I have been wanting to blog for weeks. I have several blog posts I started that I just couldn’t get through. My attention span reminds me of my son’s at age 5 when his teacher delicately suggested we should have him assessed for ADHD. It rapidly jumps between various tasks at hand, my family, my worries about the world, and my worries about the profession. I process my thoughts and feelings by writing and right now it’s so hard to do any of that. While I may be able to process things better and more fully at a later date, I wanted to get these thoughts out before I explode.
- It’s strange to have skills that are really in-demand at a college during a global pandemic. I’ve been deeply focused over the past month on being an instructional design/instructional technology support to my fellow librarians at PCC and to faculty I work with regularly who are new to teaching online. I’m now our library liaison to online learning and have set up some productive partnerships and some useful gains for librarian access. All the stuff I am doing now is seriously in my wheelhouse, so I’m having fun designing online learning experiences and finding ways to solve sticky online teaching problems. It feels really wrong to enjoy any of this, but here I am.
- I’m also in this weird space where I feel really good about the fact that I can be useful to my colleagues and to faculty and students who are new to online teaching and learning, but I’m also feeling a lot of white hot rage about how unsupported and scared my fellow library workers and I had to feel before the administrators decided to close the whole college. We felt like no one had our backs. While my commitment to my place of work feels deeply broken, my commitment to the people I work with is stronger than ever. And I’m struggling with the conflicted feelings all of that brings up.
- ALL libraries should be closed now and no libraries should be providing curbside book pick-up. They are not only potentially harming their staff and patrons, but they are not doing what is needed to prevent the spread for the greater good. It is unconscionable. #closethelibraries people!
- I have immense empathy for anyone who is leading a library through this challenging time, but I have even more empathy for workers who are being forced to work in unsafe conditions or who have lost their jobs (whether temporarily or permanently).
- The MOST IMPORTANT role of a manager is to support their direct reports. This is true all the time, but it was especially true in our current crisis. If you are/were not advocating for the safety and well-being of your direct reports during this crisis, you have failed.
- If you didn’t see your boss visibly advocating and fighting for their staff, this should tell you something. When people tell you who they are, believe them.
- I’m beyond disgusted by libraries that have simply stopped paying employees who can’t do their usual job duties online. If you really believe that your staff who only did physical library-bound work CAN ONLY do physical library-bound work, you are seriously underestimating your staff. I’ve heard about libraries that are giving all staff the ability to offer programming and are discovering many previously hidden talents in their colleagues. There are also probably a lot of tasks that are outside of some staff-people’s normal job duties that they are totally capable of doing. I’m busier than I ever have been since all classes moved online and I’m happy to delegate some tasks that I simply don’t have time for now to other colleagues.
- Also related to the “can’t pay people who can’t do their jobs online” argument: If you aren’t thinking of new ways that you can support your community during this difficult time and are only moving existing services online, you are suffering from a failure of imagination. Any manager that isn’t trying to find work their staff can do during a closure is failing at their job. My gosh, the emerging needs in ANY community libraries serve are enormous. There is SO MUCH your library could be doing — from helping people sign up for unemployment and find food, to helping educate and entertain kids, to supporting local advocacy and information-sharing and more!
- Business as usual is just not our reality right now and managers should support their direct reports in feeling safe not keeping up their usual level of productivity. It’s hard for many of us to let go of that without feeling like failures. I’ve heard very few library leaders acknowledging this, so even if they believe it, their employees may not know and may still feel pressure to put in as much effort as usual. We are all stressing about our lives, our futures, and the well-being of the people we love. Mundane tasks like getting food are now fraught with peril. We are mourning people and our ways of life. People who are caregivers are really not going to have the same bandwidth they used to. I wish this was acknowledged more by library leaders; we workers really need to hear it.
- I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist about my learning object creation and I’m really feeling very freed by the idea of “good enough.” I’ve made videos on Zoom rather than Camtasia (which means I can’t edit them), I used a Google Doc (which also doubled as a handout for students) rather than nice-looking slides for the synchronous session I taught today, and I’m using Google Forms to create interactive tutorials! It’s freeing to be able to make things without worrying about them being perfect!
