Keep on Keeping On: Running a Library Department in a Crisis

This week, Antony Ramm, Librarian-Manager for the Local and Family History (LFH) department at Leeds Central Library, explains the steps staff have taken to continue operating a specialist public library department in these unprecedented times…

As previously announced on the Secret Library, the Central Library in Leeds shut its doors to staff and the public at 4pm on Monday this week, as part of the national effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus through the UK and around the world. But that closure does not mean our services are shut to the public – far from it, in fact.

LFH staff had been preparing for operating a reduced service or a full closure since the week before this one; partly because several colleagues were already working from home in 12-week self-isolation, but mainly in an attempt to ensure we had identified and readied work from our backlog that could be continued in an external setting if and when we got the call to temporarily close (which we anticipated would come at relatively short-notice).

Much of that backlog consists of indexing: extracting the most vital and relevant historical information from books, photographs, magazines, local newspapers and other stock in our collections, to be added to a digital database searched by front-line staff when customers ask if we have anything on subject x, y, or z. So, staff quickly, but accurately and carefully, identified those collections that were indexing priorities (often projects that had already been started), fairly dividing them between the team, ready to be taken to off-site locations once any closure occurred.

Our departmental Librarian team did something similar: working out which talks and other upcoming events could be researched from home or another external site, identifying the relevant books and other resources from our collections, and then safely transporting them to colleagues (only that stock which could be removed from the building). Research work on those events is now well under-way, so look out over the coming period for talks, blog articles and more on subjects such as: the history of Leeds wrestling; the heritage of Armley and related treasures in the Library collections; the story of the fire service in Leeds; a talk on the Lees family of Meanwood; Wikipedia contributions to articles about women’s history in Leeds; and much more.

This Librarian’s selection of research stock

But it’s not just the work that can be done away from the Central Library that goes on: staff also retain access to our departmental voicemail and email accounts, so we can continue checking and answering customer enquiries to the best of our abilities. So, do please get in touch if you’ve got any burning historical or genealogical enquiries, and we’ll see what we can do!

The same principle applies to the Leodis archive of historical Leeds images, which LFH manages on behalf of heritage partners across the region, including the Thoresby Society, Leeds Musuems and Galleries, the Leeds branch of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Civic Trust. The Leodis website will remain fully-accessible throughout the coming period; you can use the site to browse from thousands of fascinating photographs and prints, as well as placing orders for copies of your favourite images. We always welcome corrections and comments on our Leodis collections, and you can continue contacting us with those questions and queries (in fact, we thoroughly encourage you to!).

Speaking of digital resources: we’ve also got plans to expand our online presence over this period, including even more blog posts showcasing our collections; a regular local history quiz; and extracts from diaries kept by staff exploring their work from home in more specific, individual detail.  Our regular Friday LFH thread on the main Leeds Libraries Twitter account also continues (normally published around 10am); any retweets or contributions to that conversation are more than welcome 😃. We’re also exploring ways to record and host some of our previously researched and delivered local history talks here on the Secret Library: watch this space!

In short: life and our work goes on, even among the wider confusion and uncertainty that is life during wartime. History does not stop – even for the present.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Shaun Cohen says:

    Good luck and thanks for the update. Take care.

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