Retrospective: Research in a Pandemic

Someone on Twitter asked, ‘What have you achieved this year that you’re proud of?’

DISCLAIMER (also posted on my Teaching Artist blog). It troubles me slightly that earlier in the pandemic, reading other people’s updates about all their achievements just made me feel guilty. All I was doing was working from home and keeping everyone safely looked after. Nothing heroic, nothing remarkable. I’ll be honest, my kneejerk reaction to such postings was a combination of, “come on, guys, do you have to?” and “well, I can’t be seen to be slacking here!” But the truth of the matter is that no-one fully knows other peoples’ situations – how much they’re struggling, whether they have caring responsibilities, or indeed, what their work-life balance is – whether they’ve chosen it or found it forced upon them.

Comparisons are Futile

I suppose the moral is that it’s pointless to try to compare oneself with other people. I’ve been in Glasgow nearly 33 years, still on the same grade, despite having gained a doctorate, a teaching certificate, and two fellowships. Written a book, published a lot, given plenty of research papers. Still – in terms of time allocation – more of a librarian than a postdoc researcher.

“You’re a bloody librarian, woman!”

I was once told, “You’re a bloody librarian, woman!” In the west of Scotland, the “I kennt your faither” philosophy – not allowing someone to forget their place or where they came from – is still alive and well, and if I’m on the same grade, I’m forced to conclude that my value has not increased. It’s very depressing.

Failed in the Eyes of One who Climbs Ladders

A former colleague once said that if one wasn’t moving jobs and climbing the ladder, then one was a failure. This philosophy favours men and people without children. I do admire people with ambition. I also admire and envy people who are less ambitious, but who are content with where they’re at. As for me, I’m still struggling with thwarted ambition, three and a half years before retirement! I should very much like to have moved jobs and climbed the ladder – anyone who thinks I’m unambitious, really doesn’t know me. However, I’ve raised three sons (who have benefited enormously from the Scottish education system, which is why we didn’t want to leave Scotland!) and I got those extra qualifications whilst working full-time. (Apart from statutory maternity leaves, I’ve always worked full-time.) If I’m a failure for not getting promoted – guilty as charged – then I do have a few good excuses. And I did recently get a Special Note of Commendation from my CILIP researcher colleagues, which was heartening.

Coast Downhill? No Way!

During the Covid pandemic, I’ve pushed myself to achieve as much as I could, because I didn’t want to find myself sliding towards an unwanted, age-related slowing down. I am not yet of retirement age, and I can’t bear to think that inactivity might see me slipping out of the research scene before I’m ready. So this is posted in the spirit of demonstrating that I’m still here, still research-active, and not yet ready to be written off!

So here goes!

Not everything is a ‘research output’, obviously. I stitched my lockdown journal, for a start. (I even made a video about it.) I learned the concertina, and I wrote tunes for it.

I broke my foot, baked banana bread, put on weight, and once my foot was better, I put myself on a diet and exercise regime to lose some pounds. I’ve made gallons of soup, and done 95% of the housework. (Two of the three of us are over sixty – and two are oblivious to housework or the absence of our weekly cleaner!)

But in terms of research? Working from home since March, I’ve benefited from a mostly peaceful dining room (albeit a thoroughfare to the kitchen), and gained my commuting time along with the new responsibility of cooking most weekday meals. The allocation of my time to library (70%) and research (30%) is unchanged. I’ve done my user education and made several training videos in my library role, and I love this side of it. But I fight a compulsion to answer library emails at any time of the day or night (even the day after Boxing Day) for fear of being considered unhelpful if I don’t – whilst research would swallow me up whole, without any resistance from me, if I didn’t occasionally get dragged away from it! I freely admit that I have absolutely NOT limited my research activities to ten hours a week. It makes me excellent value, but I’m reaching the point where I feel I cannot try much harder, and it won’t really make any difference to my career trajectory. If one can have a flat trajectory in the first place!

Quite apart from wanting to achieve “outputs”, I have tried to take the attititude that it is easier to attend a Zoom conference than to arrange for everything to run smoothly in my absence attending a “real” live event in a diffferent city.

So, how have I done this very weird year? I am not dissatisfied.


  • ‘The Cinderella of Stationers’ Hall: music (and metadata) in Georgian legal deposit libraries’ Catalogue and Index 201 (Dec 2020)
  • ‘A Music Library for St Andrews: use of the University’s Copyright Music Collections, 1801-1849’, in Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society no.15 (2020), pp.13-33. 
  • Romantic National Song Network blogpost, 9 Sept 2020, ‘Revisiting the Achievements of Song-Collector Alexander Campbell’
  • ‘The sound of forgotten music: Karen McAulay uncovers some of the great female composers who have been lost from history’. The People’s Friend, Special Edition, 11 Sep 2020, 2 p. Dundee : D C Thomson.
  • ‘Performative Silence in the Library’, Icepops Annual 2020: International Copyright Literacy Event with Playful Opportunities for Practitioners and Scholars, ed. Chris Morrison and Jane Secker, p. 32-33
  • ‘Library support to students on blended-learning courses: some thoughts on best practice’ (SCONUL Focus 71, February 2020)
  • Guest co-editor (and contributor) of Brio vol.56 no.2 (Winter 2019), dedicated to Claimed From Stationers Hall network-related writings.

PRESENTATIONS (whatever would we have done without Zoom and Teams?!)

  • University of Glasgow Scottish and Celtic Studies Department, ‘Alexander Campbell’s song-collecting for Albyn’s Anthology’ (17 November)
  • Traditional Song Forum, ‘Scottish song-collector Alexander Campbell and his ethnomusicological exploits’
  • EFDSS Conference, London, ‘All the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order’: musical resemblances over the border.’
  • CILIP Metadata Group Conference, ‘The Cinderella of Stationers’ Hall: Music (and Metadata) in Georgian Legal Deposit Libraries’

I’ve also facilitated an event for the Friends of Wighton, made a mini video presentation about my research for a Scottish research event …

… and made the aforementioned video about my stitched lockdown journal. I’ve done quite a few training videos with my library hat on, too, but I’ll spare you the details of those!

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