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Chief Librarian Ed Jewell: Five things I've learnt about Jersey in the pandemic

Chief Librarian Ed Jewell: Five things I've learnt about Jersey in the pandemic

Friday 27 November 2020

Chief Librarian Ed Jewell: Five things I've learnt about Jersey in the pandemic


Chief Librarian Ed Jewell runs one of the core hubs of Jersey's community.

Whether it's students looking for a quiet place to study, a sanctuary for bookworms or somewhere older islanders can surf the web, the library has brought people of all different cultures and backgrounds together in one space.

Like most communal spaces, during the first wave of lockdown earlier this year the library was closed. It has now re-opened, with plans for a new branch library at St Brelade Communicare centre too.

In this piece though, Ed tells Express just what the experience of the pandemic has been like both on a personal level, and as someone who has had first-hand experience of the island's community efforts...

Our island is rich in its natural diversity

Counter-intuitively lockdown gave opportunities to explore, with the precious two hours of out-door time rationed out carefully.  Once store-cupboard requirements were fulfilled the remaining minutes were used to explore further afield, striking out with a copy of John Mallett’s Discovering Jersey in my pocket to potter down green lane and bridle path. 

For someone who’s days tend to focus in and around St. Helier this was a timely reminder of the glorious natural diversity of our island, from countryside to cliff, beach to fallen-down bunker. 

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Pictured: Lockdown offered Ed a chance to take in the diverse scenery of the island.

The digital divide is as sharp as ever

It’s too easy to assume that everyone has ready access to the Internet, with smart phones, tablets and computers seemingly ubiquitous.  When we reopened Jersey Library on the 12 June the limitations of initially offering a ‘browse and borrow’ book service very quickly became apparent, as customer after customer asked to use the Library’s computer facilities.

While in some cases it was due to a lack of hardware and in others an inability to afford the data it was clear that for over three months some islanders hadn’t been able to contact friends and family or search for jobs.  Should we find ourselves in a similar position again we would endeavour above all else to keep the Library’s computers open.

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Pictured: Many elderly people were left without internet in the absence of the library during lockdown.

Many rely on the kindness of strangers

Since the early days of lockdown Jersey Library staff have worked on the Connect Me helpline, signposting islanders to practical local help they might need with finances, accommodation, shopping, education and health.  Some of the calls the helpline received were both shocking and heart-breaking.  The numerous older callers who were making choices between feeding their pet or themselves; the people deciding whether they could afford hot water or hot food; the woman who due to a clerical error was left with 50p to last the month.

Lockdown revealed how many people in the island rely on the work of the voluntary and community sector, with its associated services.  When lockdown prevented physical access to charities it became very apparent just how many in our community depend on them for hot meals, accommodation and company.

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Pictured: Jersey Library staff have helped those struggling during the pandemic using the Connect Me line.

Community is our superpower

Community is our superpower.  The speed with which the Community Taskforce rallied together to support those in need during the lockdown was breath-taking.  There is a great strength and richness of community spirit in the island, which I saw for myself when we recently advertised for volunteers to help deliver our Home Library service. I doubt the speed, agility and connectedness of this response would have been possible in a larger jurisdiction. We may be small, but we contain multitudes.

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Pictured: "We may be small, but we contain multitudes."

We sing loudly for our size

The silence of lockdown revealed to me how much I take for granted the richness of our local cultural scene.  While organisations such as Arthouse Jersey have created an amazingly diverse online offering I doubt I’m alone in yearning to return to a choir practice, to drop into the Arts Centre for a concert or the Opera House for a play.

It’s not simply that we are fortunate to have these great venues, we are also unique in the depth and breadth of talent we have in the island.  Come Spring I hope we may be able to sing again.

Arts Centre

Pictured: The cut in arts as a result of lockdown showed Ed how much he took the cultural scene for granted.

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