Changing horizons

Much years. So change. Sniff. 

I have left the place where I worked for the past (almost) 27 years and I have started in a new place of work. It’s the same employer that I had before, but I’m in a new environment and a new building, with many new colleagues. I will return to the old place a few more times over the next three months but then that’s it.

I’ve never been in this position before, leaving a familiar place after so long. When I left home to go to University it was exciting with a little trepidation thrown in, but home was still going to be there to return to if I needed it. I left University with fond memories of the place and the life but I looked forward to entering the world of work.  I’ve moved job a couple more times, changing county and country, with the same mixture of regrets and excitement. But none of those previous moves felt as big a deal as this week’s uprooting from one place to another place.

In the end there were no tears, just an orderly frenzy of packing, tidying up, and making sure the ex-library space no longer looked like it was a library service. More sweat than tears.

Our crates being taken away.

My old office, emptied

I will lift mine eyes unto Mill Hill

I started at Mill Hill on 27 November 1989. My first ID card featured this old polaroid photo, taken on my first day at Mill Hill.

My photo ID in 1989

I remember that the Institute seemed full of strangeness and unfamiliar smells (particularly the pungent materials used to clean the cork floors). The Library environment was more familiar and I quickly found my feet.  On my very first day someone came along wanting an online literature search carried out (in 1989 this was a big part of my job). I was happy to find that the systems used in this Library were the same as I’d been used to in my previous job so the mechanics of getting online and carrying out a search were straightforward.  Less familiar was the subject matter – I’d been used to running searches for clinicians in a hospital and now here were researchers wanting molecular biology and immunology searches. It stretched me, but I found I could be quite elastic.

There was no internet. Email was a rarity (not to say an eccentricity). Journals were 100% printed. The online searching that I was responsible for was the most advanced service available, but CDROMs were soon to open the way to end-user searching. This led to me becoming a trainer – running search skills sessions. I quickly found my way to JANET, and new ways of connecting to people and information. A flood of new information was coming, from the internet. This was a fascinating new challenge, and kept me busy for a while.

The Library, on the fourth floor of the building, commanded fine views. On one side were green fields, on the other  suburbs and hills that just obscured most of central London. When I looked out of the window to the southeast I could see, peeping over the hill, the Post Office Tower and the NatWest building. To the southwest I could see the old Wembley stadium building. In between was the ridge of the North Downs, and on fine days you could see the Mole gap.

Today the new Wembley stadium building, with its big arch, is visible to the southwest, while several new towers are visible on the horizon to the southeast, evidence of London’s high-rise boom. The Mole gap is still there.

The Mole gap, where the River Mole cuts through the North Downs.

Natwest Tower, Gherkin, Walkie Talkie, and others

The Shard

Canary Wharf towers

But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in Crick

My first day in the new building was 30 August 2016. There are no funny smells – everything is clean and the building is air-conditioned. My new photo ID leaves something to be desired, but at least there is no moustache this time.

My new photo. I look like I’ve been in the sun or had a few drinks.

After a welcome talk and obligatory safety and security talks I settled in to unpacking, putting stuff away, and sorting out IT and comms. The latter are more advanced than I’d been accustomed to and offer more possibilities for flexibility.

It didn’t take long to feel at home. My immediate colleagues have moved with me from Mill Hill, but we are now embedded within a much larger group of people.  I’ve met many of these new colleagues several times already, and have visited the building several times too (in various stages of completion). There’s no sudden change in my duties, so I have just picked up working on what I’d been doing the previous Friday. The open plan office design is different from what I’m used to, but I’m able to switch off from the surroundings and zone in to focus on what I need to.

Over lunch on the first day I met with two computational biologists – one I knew from Mill Hill, one I’d not met before was from the Lincoln’s Inn Fields site. We had an interesting chat about open access, ORCID, PubMedCentral and pseudo-repositories (e.g. ResearchGate). I look forward to more such conversations.

It will be a few more months before the Institute is complete – with all the research groups in the building and everything arranged as it should be. About two-thirds of my role is clear and defined but my challenge now is to define the remaining one-third. I need to reach up and see over the horizon again, to find the right direction for Information Services at the Crick.


About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we move further from print to electronic resources to open research, and become more embedded in research workflows.
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