Summer work and rest in the United States

A few weeks ago I went to my first SLA Conference Sourced Forward in Charlotte North Carolina.  I was due to go in 2020 but due to the pandemic, the conference was postponed until this summer.  I certainly was happy to finally be in Charlotte and I certainly didn’t envision that I would be attending in 2022 as their President-Elect 2022-2024.  As the saying goes, with ‘great power, comes greater responsibility’ – this was no less the case as we had a very full schedule with meetings and membership engagement.  It was great for leaders to meet and speak directly to attendees, as well as to attend the awards ceremony to very deserving winners for their achievements.

I am unable to comment in depth on the conference programme sessions (which I can still catch up on the virtual components) as I had other matters in hand with the board.  Obviously, I was blown away by few that I did attended, such as the opening keynote speakers, general and closing sessions. The opening keynote on ‘ReSourced Leveraging Library Infrastructure in Community Centred Projects’ by historian Dr Jennifer Garcon extolled the need for community group for finding the stories that are hidden in archives that may have been traditionally inaccessible from everyone due to barriers or power struggles.  She gave examples of building partnerships and leveraging resources to gain access for the benefit of the user ReSourced communities. Her talk also highlighted the need for digital preservation for local documents, personal stories and items. It truly was inspiring for the diversity and engagement levels of the projects mentioned.

The second general session called ‘Tell me Sweet little lies: racism as a persistent form of malinformaiton’ by Dr Nicole Cooke was great for exploring the multiple ways that information is used as a power tool for misinformation, disinformation and malinformation. This is a topic I have been interested in for a long time but look at the examples and some of the multi-layered ways that information is manipulated is very insightful as well as educational on how to prevent this happening – especially if it causes harm such as in medical or racial scenarios.  The final session By Dr Travis Wagner was great at highlighting the opportunities for understanding ‘The role of information professionals in crafting a gender inclusive future’.  As library and information professional, we have a responsibility to all our customers and I certain didn’t understand all the negative aspects of collection management and access that affects genders – I was shocked but also sadden by some of the practices that library patrons encountered as well as some of the discrimination in the content held in library and archives.  These larger sessions as well as the small education ones I was able to attend really reenergised me to return to the world with reinvigorated purpose and pride.

I also have a great time at some of the social events in the evening in Charlotte to going around some of the close blocks near the Charlotte Convention Centre.  I hadn’t realised that I would have so little time to explore and really didn’t go to the some of the local tourist attractions such as the Nascar Hall of Fame or the Mint Museum.  Perhaps if I make it back to North Carolina one day – I can get a chance to seem more of Charlotte.  In all, it was a great experience and I was so pleased to see so many SLA colleagues, members, our industry partners, supporters and friends.

After Charlotte I wanted to make sure I made the most of being in the USA, and therefore took an internal flight to Florida to spend time in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.  I was truly impressed with the beaches, the weather and the amazing architecture! You also see lots of different types of vehicles that you just do not see here in the UK.  There are local business and trains but I mainly stayed in local areas or went out with family. 

One of the recommended tourist sights of natural beauty and ecological interest was the Florida Everglades.  I was pleased that my hotel was able to arrange a pick up from the hotel and I was able to directly to one of the areas with facilities for tourist.  It was my first drive along Fort Lauderdale area and then on the Everglades.  I do love the holiday feel and look of this part of Florida and that the beaches were endless (apparently 600 miles of beaches).  Once we got the Everglades, it was a very hot day and the humidity was unbelievable.  The Everglades is one of the world’s largest wetlands and therefore was real delight going on the airboat long the lanes of the everglades.  It was interesting hearing about the indigenous tribes Seminoles, and how they lived around the Everglades.  The grasses, lilies, pond apples, mangrove and other plant life thrives in this wet and subtropical climate. And everybody hopes to see an alligator in the Everglades and lucky for us in the trip – we saw three alligators in the water! There was also an alligator taming show and you can actually hold a baby alligator. It was a great experience of a natural beauty and I recalled the 1970’s US TV series Gentle Ben, which had great scenes of a game warden family, his son and a tame bear who frequently went on an airboat. 

I was able to spend time with some of Caribbean diaspora at one of their local Caribbean restaurants where they were selling food, drinks, music and lots of Caribbean cheer on a very hot Sunday.  I totally get that these communities where there celebrating there Sunday with their Caribbean people, especially just after a cricket game with India.  There was music, a rhythm section and also a visit from world renown cricketer, Brian Lara. I also have some experience of the local night life by going to a Latin bar on in the Las Olas area and also in downtown Fort Lauderdale to an Italian bar.  It was great to see these areas and the night life that is famous in Miami.

The next interesting aspect of my holiday was taking a city bus tour around downtown Miami.  Miami got its’ name from the river that run through it by the indigenous tribes to the region.  Later on, Miami is the only American city that has been founded by a woman – she was Julia Tuttle known as the ‘Mother of Miami’.  The region is definitely very cosmopolitan and had a large Latinx community.  Very frequently I hear Spanish and a lot of the local shops had Latinx food or signs.  On the bus tour to the city we saw several of the Art Deco buildings that is in abundance in Miami.  The reason for the high concentration of this type of architecture is that there was a hurricane in the 1920’s which destroyed all the buildings and it seems the Art Deco style was popular at this time.  It really is amazing to see.

