Lockdown diaries: the librarian

Lockdown diaries: the librarian

Some people are surprised when I say I didn’t find lockdown that bad. I had some practise (although less restrictive of course) when I stayed home for three weeks in January, reading the nominations for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Prize. I saw no friends, I did no socialising and only went out for some daily exercise (it was January so the weather wasn’t great).  So when it all began, I felt prepared.

In some ways I was more productive than ever and in other ways less so. As soon as the library closed to the public, we had to plan how we could still deliver a service without being in our buildings and work out how we can support colleagues working from home. Some, as we soon discovered, lacked the technology (that I take for granted), that would enable them to work from home and it was revealing to see that digital divide within your own place of work. My relatively small part time role as social media manager became larger and more intense as we began delivering events online and I found myself being the person people turned to for advice and support when it came to all things digital. Things didn’t really stop or slow down for the first two months.

I convinced myself, like many I’m sure, that I would come out of lockdown the fittest I’ve been in a long time, healthier and a better cook. I’d pick up my guitar again, finally learn the difference between ‘ser and estar’ and get through my TBR pile. Honestly, this enthusiasm only lasted for the first half of lockdown. I soon got bored cooking every day for myself; I missed going out to eat with friends, something I do often. It turns out running every day was not great for my knees, my guitar remains untouched and my Spanish unpractised. I couldn’t read! I found myself unable to focus and taking days to read something that I would normally get through within a weekend. I now haven’t read anything in a month, I don’t think I have ever gone this long without reading a book.

The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement during lockdown triggered a lot of feelings. Living alone meant more time to dwell on my thoughts and look back at all the racial incidents that I had experienced from when I was a child, many that I hadn’t realised were racist at the time. I braved some local protests, checked in and had very open and honest conversations with my black friends about our experiences, how we navigate the world, our place in it and how it has formed us as adults. I re-evaluated what we do as a library service and what changes we could make to be more pro-actively anti-racist. I wrote a supporting statement with a colleague in support of the BLM movement and stated our commitment to being anti-racist which has been embraced by my colleagues wholeheartedly.  

Working from home allowed me to make some positive, long-term changes on myself. At the start of the year I had promised myself I would have a better work life balance. However I still found myself saying yes to everything (because I like the opportunities they present and enjoy what I do) but I was finally able to draw a line as I realised how important it was to separate these things during this time. I learned to be more patient, to express myself differently and work on my communication skills. Explaining things using only my words and no visual cues and being unable to point at something forced myself to consider how I processed my thoughts and articulate instructions. I realised I made assumptions about colleagues' knowledge and sometimes found myself frustrated that they didn’t instantly “get it.” I am getting better.

I learnt that despite enjoying my own company, I am more of a people person than I originally thought. I realised I definitely missed being around other people. I missed simple things like people watching as I read in a café or park, socialising with my friends, working with my colleagues as we bounced ideas off of each other and the library users (as challenging as some of them can occasionally be, but in particular the families that attend my under-five sessions, who will now have grown out of them so I would have missed that stage of their development). I learned to love online pub quizzes and dance parties, found that I prefer telephone calls to video chats, fell in love with films again, re-discovered my local area and became really envious of people who are able to have a dog!

It’s going to be a long time before things return to “normal.” I hope some of the ways in which we have adapted our services and lives that have made things more inclusive continue. For the library this means continuing to deliver our events online, more live streaming, utilising all the elements of our social media channels and connecting with more people across the world; our literature festivals could become global this way.  I hope that we continue to fight for better services and lives for everyone.

Zoey Dixon is one of the most influential children's librarians in the country. Locally, she manages four Lambeth community hub libraries and is also a development librarian, a strategic role that enables her to help shape the library service. She is also a Bookseller 2020 Rising Star.