Moving to Remote Working

I have a new-found respect for my ancient laptop, having just moved to home working as part of efforts to limit the transmission of COVID-19.

I work in the Education team at The Bodleian, the library of the University of Oxford. We work with visiting schools, teaching about the collections and exhibitions. Like many organisations, in response to government guidance the library has closed to visitors (although online services remain available) and all staff who can have moved to remote home working.

Much of my last day at work was spent preparing for this. With a background in school teaching, I had not had much experience of this (schools generally like you to be with the pupils you’re teaching) but I brought my chunky laptop to work to set it up.

There are a plethora of tools to assist remote working, but the team chose to use those most readily available. To some extent this was determined by those acceptable for use within the university, but that did have the advantage of support from the ICT services team. I think this is an important point. There is almost too much advice on what tools to use, with plenty of opinion on which are the best. What matters, particularly when quick set up is needed, is those which are available and for which you have good support. So while the options we chose – MS Teams – was good for a team used to using Outlook and Microsoft Office applications, for a group used to using, say, Google applications it would be better to choose tools which integrated with that suite.

Old but still got it!

Given the age of my Toshiba 660 laptop, it’s obsolete operating system, limited RAM, and hard drive already bursting at the seams, I approached setting up with some trepidation, concerned that it would no longer be supported, or might just fall over under the strain! In the end I need not have worried. For the record (and to make me seem much more tech-savvy than I actually am) the process involved:

  • Installing Cisco AnyConnect Client (fortunately there was one available for Windows 7)
  • Connecting to a VPN
  • Mapping network drives I would need to access
  • Connecting using the appropriate security credentials
  • Downloading and installing Microsoft Teams and linking with the relevant work teams

That went very well at work. Admittedly, at one point I began to doubt that I knew how to spell my own name, let alone All the passwords I had to juggle (no, DON’T use just one!) and I did have to make one call to a very calm and collected IT services engineer (thank you) but generally it was much more straightforward than I had feared.

A pity, then, that when I got home nothing worked! I remapped the drives on the advice of colleagues who had similar problems, but it turned out to be an issue with the VPN pathway. When I sorted that it all came to life. Well, apart from having to reinstall the MS Teams app the first time I tried to use it. After that it worked like a dream; admittedly a slightly flaky dream where things judder a bit occasionally and there’s a slight delay in most actions, but things worked acceptably.

I didn’t find the MS Teams layout particularly intuitive at first, but once I got the hang of it, everything seemed to do what it was meant to, so we’re happily messaging and even doing video team meetings (sorry about the neon running top colleagues). I like the way it integrates with other MS features like outlook calendars, contacts and OneDrive.

I have to say though, what I’m most pleased about is the performance of my nine year old laptop, on its second battery, with it’s ten year old operating system and Office 2007 applications. It makes you wonder whether the shiny new hardware and expensive upgrades that are pushed at us are really worth it. A bit like me, there may be newer, slimmer models available, but there’s life in the old dog yet!

Loving our Libraries

A year of book borrowing rekindled my love of my local library.

Fond Memories

I have very fond memories of libraries. I loved the library at school: shelves of books and a canny librarian who could point me in the direction of the next author I’d enjoy and a book that might offer a step up in challenge. I recall being in some awe during a primary school trip to the public library in Chichester in the mid 1970s when I found a whole building devoted to reading (with not just half a shelf but a whole section devoted to sci-fi!) and such technological marvels as microfiche!

Later on I used this libraries for school work, as well as school and college libraries. At university in London I had membership cards for eight different libraries, some academic (favourite: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, with the ZSL library at Regent’s Park Zoo a close second) and some public (Favourite: Camden).

Later still, I would take my own children to libraries run by Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire County Councils, and share their delight in the magical world of books. I campaigned with others against the closure of the village library in Long Crendon, Bucks -it’s now run entirely by volunteers. Professionally I was fortunate enough to be in a position ensure my school could continue to support the development of our library in the face of worsening finances in education.

A Year of Library Loans

I suspect many people have similarly fond memories but, despite the affection in which they are often held, many libraries are having a hard time at the moment. In the face of funding cuts many local authorities have reduced library services and even closed libraries. Some schools can not afford a librarian or, in some cases, even a library.

One thing we can all do to help is to make use of our local public library (if we still have one). With that in mind, I decided last January to visit mine in Thame, Oxfordshire, at least one a month and take out a book or two. I’d fallen out of the habit of using the library, buying rather than borrowing books, and perhaps wary of racking up library fines because a busy life meant that I might not renew or return them on time.

I found that my dusted-off library card not only let me borrow books but enabled me to access my online account, search items, renew books using my phone (no fines!) and reserve and borrow ebooks and audiobooks as well as those old-fashioned paper books I love so much.

My account has also allowed me to look back over the books I borrowed in 2019 to see how well I kept to my resolution. I had read 33 books in all. This included revisiting a few old friends (such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre, The Player of Games by Iain M Banks, and Chris Mullin’s A Very British Coup), continuing to read some favourite authors (such as Val McDermid, Jo Nesbo, and Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series) and making some new discoveries – most notably Donna Leon’s detective novels set in Venice featuring Commissario Brunetti.

I was also able to finally read some books I had been meaning to for years including the Island of Dr Moreau by Jules Verne, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, and Death’s End, the final book in the Three Body Problem sci-fi trilogy by Liu Cixin. This included ‘filling in the gaps’ in the bibliographies of a few of my favourite authors such as John Le Carre (The Little Drummer Girl and The Russia House), Terry Pratchett (The Long Earth, with Stephen Baxter), and some of Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London series (October Man, Lies Sleeping, and Foxglove Summer) which I think now makes me up to date in the unpredictable life of Detective Constable Peter Grant.

As you can see, detective fiction and science fiction featured heavily, but I also read some science fact in the form of Franz de Waal’s excellent Are we Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, and biography with Gerald Durrell’s Encounters with Animals.

Over to you

So, if it’s been a while since you visited your local library, why not pop along? You’ll receive a warm welcome and you’ll be helping to secure their future for your whole community.

As for me, I’m very happy with how my year of library reading went. In 2020, perhaps I’ll try to extend that reading beyond the confines of crime and sci-fi, and I’ve just seen that as well as books, the library loans out micro:bits…


Bookshelf: pixabay

Reading: Rodger Caseby using Bitmoji