Cubans also exiled to Miami with the 1960s and the area Little Havana still has a large Cuban community with tobacco and coffee shops, with cool looking restaurants and musical venues.  The area is known for its cultural and Cuban community significance as well as it being a place for new South and Central American immigrants. One of the most famous and beloved Cuban-American superstars are the Miami Sound Machine.  It was great hearing one of their songs on the Hotel PA system when I was there.  The tour bus also showed us the recording studio to the Miami Sound Machine, and their funky colourful building.  I do recommend the bus tour to see all the sights without the hassle of driving and the waterways were great to see how the islands of Miami are linked up by bridges etc.  There was a misunderstanding with timings, and I was unable to go on my boat tour around the Miami islands – hopefully I can go another time. 

And while much of the diaspora has moved onto greater pastures around Miami, Little Havana continues to be a vital launch point for immigrants from South and Central America who bring their flavours, rhythm and hardworking spirit to this vibrant community.

Time Out

https://www.timeout.com/miami/little-havana

I particular liked my hotel in Miami for the ambience, the beautiful pool area, architecture and garden.  I really felt like I can visit there again someday and loved that the beach was only about 200 metres away.  The water was clean and fun to splash around in but I was not brave enough to go on any adventurous water sports or out further. It was the Atlantic Ocean and it was awesome seeing so much beautiful kilometres of beaches. 

More than anything, I was happy to finally visiting Miami after hearing about it for so long on another TV series such as Miami Vice.  It is also not far from Trinidad so lots of Trinidadians go there on holiday and have said that is a good place to visit.  I thank my family for their hospitality and for showing me around their amazing Miami and Fort Lauderdale. I certain would like to visit again and explore the region a bit more – event a far down as Key West.

Mission Possible – Libraries & Information Pros Collaborating

It seems like a long time coming but libraries collaborating is happening…again. At least for me. This month has been busy just with my work which has been great for giving me a purpose and mission. I seem to have been fighting for the last 15 plus years.  I suppose I still haven’t gotten use to just relaxing as it has never been easy for me.

We get visits from lots of people who wants to visit the British Library, which is always a pleasure to do. This month I had two visitors from the library profession from Canada and Aotorea (native name for New Zealand). It is good to go around the library with fresh eyes. The building is impressive but also the different subject areas and physical layout. It seems like people and professionals are travelling again like Te Paea and Cellia who were travelling to Dublin for IFLA’s conference. It was nice to see other professionals like Loida from USA and Kevin from the Philippines there too showing there connections and activities on Twitter.

There are times when we meet people who are similar to us even though we have not met them before.  This is also when I used the word recently to describe library and I formation work, I said mission. The same word was used by Safy Al Ashqar, Head of the University of Mosul library, Iraq. Safy was a speaker for CILIP’s conference and I was introduced to Safy by a friend from SLA Europe and lucky for me, I was able to attend a staff talk at the library. Safy described the horrors of war and destruction on the building and collection as it was burnt and bombed. It was deeply sad to hear the stories of death and devastation. The resilience and tenacity of Safy and his staff is amazing and heartwarming. His presentation spoke of the bargaining for funds and equipment with creativity and design with new ideas he picked up from his studies in Malaysia. Out of 150 staff, Safy now has about 93 with 70 of them women. He understands the need for libraries for heritage, education, creativity, community and knowledge sharing. He was totally inspired for the connections and networking opportunities that physical spaces bring. He was offered ebooks for rebuilding a digital library but he elaborated on the need for physical spaces to meet, and to store physical collections. We all know that the first casualty of war is the truth and knowledge – from the burnt building and collection, there is new hope and regeneration all driven by a man and his community and staff on a Misson to make it possible! What an inspiration!

Last Friday I also went with my colleagues to the National Archives in Kew. It was great to visit the building although I have used their digital archive and often refer people to their enquiry service for registered designs and other intellectual property. It was great to be welcomed and shown around by their staff. We were shown original patents and trade marks, maps, storage areas for records, very large maps, library and reference areas, and the 1970s Brutalist purpose built building of course. As we walked around, you can actually smell come of the collection in the temperature and light controlled rooms. There were some great displays for the 1920s and parts of the reading room was aesthetically pleasing. I would visit again it is in my part of town but I am grateful to get the tour from the lovely staff. Mark Dunton has even written a book on British Prime Ministers of the 20th Century.

I wanted to remind you that the National Archives does have an amazing collection and we can use these items to create new stories and innovative ideas from what we research. It is also a great reminder that we are here to conserve and preserve for now but also for future generations.

Last week I also spent time in filming a new video for the Business and IP Centre where I work and the UK network of libraries offering support for Business and other creative use of libraries and their services. East Ham Library was nice and bright with great use of space for studying, resources, cafe and meeting spaces. It even has Salsa Classes on a evening! There has been a few libraries that have survived the cuts from the last 15 years, and it warms my heart they are thriving as spaces for those who need them for study, work, research, learning, meetings and creativity. There was also a definite community and civic engagement feel about East Ham Library.

I was also invited to meet delegates from the British Library’s International Library Leaders Programme, which was an intensive five-day residential course bringing together emerging and established librarians from participants from countries including Australia, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Slovakia, South Africa, Ukraine and the US. I lead a tour of about 8 librarians to some of the reading rooms with various subject areas, and as expected, they were impressed with the spaces and items in collection that were displayed (there are millions we can’t see). It was great to meet socially other British Library staff working on the Oceania collection, Living Knowledge, Higher Education and the newly appointed Caribbean Curator. I met again Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, who is one of the best advocates for libraries, librarians, information profession, policy makers, civil engagement and for the profession in general. I also met with a Ukrainian librarian who has recently fled the troubles in Ukraine and it was great to here briefly what she is working on. I did pass on my concern and best wishes to her fellow Ukrainians in this difficult time.

