28 July 2021
Behind the Scenes: Vaccine volunteers
Finding you just the book you need. Restoring a 500-year-old manuscript. Welcoming you to your new favourite exhibition. Our staff do some amazing things. And some have been volunteering their time to do even more: meet some of the British Library team helping to save lives and move us out of the pandemic.
The British Library building in St Pancras sits next to what is affectionately known as the Crick: the Francis Crick Institute for biomedical research. Scientists and staff across the Crick have set aside their normal work to volunteer expertise and facilities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and, since January 2021, 55 British Library staff have been volunteering at the on-site vaccination centre.
From registering arrivals to administering the actual jabs, each five-hour shift helps deliver the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine to up to 800 people a day.
Elizabeth, who manages commercial hire events at the Library, has transferred her organisational skills to co-ordinating the Library’s volunteers: ‘This has been an amazing opportunity for us to be doing something really worthwhile to help the battle of Covid! I was delighted to have been asked to help co-ordinate this – but the real stars are our volunteers who were so enthusiastic in their response. It has been a real privilege to be involved.’
The vaccination clinic is run by Middlesex University and UCLH, with volunteers from other organisations, including the Royal Free Hospital and Kings College London University, and Library staff have appreciated the opportunity to meet people working on the front line of the pandemic.
‘On my first shift I worked alongside people from the Francis Crick Institute and the Wellcome Trust – they’d been at the forefront of the Covid-19 vaccine work, so it was amazing to hear some of their stories,’ says Blerina, part of the team that manages the Library’s relationship with Government and Parliament, and co-lead of the Library’s climate change campaign.
For Dede, from our Visitor Experience team, ‘the best bit has been seeing the centre register and vaccinate more than 30 homeless people a day.’
Bianca works on a project cataloguing the Library’s huge collection of maps, cartographic books and atlases. She chose to volunteer because ‘helping other families made me feel like if I was helping my family in Brazil, sharing the load with my uncle who is a doctor and has been working as much as he can, helping create a safe environment for my brother to be a proper teenager. It felt like if people help everywhere, nobody needs to be left behind.’
Veronica is a book conservator, helping to care for and preserve the Library’s collection and enable continued access to it for researchers. Like Bianca, she had thoughts of her home country in mind when she signed up to volunteer: ‘My birthplace in north Italy was the epicentre of the first Covid-19 outbreak in February 2020. It felt important to try and do something. The Library gave me this great opportunity to help many people to get vaccinated and seeing their family again, so I seized it.’
Rosie works in our Sound Archive, clearing copyright on sound recordings and assessing them for sensitive material, as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project, which aims to digitally preserve and improve access to audio archived at the British Library and around the UK. She volunteers at the Crick in administration and marshal roles. ‘The element I love the most is being part of history, and this wonderful effort to drive the vaccination programme. I have felt quite helpless and overwhelmed by the situation we are living though, and this helps me feel like I’m doing something to counteract the difficulties people have or are facing.
‘It gives a great insight into the work of the NHS and the scientific experts in these tumultuous times. I’m proud to be supporting them in some small way.’