this day is the beautiful illustration that were commissioned and created by John Leech in the first version of the book. They are still splendid and are able to light up social media to this day. Like Dickens’ story itself, these playbills and illustrations are available for reuse without fear of copyright infringement. I do hope he was able to get some financial benefits at the time for his work.
“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!” He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again. “Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure.”
It has been an extra special experience this month to be involved in a pantomime of ‘A Christmas Carol’ with a local volunteer group, Panda Pantomime Productions. Pantomime has a long history of fun and informal theatre. This year we aimed to have four performances on the streets and in local venues – I only took part initially as a payback to Tom, who had helped me with fundraising musical entertainment in the past. I was happy for him to ask me to host the pantomime in my neighbourhood but didn’t expect to actually take part in it!. We started rehearsing about eight weeks ago to a very uninspiring ready-made script but thanks to the creative writing skills of Theresa – she was able to adapt the story to our times, local area and topical issues that we can all relate to. Luckily there are no copyright issues too! In the end, I am really proud of being able to participate in one of the highlights of my year.
We had brilliantly engaged audiences, both children and adults, and lots of great feedback and fundraising at the performances. Local businesses donated raffle prizes, the council gave us a little support, venues opened their doors to us, and a big thanks to Audi Car Showroom in Chingford for their donations and time given by dedicated staff in the pantomime. It was a great way to challenge my non-existent acting experience and also to get to know a whole new group of lovely people. I was able to live, breathe and absorb the true story of ‘A Christmas Carol’ in a contemporary setting.
‘The Christmas Carol’ is one of the stories that were being shown as Pantomime across the country when I checked on Twitter. Pantomime is a great way to experience theatre in the colder months of the year and is great to keep the venues profitable – it is reported that 2.7 million tickets were sold annually (BBC Source). I also still have much admiration for the team at PwC who started their corporate pantomime in the 1980s and still put it on annually by their staff, for their staff and communities. Over the years, I have also attended a few excellent Pantomimes at the Hackney Empire, where you are able to get value for money with great actors in a fabulous historic East End theatre.
This December, in classic coincidence, the BBC aired on the run-up to Christmas the screening of a three-part episode of ‘A Christmas Carol’. It was great to compare it to the books, and also our low-budget version in pantomime. I liked it all the same and it was extra interesting to see all the characters played in different ways by professional actors, but also to a bigger budget with special effects, elaborate costumes, makeup and in Dickensian architectural scenes in London. The use of a mixed-race family for the Cratchits, contemporary issues and dark atmosphere created a lot of conversation on social media. I only recently realised that there is apparently a good version of this classic story by the makers of the Muppet Show. Perhaps I can look at that version another time.
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” – A Christmas Carol
And so with this moral tale, there is a spiritual conversion in the ending with Scrooge finding a second chance having examined ‘an intimate inspection of his soul’…bringing about regret and redemption for his past misdemeanours and miserliness. In the month of December, this Dickensian story will be around for a long time yet to entertain and warn us of the human condition. It is a great reminder that it is best to live in the present with goodwill, compassion and good cheer to others. This is a festive happy ending that will guide us in whatever time lies ahead.
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!
And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!
As we get closer to the year 2020 and the closing of the last decade, I have been looking back but also thinking of the years ahead. It has been a decade of great change on the political, social, technological and human landscape reflecting on what is going on in the world. There have been numerous highs and lows as expected in such a long period. The present is grounding us to what is happening now but there is bound to be a wonder with what is ahead when we look at New Year’s number ‘Twenty Twenty’ – 2020. We even have to get used to saying, writing, hearing and seeing it. This blog post gives me the opportunity to reflect, adapt and anticipate what trends may be coming our way.
Past, present and future: it makes it easier for me to look at this in these three categories to clarify what this means, mostly for my own self-awareness. However when I started researching this topic, I quickly learnt that it is an analytical and forecasting technique that is also being using to show how quickly the world is moving on major issues for example sustainability, climate change and technology due to changes, innovation and higher levels of disruptions. In my busy personal and professional life – there are great experiences and photos for me to share these three timeframes with you here.
“My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step,
they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder.”
― William Golding
The last decade has seen a lot of changes for me professionally. I was working at City Hall in 2010 with changes already happening with the arrival of the dire austerity plans hitting libraries and other public services across the United Kingdom. I hung on with our team to our jobs until early 2012 right on the cusp of the start of the Olympics. There was so much anticipation and preparation on the one hand with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but then we were dropped like hot potatoes to be made redundant and disbanding of services. The heartache of seeing colleagues lose their job in the heart of London with the Olympics which was in our breath and bloodstream was very hard to get over but we survived.