A couple of weekends ago, I was able to participate on the request of the community engagement team in the Somers Town Festival, which is the close neighbourhood in Camden near the library. We were showing visitors on how they can use the library to start their businesses but also about the fabulous collections and spaces. It was nice to see some of the entertainment from spoken work, humanist choir, to Asian Classical dancing from an ex-staff, which I loved seeing LIVE in Trinidad or in film.

Breaking the News exhibition is also on until the end of August and I was excited to see this. I had the benefit of a group tour with a Curator who gives you the insights and stories of the items on display. I still like to let people know that information comes in various formats, and we have to still use and…preserve these for the future.

I wanted to also wish my colleagues in SLA Europe a Happy 50th Anniversary and we recently celebrated careers which my own newly retired colleague Neil Infield. I knew Neil before I started working at the British Library because of SLA but since working at the British Library he was a great popular, capable and kind colleague who became a friend. I will miss him, and the four other colleagues who have retired in my department in the last two years.

This is a big month for SLA for their Sourced Forward Conference and the associations future, as I write this in my hotel room in Charlotte, North Carolina. I will share more next month or on my social media channels. There is great responsibility in representing the profession, our members, our stakeholders and partners. I am also giving this my best shot and much gusto! Stay for the ride as we find our destination.

Five Ps – reasons to be cheerful

In a time of great change, there are a few things that we can do to keep us grounded.  These usually entail a lot of thought and consciousness to remind us that change is natural, and sometimes necessary so that we all can evolve and develop. I have been quite busy with work and in my role at SLA, therefore have not had much time to spend on other things but I am due to have a more relaxing time soon and look forward to some time to reflect and re-energise.  Here are some thoughts on how I have maintained my positivity in the past few weeks.

  1. Elevator Pitching – The month started off great with the Dragon’s Den style pitching for start-up businesses for Project Remake which I mentioned in my last blog post.  It was a great evening hearing about business ideas, and I was truly impressed with the level of research and preparation that was presented to the panel of ‘Dragons’ and the audience at Linklater’s office in London.  I even learnt a few tips about how to do a great elevator pitch and some tips on business information presenting for when you have to cross examine an idea.  It was fascinating to hear the insights and advice offered from the panel and it goes to show that an effective network and support system are some of the basic ingredients for success.  

2. New Perspectives – I have been living in London for most of my life and sometime get visitors from abroad who I have to show around.  I am now at the point where I have a love-hate relationship with London, and therefore I can apply a critical eye when I see fit.  I am still forever picking up rubbish and reporting anti-social behaviour in my neighbourhood. The local elections were also on but this time I didn’t vote as I was busy with the above.  However, when I have a visitor from abroad – I try to show the city and my neighbourhood in a positive light.  There is history and old buildings here – it is good to see tourist sights and the city with these fresh eyes.  I know it is the same when I visit family and friends in other parts of the world.  I am getting to the stage where I have seen several tourist sites but there are new area to discover…even if I have been before – such as recent revisits to the Tower of London (considering it used to be opposite to my office for four years and I used to see it often) and Brick Lane. 

Reminding myself of my own enthusiasm for the city is great too.  This was the case when I went on a walking tour of the Georgian Mayfair area of London.  I remember the early days spending time around those parts and yet there is so much more to discover after hearing about the area in the guided tour.  I hope to take the Tube (underground train) again one day and have a walk around the area to admire the architecture again.  It is refreshing to see things in a new light with added context and a fresh perspective.  

3. Perennial Renewal – Just like the blossoms and bloom that come out at Springtime, I always feel quite positive at Spring as the flowers and more daylight hours allow us to enjoy more time and warmer outdoors.  I also love buying new plants for the containers that did not last the pervious winter and get some new herbs for us in the summer months.  I always have a wish list of plants that I no longer have, but sometimes even though I go to several garden centres, they still don’t have what I want. Therefore I have to look for them online or wait another year to try to source the plants.  

I didn’t get a chance to make it to Beth Chatto’s Garden last year but I would definitely like to go to see it this year.  I have also come to realised that we are still very lucky to have green spaces in such a built-up area. However I am getting to the point where I do want to be in a quiet countryside or near a beach to relax sometimes.  

For the time being though, I still love looking at all the flowers in my local area and enjoy looking at all the beautiful plants and flowers in garden and local parks.  The best things about spring are being enthuse by other gardeners and new plant knowledge, and therefore it is the perennial problem.

4. Perseverance – In times when there are too many changes or you just need to stay on the roller coast of life – it is hard to do everything to the best of your ability and that is what I am feeling at present with trying to tie up loose ends as I prefer for my first trips overseas since the pandemic.  I am having to make sure that I am really organised, as well as trying to maintain high standards for all the things I need to get through in a short space of time.  

I guess what is keeping me going is my tenacity as well as perseverance to complete the task in hand.  I can easily decide that I can give up on some of my commitments but I have only let a few slip in the last few weeks – such as not attending my book club as it is clashing with my work or volunteering.  I know that one day in the next couple of years I will have more time and therefore I would like pick up where I left off.  I miss chatting with the other members of the book club.  I am also learning new things in my leisure time and have been tempted to drop them too but I decide to continue with them for our wellbeing and fitness and trying to fit them into my work and family life is something I literally have to persevere with to ensure that I have a work-life balance.  I am fortunate that can do this.

