Farewell to Gerry McKeever and Alex Deans

This week, I have the sad task of bidding farewell to postdoctoral research fellows Gerry McKeever and Alex Deans. Gerry leaves the Books and Borrowing team to take up a Lectureship in Modern Scottish Literature at the University of Edinburgh, while Alex returns to the University of Glasgow to work on a research project very close to his heart – on travel writing in the eighteenth century. While we are very sorry indeed to see them go, we’re delighted that they are both moving on to good things. And this is au revoir rather than goodbye – we’re looking forward to working with both Gerry and Alex on co-authored publications arising from their research on the Books and Borrowing project and to other fruitful collaborations in the future.

We are enormously grateful to both of them for their hard work and dedication to the project. The presence of Dumfries Presbytery Library, Aberdeen Theological Library, Wigtown Subscription Library, and several of the St Andrews University Library’s registers in our system are due to Gerry’s tireless work photographing and transcribing those records.  (Gerry discusses Aberdeen here, Wigtown here and St Andrews here , for example) He discovered two new registers of the Wigtown Subscription Library at Broughton House, and was instrumental in setting up our new partnership with the National Trust of Scotland. His supervision of project PhD students, Cleo and Isla, has been enormously valuable, and all those who attended the Glasgow workshop will bear tribute to his organisational powers. It has been wonderful to have Gerry as a co-speaker on Books and Borrowing panels at academic conferences and symposia, as well as more public-facing events, such as our salon and workshops. Gerry organised our team day out to Abbotsford, and will be much missed as the co-ordinator of the Books and Borrowing Secret Santa scheme! I don’t know whether we’ll miss his erudition, expertise and intelligence, or his lively sense of humour, more.

photo of the Books and Borrowing team in Sir Walter Scott's library at Abbotsford
The team at Abbotsford

Alex’s work has focussed on the photography and transcription of the very difficult records of Westerkirk Library (discussed here, here and here), and on those of Chambers Circulating Library (discussed here) . Early on in the project’s life, Alex organised our very first public engagement workshop, with Innerpeffray Library, and then went on to organise two further workshops this year, both with the National Library of Scotland, based on the work he has been doing on the Chambers Circulating Library. Alex also worked closely with Brian Aitken to produce the wonderful Chambers Library map (the interactive map can be viewed here), and he too has been a brilliantly knowledgeable and erudite speaker at our workshops, and at conferences and symposia held elsewhere. Alex’s quiet intelligence and common sense have always been intensely valuable to us in team meetings, and he’s been a wonderfully reassuring presence throughout the project. His unflappable nature is a great gift, and we’ll miss him terribly in the next years of the project.

Though the Books and Borrowing team is a bit like the Hotel California – I’m not sure either of you will ever really leave…

I’d like here publicly to record our thanks to both Gerry and Alex – and to wish them well in their new endeavours.

In the words of Robert Burns,

Adieu! a heart-warm, fond adieu!

Robert Burns, ‘The Farewell, to the Brethen of St James’s Lodge, Tarbolton’, in Poems, Chiefly in the Scots Dialect, p. 228, National Library of Scotland, https://digital.nls.uk/74571604 . Reproduced here under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence, 4.0.