We were able to experience sadly one of the defining moments of the austerity decade that thousands of people have to endure. Some of us are not better off financially and thankfully for the support of family – we are able to manage. This first-hand experience is only the tip of the iceberg of what austerity really meant for basic infrastructure to people’s health, well-being, opportunities, education, public provision (no police station with the increased crime) and degeneration of libraries in the UK. I know some of the stronger survived but it certainly wasn’t fair for many people and this is with the benefit of hindsight. I also had people cut me off on social media when I left City Hall but most importantly the ones who mattered…stayed with me. I knew this would happen from my experience in the 2000s. I was just waiting for it to happen as an ever-present information professional.
Eventually I was employed again at the British Library and this has been one of the highlights of the early 2010s. I have grown and developed in many new areas but I was also able to use the experience I have built up over many years. I don’t feel so odd when I have to use old and new information and library skills. It also helps when I see the past brought to the present in exhibitions, collections and digitally in the libraries and museums world. This month I visited the London Metropolitan Archives and the British Library’s exhibition on Buddhism – and you will get this point.
We have also seen a lot of changes on the regeneration of my local area in the last ten years and it was one of the defining eras of new volunteering and community activism for the neighbourhood and me. Due to having free time due to redundancy, I was able to take part in the Street Party to celebrate the London Olympics in 2012…but then I never stopped!!! Due to my amazing neighbours and community spirit, we have been able to put on 8 fabulous street parties, poetry events, book clubs, Christmas parties, use social media, promote civic activism for local issues, and look after our community with great camaraderie. We literally look out for our neighbours and neighbourhood, such as creating What’s App groups and social media accounts for all of this!
My neighbourhood has changed from a sleepy suburban town to a buzz hive of activity. There are negatives for this – such as Anti-Social Behaviour (ASBOs), drug dealing, professional beggars and high levels of litter. However, I was able to push myself to new activities such as writing basic poetry, organising Spring-cleaning, starting guerrilla gardening and this winter I am participating in my first pantomime in ‘A Christmas Carole’ by Charles Dickens. This was also my inspiration for writing this blog post looking at the past, present and future!
I was also able to do a lot more volunteering for my profession with SLA Europe and stopped being Fundraising Chair for The Lloyd Park Children’s Charity in 2016 after 12 years. I will look back at the last decade with fondness for the new and exciting things I learnt, the new experiences I gained and also the fabulous time I spent with great people and loved ones. The holidays and travels are always a great highlight in this enormous world and are entrenched in my memories of the past.
“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
― George Harrison
As in LIVE in the moment of now, it is both exhilarating as well as concerning. All the big topics I can honestly think about presently are Brexit, Climate Change and much progress already made is being damaged! Most things in my life are stable but there are still everyday worries and stresses that make me wonder what the hell is going on. Just look at some of our media and politicians! Politics is affecting all of us at present but they are very disruptive and move swifter than the previous decade. This could be a result of social media, but also the volume increase, manipulation and incensed use of mainstream media that is used to polarise us. It seems to be an on-going battle with new life and professional challenges such as data protection, fake news, privacy, racism, bullying, and various negative broadcasting. Information certainly is more intense with some people probably rightfully switching off from all forms of media. I do think that presently social media is still a very good facility for communication, and the world is generally a better place for it. Politics will affect us all and is currently in an awful state but we are more engaged regardless with an opportunity to share our views, voice our concerns and opinions with the people we want too online and offline.
Climate change and sustaining our planet are hot topics that are right up the agenda in the last years and especially the last few months. We have seen young Greta Thunberg mobilise children and adults across this great big old world for environmental concerns and activism. We also all know about Extinction Rebellion. Food, travel, air quality, poverty, homelessness, diversity and inclusion etc are all various topics where work is still in progress. There are good days and bad days for all of these issues, and like so, we have to live in the moment but also find ways to make good choices that will sustain us as well as our fragile planet and environment. It’s only a few years ago we implemented the plastic bags ban, saw more of the reusable cup and ‘single use plastic’ become a no-go. Positive policy and behaviour change are possible and we should not give up!
It is not all depressing in the present, I still find ways to keep my positivity flowing by exploring the new, interesting events and shows in the city. I love that you also see all the ‘live’ moments people are having around you on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Yes, the present is not perfect but somewhere in this world, the sun is shining and a new day is dawning. I am also very grateful for every new day that I am alive to be with my family and friends in the present.
