Looking forward, glancing backwards

Faculty Librarian Ben Taylorson reflects on the changes brought about by the pandemic as we settle into a new term.

I have to say, it has been nice to see so many students back in Durham for the start of the new academic year. The building in which I work when on-campus – The Bill Bryson Library – has felt very empty with so many of its users studying remotely. As we all begin to move forward into a new normal, things that remind me of the ‘old normal’ bring some comfort. That said, we must accept that some things have changed for good.

Last week – for the first time in about 18 months – I was standing in a lecture theatre talking to a group of students face-to-face. Delivering information skills sessions centred on getting the most out of the library and its resources is a key component of my job, and something I have done hundreds of times before. For some reason, returning to this face-to-face environment (although in actuality it was a hybrid session as in addition to the students sat physically in front of me, others were joining us online) gave me cause to reflect on both the new normal, and my library career as a whole.

I joined Durham University Library and Collections as a ‘Technical Services trainee’ in September 1999. Duties included shelving the latest issues of periodicals (yes, in print!), labelling and repairing books, unpacking new acquisitions and working on the circulation desk. Fast forward 20 years and I’ve done most jobs it’s possible to do in a library – or those jobs don’t exist anymore! The journals (or at least the vast majority of them) are in e-format, as are many of the books. And the ones that are in print are issued and returned by self-service machines.

Change is, of course, vital. The world of information management must evolve along with the very nature of the information we are managing. My current role focusses largely on helping people to search for, locate and use information in a variety of different forms. Working with staff and students in the Business School, I have been able to do this very successfully from home over the last year and a half as most resources are online. Moving forward, I am continuing a mix of home and office working and delivering sessions wholly online, in person, or a mixture of the two.

As well as changed to the way I and some colleagues work, there are changes to the services we provide and the physical spaces we provide. And some of these changes may be here to stay. More on those in future posts…!  

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