From the time of Shetland’s first known coronavirus cases on 9 March, something strange happened to time. We’d get to Wednesday and Monday would have seemed like weeks ago. Every service change we tried was overtaken by events. I decided to close the Library on Tuesday 17 March, whereas on the Monday I’d woken with no intention of doing so. By this time, our schools were shut and nearly all events cancelled. We were a week ahead of most places in shutting down, a voluntary community response because Shetland is intensely social, and the virus had hit us hard. Two Up Helly Aa festivals were cancelled – that showed it was taken seriously!

By the second weekend we knew lockdown was coming. I asked all staff to prepare for working from home, but I wasn’t that prepared myself, sitting at my kitchen table desperately logging onto various gadgets. VPNs. Authenticator apps. Zoom. Teams. Cisco. Who knew?  The first week I felt glued to my phone and laptop, not stopping to eat, the house a shambles, starting earlier and earlier each morning, head full of things to do. Dark news and dread building. But it was useful to have work to concentrate on, and some things were immediately easier too. You just had to decide, and get things done. Just before lockdown I picked up the phone to set us up an online newspaper service, one of the quickest stock decisions I’ve ever made.

We are obsessed with customer service and feel real guilt about closing.  We’re motivated by what we CAN do, or do differently. In no time, Kaye was recording our talking newspaper single handed from home, Catherine was drafting family help to produce online Shetland stories (view here), and Nicola mobilised staff to help with eBook expansion and digital support by phone. Staff phoned customers to check how they were doing and offer help. School library staff whizzed together web pages and videoed Bookbug sessions. We’ve promoted our services in every media we could, even via radio jingle, all the time planning for return.

Our Librarians are doing a great job supporting their teams and trying to use the time well. Ironically, while we’ve shut the Library, a lot of us have never been busier. We’ve endless communication methods but they can be wearying – we do the online meetings and Zoom tea breaks, but you miss the quick word you can have in passing. The gossip you can listen to with half an ear. The ideas you can bounce off folk when they suddenly pop into your head.

For light relief I threw together a video for World Book Night – in the space of a day our Council Leader, Chief Exec, local authors and half our staff had happily contributed clips. The Library gets a lot of goodwill and people appreciate our positive social media. #SuperSheltie, our pesky Twitter mascot, has come to live with me.

Super Sheltie and his new feline friend

Living in a beautiful place by the sea I’m totally aware of how lucky I am, and I’m relishing the peace and longer daylight. I completed ‘Couch to 5K’ and painted the garden fence so I’d have *something* outside of work to show for lockdown. Oh, and you appreciate things more – I had to get the bus to Scalloway on a vet errand and the trip was like being on my holidays!

“a beautiful place by the sea”

Not long now till we can start some kind of physical services. We’ve all learned a lot and really grown our digital offer, but we are just champing at the bit to start getting books moving again.