5. Personal Development for me – It is true to say that I am being challenged on many aspects, as nothing ever stays the same.  I have recently been looking at all the areas of information and library management to ensure that I am keep abreast of all the new thoughts leadership pieces as well as the ability to set the agenda and look at new trends in my field.  I have been very pro-active with my development and do find that I am now at the stage that I do know a lot with my experience, as well as with my active life.  I do find that I am happy to take on new challenges and learn these new experiences.  I am at a stage where I am able to take these opportunities as they are presented and make them work for the best outcome on a case-by-case basis.  I probably would have been a little less able and confident to do this perhaps about 15 years ago but after 28 years working in business information – I feel confident to tackle any challenges and opportunities that may come way.  It was really great to take part on several international events last week and to showcase the breath of way that we can give value to communities on various topics and how important our role is now and in the future.  I feel utterly positive for our place in time as information professionals – and I knew this will always be required in the long term.  

So these are my 5 Ps for the last few weeks – I initially thought that I did not do much but then realised that I actually did go out a bit.  With these points in mind, I look forward to some relaxing time with family and friends as I have a holiday, rest and to raise a cheer or two! Cheers!

Crisis preparedness and pragmatic business continuity

It seems like the last decade there has been crisis after crisis – recession, terrorist attacks, extreme weather, Brexit, pandemic, conflicts such as in Syria and Afghanistan, and now the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  These are in our recent memory and it really which is having an impact on our aspects of everyday life such as standards of living, rising costs, well-being and freedom. Some might argue that everything is fine and there is no crisis but only just a lot of media hype.  I beg to disagree. There is a real human instinct to have a bit of peace and calm, and I don’t seem to have that at present personally.  However, in a personal and professional capacity – we can use these experiences to prepare us for any future crisis or issues that may arise in the future.  There is a solid belief that we can prepare, plan and implement our actions plans, responses and be crisis and disaster prepared. However we should be ready to be able to continue with our lives and work after these crisis…as we have been doing most of the time.  It is imperative that we have carried out exercises that reflect this and that we have pragmatic solutions to help us in such situations.

“You respond like you train.” 

Source: Everbridge https://www.everbridge.com/blog/the-importance-of-conducting-disaster-preparedness-exercises/

For just over a year, I have been involved in the crisis preparedness council for SLA called the Workplace Preparedness and Response Council (PREP) Council.  This has helped me to focus and understand the topic a lot more as well as find out the various methodologies and best practice that is available for us to adapt and adopt for our organisations.  I also looked at this generally from a type of business but also from the library perspective there are specialist areas we also have to away of in terms of physical and virtual spaces as well as our staff and our patron or customers.  I will now broadly talk about some of the insights I have learnt in the last few years. 

The first major professional crisis I had in my working life was the Millennium Bug – when we were getting closer to the year 2000 when our DOS based library management system would not renew for our journal subscriptions from around 1997 as the following two year’s subscription could not cope with digits 00! There was a lot of planning and talk about how the millennium was going to affect us and most people believe there were going to be major disasters.  However, we were able to procure and implement a new Windows library management system for a few years and therefore we got over the hurdle.  We all seem to use the year format 2000 from here on with the lesson from the past that the 00 maybe be an issue again in 75+ years. I most likely will have to leave that for future generations to worry about. However, we now do have the threat of cyber-attacks, and information security for data breaches, privacy and other risks are some of the standard ways we have to think of our data and information management for the technologies and systems we use or have in our infrastructures.

There are many crises that has directly impacted on us.  As the 1990s was busy with IRA threats, the 2000s and 2010s had regular terrorist attacks on a major global scale.  Theo obviously had repercussions on our ability to move around freely and safely.  Climate change has also seen us experience severe weather and as the evidence implicates – we are still likely to experience floods, fires, snow blizzards or droughts.  I remember when we had a snow storm in 2009 – London came to a standstill due to the trains and buses unable to work and run efficiently at this time, therefore most companies asked people to work from home.  Only a few weeks ago we also had the Storm Eunice also created a lot of havoc and damage.  I also know that there are raging fires in California when I spoke to my US counterparts as well as flooding in parts of the Caribbean where I am from.   Climate change and the risks related to it are talked about a lot more and it is great that there have been some actionable ways that we can get to net Zero. 

In this present time, there are two other apparent crisis that we have to live and get through together – the pandemic and conflict in Europe.  We have now had our second anniversary in the pandemic and it is likely the conflict will also be in our forethoughts for the shock of seeing war in this scale in the 21st century.  We haven’t been immune to the troubles in other regions – the current one is closer, and access to the visual destruction as well as the humanitarian cost in the sheer number of refugees that is really devastating. The impact on normal and basic human need, as well as death in these conflicts puts everything we treasure in perspective.  The response of the international libraries, archives, museums and heritage organisations and organisations has been great in solidarity with these devastations.  Misinformation and censorship have been some of the main disasters of this conflict too – one another war front there has been an information war to gain ground and points in the fight. 

There are many other human and natural disasters that will continue to have a direct impact on people, home, nature, regions and ultimately us and businesses.  The best we can do is be prepared to practice, prepare and plan. 

At this stage in the pandemic, we should know some of the corporate risks we are likely to encounter and we should really use this period over the last two year as a learning point to help us continually think of how we can continue to do business. 

Business continuity planning is a way for a business to increase its ability to survive and recover from disruptive events. It involves identifying the types of events that potentially threaten the business and developing step-by-step procedures and checklists for dealing with these events, so that the business can continue to operate as effectively as possible.

– Complete Business Reference COBRA – Factsheet Business Continuity Plan.

