When the national lockdown hit in March 2020, I was 7 months into a 13 month project post. As an arrangement and cataloguing project, the majority of the job’s remit necessitated being physically with the collections, which was not possible over lockdown. My post was the Ian Rankin Project Curator at the National Library of Scotland and I was tasked with the arrangement and cataloguing of Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin’s entire literary archive, which he donated to the Library in 2019. If you are interested in the nitty gritty of this cataloguing project, I wrote a blog post on my progress as of January 2020 here. I had just about come to a decision on the arrangement of the collections and had begun to catalogue the materials when the lockdown hit. Luckily, I was able to complete the project despite the time lost. The archive is now available and I have returned to my previous post in the Library’s maps department.
When I first began writing this blog post, another lockdown looked very unlikely as the vaccine began rolling out and Edinburgh’s numbers continued to drop. But here we are now, in another lockdown with an undetermined end. Three important lessons I took from the first time around have proved equally useful this time, despite my being in a different role.
Two of the lessons are technology based: the importance of backing up your work on OneDrive or another cloud-based repository (as data security allows), and getting used to using cloud-based software. The former lesson will be obvious to anyone with any digital preservation training, or anyone whose computer has ever crashed and taken with it an entire university essay the day before it is due. The concept of ‘backing up’ has been around for a while, but I never felt it was necessary at work because our IT infrastructure does the backing up for us. However, when I was told, along with everyone else, to work from home (without a VPN to access the work network), backing up files personally became critical. I also learned the importance of thinking outside the box in terms of what I might need from home, looking far ahead into the future, and also paying attention to data rights.
The second lesson I learned occurred when I was faced with using solely cloud-based software, as my personal laptop did not have a Microsoft license (alas, my student subscription had finally lapsed). While generally very similar to the local software, cloud-based Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. do lack some of the features that you get with the software on your local machine. One of the biggest differences is the lack of a database software, i.e. an Access equivalent, in the cloud package. Before the first lockdown, my most important file, the detailed listing of the Ian Rankin archive, was in an Access database, so I had to export this into spreadsheets in the mad rush before lockdown. I could now go on a (snoozefest) tangent about the appropriateness of using spreadsheets instead of databases, but I’ll save that for another forum.
I have continued to employ both of these practices, even as I returned to working in the office every day to finish the Ian Rankin cataloguing project. The possibility of being sent home indefinitely always loomed large, so I was in the habit of automatically backing up files at the end of every day, or simply working directly with the cloud-based files. When I returned to my position in the maps department, I carried on this practice. I had to make decisions about what I might need from home, as I had new responsibilities and priorities.
Upon returning to my previous role, I also inherited the position of ‘champion’ of our cloud-based institutional repository and our new cloud-based enquiry system. One of the best things you can do in times like these is to become a digital champion, for yourself, for your team, and for your organisation. Becoming a champion means that you can help your colleagues navigate the new ways of doing things. You will need to learn everything you can about the new technologies. For me, it also meant taking on the task of backing up our departmental documents to the cloud-based repository, as well as my personal documents, and encouraging colleagues to do the same with their own. Sometimes coworkers who are a bit more stuck in their ways need some convincing, so it will be your job to make the transition as straightforward as possible, while extolling the benefits. Lockdown or no, you can use your up-to-date knowledge and new-professional enthusiasm to help and encourage colleagues to embrace new technology.
By carrying these lessons into my current role, when the unexpected lockdown hit just before Christmas I was prepared to be productive for however many weeks at home we might be looking at. Overall, it is important to think ahead, to be informed, and to be keen on change!
Rosemary Hall, Maps Librarian at the National Library of Scotland (formerly Ian Rankin Project Curator)