“The past is always tense, the future perfect.”
― Zadie Smith
As we creep into 2020, it is great to know that some things will always remain the same but it is obvious that there will be new developments and ways of living that we will adopt and adapt in our lives. After all, 2020 is just a number created to represent time.
I am certainly not a clairvoyant with a crystal ball and will not predict the next day, much less the next decade. However, this is what scientific, evidence-based and good research is able to do for us. Trends and forecasting are used all the time to help us plan and prepare what may or may not become a reality. I have the privilege and access to authoritative published research in my role as an information professional, and therefore I am able to research very serious topics that will have an impact on all of us.
I recently popped into the busy technology department of Selfridges when I went to collect an online order that I couldn’t find in local shops. Seeing all the smart technology is a great eye-opener (pardon the pun!). There are innovations and inventions that are here already and there are more to come on the horizon. Wearable technology is here and according to Mintel market research on “Wearable Technology 2019” – “There has been an increase in ownership of all wearable devices, with the most significant jump being in the adoption of smart ear-buds. As a result of the increasing popularity of these products, more and more manufacturers are offering their versions. Meanwhile, fitness bands/sports watches continue to be the wearable that consumers are most likely to own”. Consumers are also using it for controlling smart home devices, making contactless payments, monitoring security, social media, fitness etc. The smart glasses were certainly a new way to see and interact with things.
One of the burning issues is consumption of natural resources and the environment. There are questions on how can we make this world more sustainable and ethical in our policies, businesses and our own personal responsibility. GlobalDataOnline has their great Trendsight predictions and analysis to tell us about the MegaTrends that will affect us all regardless if we are generations from: Baby boomers to iGeneration. In the report ‘Trendsight overview: Sustainability and Ethics – Meeting social and environmental challenges amid growing populations and energy brands’, these megatrends highlighted are: Social Responsibility, Ethical Wellbeing, Fairly Traded, Created Fairly, Ethical Luxury, Localism, Trust and Transparency, Resource Scarcity and Environmental Responsibility. These are all great topics that make my heart sing! The same report looks in great detail at the past, present and future trends. One of the great sector examples with the changes we have seen in the last few years is plastic pollution and recycling which concludes that: “in the past five years, recycling schemes were being used by several types of retail outlets, and will remain a crucial consideration for retailers in future. Retailers at present are more prominently shifting away from the use of plastic, while innovative recycling schemes will propel into the mainstream five years or so in the future”. Do make some time to look at these reports and you will be inspired or in-the-know on what is in store for the future.
My own personal view, simply and most importantly, of the future is that I want my loved ones to be happy and healthy. I also want this clarity and vision for humanity and the Earth. I know there will be developments in technology and gains in progress with living standards but there is so much work still to collaborate and work on together as so many people are outside of these acceptable levels, struggling with being happy and healthy. I am not able to control this but in my own way, step by step, little by little, I can only hope that we keep this beautiful planet and its’ people safe and well for years to come…and certainly to 2030. Ask yourself too what you want for the future.
For an Information Professional, it essential that we understand so many aspects of the customers we serve, technology, infrastructure, resources and society in general. It is hard to isolate all of the threads that make a good information service. In the last few months, I have been keeping a close eye on the role and conversations of information professionals in relation to the term ‘Future Ready’. It is a term that has been used by schools in the USA to prepare their librarians and information services for the “leading edge of digital transformation of learning”. It also seems to have been used by other companies to signify preparedness, trends, adaptability, continuous change and innovation as shown in Accenture’s view on it.
My first recollection was in 2011, when Future Ready was launched as in initiative by SLA to prepare members for the concept with a dedicated 365 blog posts. The term was used then to motivate professionals to harness the following Future Ready ideas:
Collaboration to accelerate the availability of useful information
An adaptable skill set that anticipates and responds to the evolving marketplace
Alignment with the language and values of the community you serve
Building a community that connects stakeholders in mutually beneficial relationships
Currently, there is more information on the web on what it means to be ‘Future Ready’ for information professionals, with the most apt piece mentioned in the American Libraries Magazine stating that expecting and preparing for change is one way of being ready, but also digging deeper to find ‘change is useless without considering values’. The article elaborates: “we need to look at trends and changes with consideration of our own professional values (confidentiality and privacy, diversity, equitable access, intellectual freedom and expression, preservation) and the values that we seek to provide to our communities (a civic commons, democracy, discovery, education, literacy, public discourse). And so looking at changes, we need to ask ourselves what they might mean for intellectual freedom, for education, for equitable access, or for any of the other values that drive our work”.
Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, has presented on what is ‘A future ready information profession’, which also aligns all the guidance I have mentioned above and the link has some great slides too. This was interesting to read as another CILIP article on the British Library leadership reiterated that our values are at the core of what we do. It is on this basis I was able to prepare for my talk on the theme ‘Future Ready’ entitled ‘Promoting and Celebrating Diversity in Delivering and Managing a 21st Century Information Service’ at the inaugural SLA Europe conference held on 5-6th September 2019 at Newnham College, the University of Cambridge. I felt I had to cover this topic in my blog this month as the conference left an imprint on me, and having researched my own speaker topic on ‘Future Ready’, I wanted to highlight this here with you. I am unable to cover the whole conference programme but there are some key points below for future proofing as an information professional.
The conference was my first full attendance at a UK conference. I reminded myself that it was extra special for me as President-Elect of SLA Europe, organised by great people who I know well, and also not far for me to travel. Newnham College was a great venue choice and the whole inclusive programming and organisation was an excellent and thoughtful experience for me, and hopefully other attendees. The setting and history of the college at this recess time was peaceful, invigorating and ideal for a conference. I particularly liked the garden tour and hearing from the head gardener about the plants, the layout of the garden, and the past and present women and men who developed the college. The college library tour was also interesting and gave us a practical insight into the working of a historic and functional library. The venue is inspirational now by past and present famous and influential women, and some men, who gave the college its’ great reputation. The college is bound to create future influential and great leaders.
To set the tone it was interesting to have Dr Jessica Gardner, the University Librarian and Director of Library Services welcome and opened the conference on our role in organisations and society as information professionals. She reminded us of our strengths in building networks, learning together, collaborative working, our deep knowledge of resources that is transferable to other settings, and that we should aim to work well in partnerships. I also loved the slide with the words – Integrity, Diligence, Honesty. There was a call for us to not be neutral when there are obvious levels of inequality, and the important role that information professionals have in their organisations and communities for the future of research and information services.
The Opening Key Note on ‘A practical model for distributed digital leadership’ by Cerys Hearsey of POST*SHIFT was great for demonstrating digital leadership where it is not only top management’s responsibility but also everybody’s responsibility. I liked the example of some of the effective and open digital leaders being the ones who listened to staff that were closest to their customers, for example the leadership at the company Haier. It was also a different perspective from the digital giants we know and a very non-hierarchical approach to digital transformation.
There was also a common theme of the digital archive, information services and the future of these services. I am familiar with the The Guardian’s Archive, and so it was interesting hearing Richard Nelsson on the selection of stories, the use of data mining for analytics for gauging popular keywords and how a simple historical newspaper article could lead to a more creative outcome such ’12 Years of a Slave’ film. Apparently anything on The Beatles always draw in a popular readership. It was interesting to hear about uses in past content to create new media stories.
Maria De La Pena from the IE Business School Library in Spain also spoke about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and libraries. AI is becoming more prevalent in various walks of life and so Maria spoke about the ways it can improve and free up time for library and information staff, who may be under pressure with budget cuts, and have to use AI so that they can carry out more value-added work. Obviously there are pros and cons of more AI in the sector, but it was good to hear with some excitement on what opportunities it will bring to the services we provide.
The theme of collaboration, project management and cross-cultural services were put across by two talks by the multi-site Judicial Office of Scotland and Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. The speakers have all had experience in challenging projects of change, influencing stakeholders and creating efficiencies. In the library world – they are working with people, physical library spaces and also content that is paper and digital. This all requires a vast array of skill sets and competencies to offer cutting edge services.
I love learning new topics and one of the newest I learnt was ‘Nudge in Libraries’. It is the subtle use and awareness of ‘human behavioural economics and psychology can, if channelled ethically and effectively, lead to the development and implementation of behavioural nudges which collectively enhance well-being’. I loved the Nudge techniques introduced at Coventry University to create a better UX (user experience). I can see this being adopted with colleagues in the workplace, or even in the home, as we all need a little coercing sometimes.
The first day ended with Xuemai Li from York University in Canada sharing her experience on mindful transitioning under library structuring. She shared tips for undergoing change in roles, departments, the ever-present restructuring, budget constraints and how to still provide the same level of service and developments. I personally understand this pressure and the impact it can have your health and well-being, therefore this was a useful reminder and inspiration for me to think of mindfulness exercises that has worked for Xuemai. I had the practical session on Mindfulness first thing the next morning, and I really have to include the exercise in my busy diary daily for my own good!