As part of SLA’s PREP Council, we held a great event last year with the expert author Guy Robertson on disaster planning, with his latest book entitled Disaster Planning for Special Libraries’.  Guy really understands the library and information industry, and I particularly like his real examples for professionals to also practice their plans but also to stand around in a circle without the paperwork and talk to each other memorised details from ‘the head’ about the issues they would have to do make sure that the business is up and running again, smoothly and safely.  Guy also mentioned that most businesses and situation is unique so very often there is no one size fits all for disaster and business continuity plans.

“Crises and deadlocks when they occur have at least this advantage, that they force us to think.” – Jawaharlal Nehru

We’ve all been through fire drills.  Let’s be realistic – it is good to plan and prepare so we know the drill but sometimes emergencies don’t give us time to access or follow the best laid plans! I do like how Guy also mentioned the whole close community for planning and responses to disasters and emergencies – even to remind us about the safety of pets. However, as mentioned in this great resource for business continuity plans templates – it states that “without a business continuity plan…you are opening up yourself to unnecessary risks”.

I looked at several business continuities plans which generally had the action planning in general themes from the purpose of the plan to reviewing intermittently (if you would like a copy of our suggested actions – do let me know). Our top topics we suggest you plan and practice for a Business Continuity Plan are listed here:

  • Purpose
  • Planning
  • Risk Assessments & Threats
  • Prevention – Before a Disaster
  • Preparation – Before a Disaster
  • Response – During a Disaster
  • Recovery – After a Disaster
  • Reciprocal Agreements
  • Review Plans Intermittently

“Don’t wait until you’re in a crisis to come up with a crisis plan.” – Phil McGraw

As uncertainty and threats are still likely to affect us now as well in the future, I hope I have piqued your interest in this area and you are confident that you have covered the risks that are likely to prepare for a crisis, disaster or problem.  With all that we have faced in recent years, we have also learnt a lot about ourselves and crises.

As I end, I wanted to share my appreciation for all the humanitarian aid, fundraising and support I have seen in recent years and months from the pandemic to the recent crisis. You may have heard that we are facing some of the worst international humanitarian crisis for about two decades – hopefully we can use this knowledge to help us to act.

 “Since the world has existed, there has been injustice. But it is one world, the more so as it becomes smaller, more accessible. There is just no question that there is more obligation that those who have should give to those who have nothing.”

– Audrey Hepburn, actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador

What is Good Citizenship?

What is good global citizenship?

I have been thinking about good citizenship recently after I heard a few EU citizens mentioned taking a citizenship exam for British nationality due to Brexit, despite living in the UK for years.  I too had to get my British citizenship through a naturalisation process about 20 years ago to ensure that I would not have any immigration issues, as I encountered in 1995 before I married my Italian husband (a long story for another day).  It has made me focus on my thoughts on what it means to be a good citizen in my view, and as I am Indo-Trinidadian – I have a very broad view of what a good global citizen represents.  We live in a very interconnected world with access to news sources all across the global right at our fingertips.  We can focus on the issues and topics of interest very easily, and therefore we must make personal decisions and responsibility for our thoughts, ideals, participation and actions as good citizens.  I have also tried to do some research into good citizenship, and in a personal, professional and corporate capacity – it really comes down to our values and identity with private and public participation as citizens.  I will try to explore some of my personal views on here now, and how it is represented in the images I shared. Do feel free to let me know what good citizenship means to you too.

Here are some of my thoughts about good citizenship:

Freedom – The Greeks where one of the first people to formally discuss citizenship where scholar Geoffrey Hosking writes:

It can be argued that this growth of slavery was what made Greeks particularly conscious of the value of freedom. After all, any Greek farmer might fall into debt and therefore might become a slave, at almost any time … When the Greeks fought together, they fought in order to avoid being enslaved by warfare, to avoid being defeated by those who might take them into slavery. And they also arranged their political institutions so as to remain free men.

— Geoffrey Hosking, 2005. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizenship

It is interesting that the formal recognition of citizenship actually was birth out of the ancient survival clause to protect oneself and to ensure freedom.  I like this as it reinforces the feeling of belonging and loss of citizenship (such as with Brexit).  Yes, I gained some freedom and a greater sense of belonging (due to post-colonial history) to live and work here when I got married to an Italian but…I did lose my EU Citizen when the UK exited from the EU.  I know I could now apply for Italian citizenship but I am not looking forward to the bureaucracy, as it was apparently a lengthy process when I did try 25 years ago.  Perhaps it is easier now since Brexit. I dreamt of spending extended time in Europe as a teenager – and although I have been on the continent for holidays – I haven’t been for long relaxing periods of time (perhaps months when I retire, I hope).  I can only dream that this may happen in future.  Freedom of movement and the rights of a citizens are definitely reasons citizens feel proud to belong to their countries or nationality.  I have enough negative and positive immigration experiences on this issue to appreciate what makes a good citizen in the official sense. And I prefer to be a citizen rather than a subject in a feudal landscape.

Civic Engagement – As a child, my first encounter with the word civic was in the local Civic Centre in my village in Trinidad. This was a place where the community came together for learning, meetings, social and cultural activities.  It was also opposite a park, therefore very accessible for larger events and I do recall bazaars with stalls and music in the 1970s.  I remember my mother and other women took classes on string art and macrame in the local civic centre. These were great for building communities at that time and I am not sure if the same activities happen now there at that particular civic centre.  I do see that there are still quite a few civic centres in Trinidad and Tobago, and I hope this level of engagement carries on to build communities.

Fortunately for me, I live in a part of London which has a high level of civic engagement covering many areas in society such as – arts and craft, volunteering, activism and value-based activities for the good of the public and community. These have taken many forms, such as the local art trails, guerrilla gardening, environmental campaigning, public health and safety, etc.  Civic pride, engagement and commitment are apparent in many of these activities in local venues, and sometimes even on the street and public spaces.  Volunteering and micro-volunteering are some of the ways good citizenship manifests itself, and it really is the best way to ensure that you start being good citizens…from even within our neighbourhoods.

