Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, last year's AGM was delayed (with permission from the Charity Commission) until November 2020, so my report to the members included the period April to October 2020. Consequently, this report only covers the period from October 2020 to March 31, 2021.
The impact of the pandemic on the Gibson Library has been considerable, as owing to the periods of 'lockdown' and social distancing requirements between lockdowns, the Gibson Library has not been able re-open the reading room to readers, even when the Public Library has been open. This resulted in long periods when volunteers have not been able to work in the Library at all, and even when we have been allowed access to work we have not been able to have more than two or three volunteers or Committee members working in the Library at any one time. The number of reader visits to all Essex Libraries and a dramatic fall in book borrowing has also meant that many less volumes from the Gibson Library's lending collection have been lent out.
Unfortunately the situation has resulted in a long pause in the momentum developed by the re-launch in October 2019. Soon after the relaunch, we were seeing an increasing number of visits by academic researchers to the Library, and the use of our new name had become widely recognised in a very short space of time.
We have, however, been able to make progress in some areas. In particular, we have moved a large number of our modern reference books on a wide range of subjects into the Corn Exchange, where they can now be more easily consulted at the end of the Gallery. Additionally we have established a large collection of new books from our lending collection on shelves in the gallery, adjacent to the door leading to the Gibson Library. These are available for people to borrow from the shelf.
Behind the scenes, carefully guided by committee member Kelly Cole, we have been successful in attracting grants towards specific projects, and in this respect we are grateful to the Essex Heritage Trust for small grants towards Covid precautions, and a larger grant that will enable us to publish a new 40 page booklet about the Gibson Library. We also thank Essex County Councillor, John Moran, for providing us with a substantial grant from his 'locality' allocation, part of which was towards the proposed publication, while the remainder offset expenditure made as a consquence of the pandemic, including a one year subscription to Zoom, and study screens for use in the Reading Room when we can re-open.
Programme of Events
It was only in September and October last year that we were able to restart our programme of events aided by Zoom. Guided by our Treasurer, Peter Walker we built up our experience of Zoom gradually through committee meetings until we felt confident to invite speakers to an audience of members. Although they lack the excitement of real meetings, Zoom has enabled us to invite people from more distant locations, to speak to our members.
In this way, we have been able to hold the following talks: Julie Miller, on local Quaker John Farmer, an anti-slavery pioneer in North America; Howard Williams on R C Neville and Anglo-Saxon archaeology; Marcus Rediker (speaking live from the USA) on Essex Quaker and anti-slavery pioneer Benjamin Lay; Maria Medlycott on the Landscape Archaeology of Essex; and Vic Gray on the Early 20th century Tolstoyan Christian Community at Purleigh.
Towards the early part of summer, 2020, library staff stock-checked the entire stock of the public library, as a preliminary to Essex Libraries joining 'The Library Consortium'. It was only in late November that staff began stock-checking the Gibson Library's lending collection. It rapidly became clear that the stock-check was revealing a major problem - Essex had deleted the records of several hundred volumes of our lending stock from the Essex Libraries' Catalogue. These volumes are currently stacked in trugs throughout the Gibson Library waiting for new records to be created so that each book to be allocated to the appropriate new record. As a preliminary to this, Peter Walker has almost single-handed, listed all the items on spreadsheets, the information from these being the first essential stage to creating the new catalogue records! The speed at which the new records can be created is governed by the availability of County Library staff, but with luck the books will be attached to new records and back on the shelves by the end of June.
The Library Consortium
The Library Consortium is comprised of several library authorities from London and the surrounding counties, and it is intended that Essex County Council Libraries will join the consortium in April 2021. the consortium will have a single catologue, that will enable readers in all member libraries to borrow from a combined book-stock of some six million items. This may pose some problems for the Gibson Library if its books are lent outside Essex, and we are currently waiting for clarification on how these problems might be resolved.
The pandemic has highlighted the value of the work that is done by all our volunteers, and we hope to start inviting them back into the Library when it is safe to do so. Essex County Council requires all volunteers to watch a short video on safe working practices during the pandemic, before restarting. In addition volunteers will receive 'refresher' training as appropriate, or when requested.
Changes in Library opening hours, have threatened to reduce the amount of time when we can bring volunteers into the Gibson Library, and also the amount of space available for them to work in. Fortunately, we have been able to negotiate with Essex Libraries to take over the staff office, as a volunteer workroom. This has required the creation of a new smaller staff office in the Corn Exchange by the County Library, which our retired committee member and former architect John Ready has overseen. As usual he has worked tirelessly on this project to bring it to fruition. It will take a few months before we are able to properly furnish and equip the volunteer workroom, but we intend to start using it as soon as it is vacated.
Lastly, I would like to thank the Society Officers, President Bruce Munro, Secretary Gillian Williamson and Treasurer Peter Walker for the efficient way that they carry out their roles, and committee members Bruce Tice, Barbara Hughes, Ben Cowell, Charles Reese and Howard Newman who are informed and helpful at all times. Without their support it would not have been possible to negotiate our way through the problems of recent months.
It is the support of the committee and the commitment of our members that convince me that the Gibson Library will be back in action soon.
Chairman, Gibson Library Society, April 2021
Return to the AGM 2021 page.