I also attended a fab workshop facilitated by Anne Welsh of Beginning Cataloguing (@beginningcat) on cataloguing and the metadata practices. It was a fun experience to demonstrate international standards in cataloguing, and how specialised information adjust to these confines. During lunch and dinner, it was nice to get to know other delegates better in a more informal and social way. Being a member for SLA Europe for a number of years, I was able to meet old and new counterparts.
Day two presentations started with the brilliant Dr Katherine Schopflin on the use of Knowledge Management as an asset for organisations and the value that has created when this is part imbedded in the culture of an organisation. It was interesting to hear about the individuals who are the ‘aristocrats’ and the role they play in the knowledge gathering and harvesting process. It is also a valuable lesson on losing knowledge of staff when they depart an organisation, and therefore some on the advantages of capturing and re-using knowledge. Katherine has co-written the book ‘Practical Knowledge and Information Management’.
Good information governance, record keeping, ethics and data integrity were covered in the three morning talks. The Qatar Foundation had implemented a high tech enterprise-wide information management change management process with high levels of information governance and records management. Matthew Platt spoke about the cultural importance, significant differences and languages in the Middle East,+ but also the values of religion and family that were most important to the people in the region.
Predatory Publishing presented by Simon Linacre of Cabells is also a new topic for me on scholarly communications. It is like a form of cyber-crime for academics where online publishers are abusing and presenting journal articles that are of poor quality and research. This is interesting as it showed that some rogues will cut corners in whatever field you may be in. I haven’t thought of this before and being aware of the issue will help if I need to help customers find information in future.
Presentations on Fair Data Principles (Finable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable), Competitive Intelligence and Business Insight presentations also highlighted that information, data, analytics and intelligence are some of the core activities and skillsets naturally attuned to information professionals. It was interesting to see the use of metadata that is searchable but findable for the present, and also in the future. The competitive intelligence and business insights talks mentioned the use of good ethical practices although we live in the present in a mainly open source digital world. Information and Intelligence are value assets that can give you a competitive advantage and should be integral to your strategy. I also like that Lara Lopez Boronat (from Spain) mentioned that Bain & Company are using social media for corporate analysis as a lot of information is available in ‘hidden messages’. If like me, you have been working in business information for a long time – you are sure to be excited by the current practices, but also the talks and the future potential of data and intelligence mentioned.
The final topic presentations were to highlight the diversity and inclusion agenda of the conference with a presentation on ‘The Future of Female? Exploring Patterns of Gender (im)balance in UK business, pharmaceutical and electric vehicle research practices’ and my own talk mentioned above. It was interesting to hear the call for balance in research by female – where the perspectives are not one-sided, and there is more inclusion for groups that a particular subject research may directly impact. We were both advocating for greater representation by gender, race, ability, sex orientation, well-being, minority groups…and for everyone. I wanted to cover everything that we have achieved in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace and profession, but also to acknowledge that there is still a lot of work in progress. Hopefully I was able to put across my main points in 15-20 minutes and going by the feedback received, I think my talk was punchy as I intended it to be.
The conference closing keynote was by Simon Chalpin, Director of Culture & Society at The Wellcome Trust highlighting our role in preservation, storytelling and also the importance of people in everything that we do. Simon brought all of the elements of the physical with the digital, the scientific with the cultural and the past with future.
We ended the session with a Questions and Answer session on the Future of SLA Europe by SLA President Hal Kirkwood, SLA Europe President Simon Burton and myself as the forthcoming President in 2020. There are lots to be proud in what we have achieved with this first SLA Europe conference, our annual early and new professional awards, excellent events programme, engagement and other great volunteers who help and make things happen in our groups and board here in Europe. There is still continuous work in retaining more members and attendees, advocating and attracting hard to find persons in the profession, and also collaborations with other professional bodies such as CILIP, IFLA and other geographical chapters of SLA in the Arab and Asian regions. I already have a whole list of things to do for 2020!
At the end of the conference, I had many take-away and learning points which will help guide and inform my work in this field. It also makes me more confident in my understanding of the issues, challenges and opportunities in this sector. Attending the conference has also made me aware of key contacts in their subject fields and I know I can draw on this network should I need their expertise in future. I am also looking forward to assisting SLA Europe at the Internet Librarian International conference in October 2019, and also picking up other new, innovative and thought-provoking topics. I do truly feel equipped and ‘Future Ready’. However in the information field, there is always a mixture of experience and knowledge but we also have an adaptability for what is new and around the corner. And so with every turn, I hope and will prepare to embrace and tackle future changes head on as they come my way.