“Everyone can be great, because everybody can serve.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Localism – Now if we take this same energy and widen it out a bit more we have…localism. This obviously in my context relates to being a Londoner for over 30 years – in fact, I have lived here longer than I have lived in my country of birth.  I used to care a lot about London but having worked in the heart of London – I have a bittersweet relationship on how it has turned out for me.  It really is personal.  I do get angry that there is no police station and support in my neighbourhood when we need it, the streets are dirty with litter and fly-tipping (I remember my Canadian Aunt telling me this in 1980s before I lived in London), frequent anti-social behaviour (ASBOS) and Londoners are still unfriendly.  I honestly have a friendly demeanour which was nurtured in the village and home I was brought up in.  Someone told me he thought I was on drugs when I was smiling all the time in a pub when I first arrived here.  I would like to see this as my natural happiness index

Although I have a love-hate relationship now with London, it is my home.  There are still issues we need to work through together, such as crime, environmental treats, climate change, expensive housing, travel issues, supporting local businesses, coming out of the pandemic etc – but it is great for access to international arts and cultural diversity, science and other educational institutions. I do know that I cannot live in a small town in the UK – perhaps for a little while but not for long.  I still take pride in the city where I live, and I will protect and contribute to my little corner of the world in whatever small way that I can. Yep, I am part of the metropolitan elite!

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen” Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

Globalisation – In a much wider perspective, I know globalisation has negative connotations due to the exploitation of companies, resources and humans.  However, there are still positive aspects of globalisation, especially as an international and multicultural society. The result is I am a Global Citizen! If like me, you grew up in a small island in the Caribbean, looking beyond the horizon to the rest of the world – being able to work, travel, lead and participate in global activities is a privilege. My heritage, place of birth, country that I live in and the friends and relatives I have abroad – I have a personal interest in all these regions and I am certainly outward looking.  As I write, Ukraine has been invaded by Russia and the news is distressing in the conflict, such as seeing death, damage and refugees making their way to safety to other countries.  It is also heart-warming to see other Ukrainian citizens stay behind and fight for their country.  I am not sure what I would do in the same situation.

As a Global Citizen, I want peace on Earth.  I don’t want humans to suffer. I want us to live in a World where we accommodate and respect each other values…peacefully.  It sounds a bit cliché but these are basic human rights and privileges.  What happens in one region affects us all – albeit climate issues, technology, health or even good old fashion joy! We should all take more pride as Global Citizens to help one another and to work on world issues, sustainability and challenges together.

According to UNESCO, global citizenship education (GCE or GCED) ‘develops the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes learners need to build a more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable world.’ 

Education – My deceased sister was a very academically brilliant and outgoing child in primary school.  One year in primary school, she received three prizes for her achievements – one of them included a prize for Good Citizenship. She received great encyclopedic books, I remember one of book was called ‘Tell me Why’.  I had the benefit of also using these books to gain lots of knowledge and trivia due to her brilliance.

‘I never found myself in a book’: Patricia Grace on the importance of Māori literature 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patricia_Grace

Education is one of the most important factors to make us good citizens and human beings throughout our lives. I remember doing ‘Ethics’ classes in secondary school where these principles were instilled. There seems to be different school of thoughts for history and cultural curriculum depending on what part of the world you are from, which impacts on our views. As adults we can learn to accept different arguments but encouraged to have a diversity of thoughts and perceptions on topics with access to information. We all need to remember from time to time to be kind and understanding to fellow humans to encourage engagement and exemplary citizenship. I recently saw a film ‘Cousins’ based on a book by Patricia Grace on Moari culture, where their culture was not appreciated or respected enough to encourage that relationship to be mutually respected and understood. I hope it is better today than the 1950’s when the book was based. I follow a South African activist and she inspires me with her advocacy for various causes as a global citizen. Education and great role models can teach us small and large acts of good global citizenship regardless of where we live. We do collaborate and learn from each other plus technology makes this a lot easier!

Once again I am looking at a big topic where there are several published research written for us to answer the questions and explore the concept of good citizenship. I hope working through my thoughts here on what it means broadly to me will resonate, reflect or rouse some of yours. Whatever way you look at it – we are all citizens of the world.

Volunteer – your community really needs you!

Just be yourself….  This has been my guiding thoughts in recent years especially after using social media for such a long time in a transparent and open way.  It is hard not to be real or your authentic self and it is where I have been bringing my true self from my local community to my global activities with family, friends and fellow professionals everywhere.   

The last few months has been challenging for me as I get to grips with the loss of my mother but it also seems to be a time when my professional volunteering and work have ramped up with some fierce momentum.  I wanted to let you know some of the main highlights of these activities, how fulfilling volunteering…and work can be, especially if you have direct impact and responsibility for your global and local communities.

August started with my colleagues and I collaborating in the British Library’s Community Engagement programme in our local borough with their holiday club with teenagers, which is part of the footballer Marcus Rashford’s holiday club programme.  We spent two days with young teenagers giving them support, tips and techniques for business ideas.  It was refreshing hearing about the innovative and cutting-edge perspectives they have for new technologies, and other new business models. There is nothing like youth to keep you on your toes!