- Parents: your kids’ well-being is definitely more important than their schooling right now. But your kids’ well-being is also more important than your work. Nothing I do at my job right now is as important as taking care of my son, supporting his learning/schoolwork, and being there for my family. With my workaholic past, it’s very tempting to lose myself in my work and my usual routine, but I’d be doing my child a tremendous disservice. Losing myself in work also feels like a great way to avoid the reality of what’s happening now; not the healthiest strategy. I’ve really been enjoying my time with my son!
- This crisis has highlighted the fact that ALL library workers should get education on how to organize for collective action. You might think you work for a really humane organization, but this crisis has shown some people that simply isn’t true. I did a bunch of organizing and collaborating with our (two) unions before the campus closed and it was hard, exhausting, demoralizing work. And I have quasi-tenure which makes it much easier for me to put myself out there in that way. We need to stand together, especially for those who do not have such privilege and job security. Even more, we need an organization that will fight for ALL library workers.
- ALA is not the organization that is going to fight for workers during a crisis. Some state library organizations seem better set up for advocacy (the Oregon Library Association has its own lobbyist and its leadership has been a strong voice at times while other state library associations seem more like social clubs), but still the focus is not on fighting for workers. It’s absurd that people like Callan and Alison and Violet and other individuals are organizing all of these campaigns to close libraries when we pay all this money to organizations that are supposed to help us! Something needs to change.
- While I have not been able to devote nearly the amount of attention to it that I’d initially wanted to, being part of the third Library Freedom Institute cohort has been a godsend. I come out of every meeting/lecture we have feeling energized, impassioned, and angry in just the right way. (Sadly, it’s been hard to turn any of that righteous anger into real action given my current physical and mental situation; the pull of zoning out and watching Project Runway or animal documentaries is real.) And I’ve been amazed by the ways that Alison Macrina has changed the course on the fly to really focus on the privacy/surveillance risks we are facing and how we can be useful during the current crisis. She is incredible!
- If you have the bandwidth, please consider putting some time and energy into advocacy and support — whether that’s for library workers who are being put in danger or are being laid off/furloughed, for the civil liberties and privacy of folks who tend to get shafted at times like this, or for people in your community.
- I also think it’s important to understand that a lot of people simply don’t have it in them to engage right now and I don’t think we should judge them. We have no idea what people are dealing with right now with their work, their home lives, and their own physical and mental health. Everyone copes with stressful situations differently. Comparing yourself to others (whether to feel superior or less than) is a trap.
- As much as I often have a negative relationship with Twitter, it has been such a space for support and advocacy in our library community recently. When I was looking for examples of letters written to administrators to close the library, dozens of people wrote back to me and shared their beautiful letters and tips. It was unbelievably helpful as I drafted a letter, shared it with our union leaders, and got my fellow library workers to sign it. I am so grateful for the support I’ve received on Twitter and to the support I’ve seen being given to other library workers. It’s such a beautiful lifeline right now for so many!
- I’ve been thinking about what it means that libraries that constantly have to prove their value and beg for funding are seen as “essential” in a crisis. And what does it mean when none of what is really seen as essential about the library is the librarians (just books, computers, and Internet access)? At my college, before it closed, the library was basically holding up their entire plan to move all classes online (they’d expected that students impacted by the digital divide would come to the library to do their schoolwork and even put it in their FAQs to students). And what does it say when those things are seen as more important than the lives of the people who keep the library going? It’s so demoralizing that I’ve found it difficult to process right now.
To my readers, I wish you safety, good health, and peace. Do what you have to do to take care of yourself and the people you care about. You’re doing great! There is no one right path toward being a good person, a good worker, a good caregiver, or a good friend in this crisis; stop comparing yourself to others, get over perfectionism, and figure out what works for you that leaves you feeling whole (not depleted). I’m thinking of you and wishing you the best.
Image credit: Solidarity from the Wikipedia