The Library of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh has been in existence since the late 17th-century. Our staff of three look after the clinical information needs of around 27,000 members in over 100 countries. In addition, our archive serves as the College’s “memory”, conserving manuscripts from throughout our 515-year history and answering enquiries from researchers and media from all over the globe.
It’s safe to assume that, in years to come, the College Library – almost every library – will be cataloguing a fair few items relating to the events we’re all experiencing. Only a few days before the Library team started remote working on 23 March we’d been discussing the biggest news stories of our lifetimes. The usual offerings were put forward – 9/11; the death of Diana; Desert Storm. We were unanimous in agreement though – we’d seen nothing like this.
And so, more than a month later here we are, running a library service from our homes. In some ways, nothing has changed. A surgeon in, say, India who needs a literature search won’t mind if the librarian who provides it does so from their office or their living room, and those services continue unabated. In other ways though, everything has changed. I miss books! Don’t get me wrong – I’m grateful that technology’s enabled us to remotely serve users in a way that was impossible only a few years ago but still, there’s always been something more satisfying in turning pages rather than scrolling a mouse.
I’m using the living room because my wife, Nicola, has commandeered our spare room as her “office”. So strange that you can be married to someone for 13 years and still find so many things you didn’t know about them. She’s a statistician and every day I hear her discuss numerical concepts totally beyond my comprehension, but at the same time she’s remarkably unsure of her own spelling. Even as I type this she’s literally shouted down to ask me how to spell the word “guided”. I suppose I should be flattered that I’m apparently trusted more than the myriad of spellcheckers on her laptop. Alongside this crucial role I’m also the designated teaboy in the new workplace. Always nice to know one’s place.
We’re supposed to take some exercise every day, of course. Frankly this is more than I’m usually comfortable with, but Nicola insists we go for a brisk walk at 5.30pm each afternoon. Living in Musselburgh, one of our favourite routes is around the Queen Margaret University campus. It’s always impressive, but devoid of so many staff and students it currently has an eerie quiet around it. If you watched last year’s Chernobyl miniseries and saw the depiction of the abandoned towns you’ll get the idea (and if you haven’t watched it you should – it’s staggeringly brilliant).
This’ll all end eventually, of course. We’ll go back to the library and users will once again be people we meet and shake hands with, rather than just email addresses and phone numbers. It’s definitely something to look forward to. In the meantime, you might like to check out our digital collections while I chance my arm and ask Nicola if she’d make a cup of tea. Unlike me, she needs the practise.