I was on a walk, struggling through the second week of lockdown, the reality of the world (and my personal) situation just hitting home. I took a call from my Library Supervisor and found myself asking if there was anything I could do for our customers while libraries were closed.
I was asked to join the Home Library Service, delivering books to vulnerable people. I grasped at the opportunity, and as I got myself ready for ‘work’ the next day, I knew instinctively that I'd made the right decision.
Working, getting out and about, despite feeling a bit scared, was going to bring structure to my week and give me something worthwhile to focus on.
As the lonely weeks of lockdown wore relentlessly on, the work developed into something infinitely more meaningful as it became apparent how much my brief visits were relied upon (and even eagerly anticipated!) In short, I have been referred to as an ‘angel’, a ‘saviour’, ‘the highlight of my week’ and, most memorably, ‘babe’.
I have had to refuse cups of tea and hugs with a heavy heart and a promise to return ‘one day when all this is over’. I stood on doorsteps and in gardens and talked about every subject under the sun, from where to buy hair colour to the terrible depths of loneliness and loss.
On one occasion, I cried my eyes out all the way back to the library (and then some), such was the extent of loss that I had encountered that day. The sharp end of lockdown, yes, but also a time and a place when I felt that I was doing absolutely the right thing. And how often can we say that?
The deliveries were not only helping our customers, but also helping me to navigate a personal path through the crisis, helping me to process it all.
As lockdown eased, libraries began a ‘Click and Collect’ service, whereby customers could book a slot and come to the door of the library to pick up a bag of books that staff had chosen for them.
This was a great job, again much appreciated by library users, many of whom have admitted that they have discovered new authors and genres this way. One customer included a letter of thanks with every return of her books and has asked me to choose all her books from now on – ooh, the responsibility!
We are now in what I think of as the third stage of library provision through the current crisis. We are overjoyed to see our customers again now that they are free to browse the shelves once more.
We are greeting regulars like old friends and listening to their lockdown experiences (sad, happy and everything in between). They are so pleased to be back and are full of praise for what the library service has provided for them at every stage of the pandemic.
And me? When I look back on 2020 from our (hopefully) happy future, well, I will just be happy to have helped people through it all.
South Gloucestershire Libraries