I particularly like some of the skilful youth workers who knew how to keep young people engaged for the holiday club, and there really is an art to making sure that you connect in a learning environment with teenagers.  It was also a good time for me to be involved with our Community Engagement team in one of their outreach programmes for our local community in the heart of a busy ‘world-class’ city.  I was able to get to know the community engagement project team better and hopefully will be in a position to contribute with them in the future.  We are looking forward to hosting a sustainable theme event in future and ideas are already circulating. So watch this space!

I know that my past employers are doing community engagement, and was aware of the benefits of community from my childhood. In the Community Affairs team at PWC, I was inspired by one of the founders of the department over twenty years ago, where they implemented literacy programmes and various funding streams that were awarded to staff to help with their local communities.  It is good corporate social responsibility, and we need this in such challenging times regardless if we are a first world…or developing country. It makes great business sense to use these outreach and localised initiatives to help with digital literacy, reading and good citizenship. Therefore we can see allies and benefactors in these corporate social responsibility initiatives for our communities and citizens in general.

On a global level, I am beginning to see new ways that world challenges are being incorporated into lines of work and company missions with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in 2015 by the UN for a sustainable future in 2030. These guiding principles and focus are now visible in job descriptions, research, books and information being produced in industry, science, academia, etc.  I recently attended online the SLA Europe and SLA Conference where there were great content and visual presentations for example by Elsevier on their resources. They were actively tracking the number of research outputs coming out from countries, their impact and rankings.  Personally, I think the SDGs are great for reminding us of what we should be working on collectively now, and how much more that still needs to be done whilst we sit comfortably on our mainly first world problems. The pandemic has created lots of new challenges whereby we have to be in a position to incorporate, and actively work on these issues and opportunities as a matter of course and urgency. IFLA have also produced a resources page for the SDGs here.

There has been a lot of ways that we can incorporate social good in our volunteering. There are activities in my profession that require us to reach out to others who may need that support, helping hand and lifting up.  Mentoring, informal chats or social get-togethers are great for helping us to make those connections and support systems.  There is something special when we get insights from someone who may be able to offer us guidance, and a support network whether we are looking for a new job, ad-hoc support or industry insights.  I certainly needed a bit of a sounding wall recently for my professional life, and did the same to someone who contacted me after recently moving to Ireland, and another who wanted to chat from New York.  These were held in my own time and it makes it all worthwhile when conversations are fruitful, encouraging and positive.  The pandemic has enabled more meeting by video-conferencing calls, and it is certainly one of the best times to think wider and broader with technology to collaborate with those we can engage with now, and in the future. It was only about seven years ago that I spent £18.00 on a telephone call to Germany when I was introducing a volunteer to her role in supporting me.

As we reposition ourselves in the new normal during this pandemic, it is good to remind us that there is still a lot of work to be done for social justice and equity in the profession…and also in wider society.  It is shamefully shocking how imbalances and unfair some of the societal systems are in place in a predominantly white privileged and supremacist systemic structure. In large countries such as the USA and UK, there are great levels of ignorance which is brought on by inequalities that I can identify with terms such as disinvestment, information poverty, and micro-inequalities.  It is actually very sad and disheartening to see the evidence and context of these terms in the wider context.  Yet we haven’t done enough.  Why is this? Are we given enough funds? Power to execute plans? Support and time?

One thing the pandemic has taught us is the importance of caring for those near and far to us.

Regardless of the big issues we can’t control around us, I still try to do a little as I can when I can.  I recently, have been hearing from local gardeners in my neighbourhood who are busy helping with our local green spaces.  I have less to do as we have actually sorted out green spaces in our neighbourhood over the years but if left unattended…it can become like weeds (which is also good for better ecosystem really).  It has been great to bump into the local professional gardener recently as he said that he can advise me on buying a tree for the street, what soil I may need, and which supplier to use! When it is easy to search online it is so great to get this free advice from a fellow volunteer in the local community.

To sum up my last few weeks, I wanted to remember the people who have inspired me in their generosity in giving their time, effort and perhaps financial support to those causes small and big that will have an impact other people’s life, near or far.  Programmes in our local community and global organisations can all do better and more to engage us with the issues at hand from fighting social mobility, poverty, access to literacy, education, work, care and love. I recently met an ethical fashion business founder who was helping rural communities in India but who also want to ensure that their stories are heard and organic products are showcased.  By building in her story with her strategic partners overseas, she has created a better value proposition for her customers, and it is great for getting their joint story on the road to success within these global sustainable development goals.

Don’t tell me it can’t be done.

Do tell me that this makes good business sense.

A tribute and celebration of the life of my mother on her passing

OM bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥtat savitur vareṇyaṃbhargo devasya dhīmahidhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt

We meditate on that most adored Supreme Lord, the creator, whose effulgence (divine light) illumines all realms (physical, mental and spiritual). May this divine light illumine our intellect.

Word meaning: Om: The primeval sound; Bhur: the physical body/physical realm; Bhuvah: the life force/the mental realm Suvah: the soul/spiritual realm; Tat:  That (God); Savitur: the Sun, Creator (source of all life); Vareñyam: adore; Bhargo: effulgence (divine light); Devasya: supreme Lord; Dhīmahi: meditate; Dhiyo: the intellect; Yo: May this light; Nah: our; Prachodayāt: illumine/inspire. Source: https://www.sathyasai.org/devotional/gayatri

I would like to honour and celebrate the life of my mother, Kamala Rampersad, by paying tribute to her life with these few words.  My mother was born in 1940’s Trinidad in a large close-knit Indian family.  I can only imagine how it was from stories, photos and tales told of that period. I do know that this was a family who kept their Indian and Hindu traditions despite being in the heart of Port-of-Spain, but also integrated with Westernisation. 
 
It was a time of great changes after the World War II, and some young girls were given newer professional roles in Trinidad at the time.  My mother completed secretarial examinations in ‘Pitman Training’ for typing, shorthand in the 1950s (later bookkeeping), started driving and working as a personal assistant for her father at his custom broking, left luggage and other businesses.  It was a pioneering time when entrepreneurship and innovation were happening at a very quick pace in the twin islands.  Close friends and other families at this time in Port-of-Spain were running businesses, and newer careers that will go on to create our national identity and culture.  Her family was known and even close to other families, such as Joseph Charles (founder of Solo Beverages), Naipaul (such as in V.S. Naipaul), and some others I won’t mention for privacy. The stories told by her and our relatives are truly great and captures the essence of the class structures in families and society at that time in Port-of-Spain. My mother would have been an active player, as well as a living embodiment of this high calibre of post-war Port-of-Spain. 


 
In the early 1960s my parents got married and this is where, even on a small island, there were stark differences in town and country.  Life in the village was very much still linked to the sugar industry and the surrounding sugar plantations.  My mother had some adjusting to her new life but she also fitted in beautifully and friendly with the other lovely people who are still to this day in the village. There are amazing stories told of life then and the way things had developed over the years.  Religion, cultural traditions and social life were very much integral to the way of life.  There were the usual support systems of the extended family, neighbour and community that pulled together.  I do believe that it was a time when the term “takes a village to raise a child” really does make sense.  I personally witnessed this in the 1970s and 1980s.  It was reassuring in the last few days since her passing I am hearing how she supported other families and individuals in the high, lows, bad and good times in their lives, as well as how some of them have been there for us.  
 
In terms of her achievements, she was able to provide support to several villagers, family and friends for functions by providing some financial support, cooking, chatting, peace-making, helpfulness and good all-round cheerfulness. It is well-known that my mother can cook in bulk and was called ‘the best cook’ and baker in many ways by many people. I will miss her delicious cooking and baking and she was certainly unique in her hand at the various cuisines. She loved music and allowed us to indulge ourselves. She loved Trinidad Carnival and witness the splendour of it in Port-of-Spain from the 1940s. She still loved going to see the mas’ too until recently.


My mother was an active member of the Dow Village Hindu Mandir for decades and had an leading role in their planning, service and events committee – as well as a devotee on a regular basis.  She also volunteered for many community and social initiatives over the years.
 


 
It is the small or big acts of kindness that are the ones that we will treasure forever. I would like to mention that family life will obviously be where her kind-heartedness, gentle and loving nature would come through unconditionally, as with most parents.  As a couple, my parents were the ‘star boy and star girl’ of their generation. They were undoubtedly hard-working, committed parents and wanted the very best for us, especially with sacrificing their own wishes and time so that we can get the higher education in our younger years.  There was little educational support then for those who were average (like me) but wanted to pursue a different field than the one available at the time.  However, they still made it possible for me to ‘follow my dreams’ and to be the person I was hoping to become in London and Europe. The hardest part of all of this is that I left them in a loving family at a very young age.  This love never diminished with distance – it only made it stronger and more cherished to this day.  My parents were great to me, and through my own family I hope their memory and sacrifices will be told for years to come. My mother has been able to travel, as well as spend extended time with my brother in Canada, and most importantly, she was able to visit India twice and this was also one of her dreams growing up as an Indo-Caribbean in the 19th Century.
 
My mother had emotional intelligence and was practising mindfulness before I knew what these were labelled! She was sensitive, spiritual and careful of other people’s feelings – and this is something she took to heart in terms of the use of kind words, actions and deeds.  As she was spiritual and ‘in tune’ with her religion and spirituality, she also seemed to me to practice mindfulness in her mannerisms, thoughts and prayers.  She had a remarkable view of life in a very philosophical way, especially after losing family members, my father and sister (both between 1999-2000). I do think this gave her the ability to see the bigger picture and context of us as players in life and the need for genuine support from those around us – some have labelled her a role model, as well as the peacemaker.  These are not easy to do, and sometimes it is the harder role we take on as leaders in our own life’s way, missions, journey and story. I can tell you real anecdotes and true stories but the moral of her story is that my mother has been influential, and is truly my role model, remarkable and an inspiration. 

 
And so, this is a very brief outpouring of grief, appreciation and thanks after six months of intensive health issues with her wellbeing and health. One day I may be able to give her, her generation, family, neighbours, town and village the justice of a more in-depth piece of writing and research.
 
Today, my family and I wanted to thank all the persons who have helped and supported us recently. I want to thank everyone who has interacted, cared and loved my mother over the years.  She truly was special and she deserves a farewell that is honourable, admirable and appreciative for her way of life, actions and deeds.  I will always miss and love my mother.  I wish her peace, albeit in the after-life, heaven or paradise. It is all the same. May God bless her soul and may ever-lasting love and light shine on her forevermore. 


TVAMEVA MATA PRAYER

Twameva Mata, Chapita Twameva Twameva Bandhu, Cha Sakha Twameva Twameva Vidya, Dravinum Twameva Twameva sarvam mama deva-deva

O God, You are my mother, my father, my brother, and my friend. You are my knowledge. You are my only wealth. You are everything to me and the God of all Gods.

This mantra is usually recited at the conclusion of a prayer session, meditation, or religious function. Here the devotee surrenders his or her individuality to the Lord for his Grace.

 
Om Shanti Shanti Om

The Green Shoots of Spring

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.

– Luther Burbank.

A Better 2021 – Looking on the Bright Side

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.

Hold Tight! Autumnal Tenacity for the perilous Second Wave

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