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Some observations from the field a few weeks into “the new normal” . . .

April 7, 2020

I had intended to focus on information literacy for my first CRD post, but with the unprecedented changes necessitated by COVID 19, I’ll save that topic for another time.

For these past few weeks, I, like many academic librarians, have concerned myself with providing resources and services online ant reaching out to students and faculty as they scramble to teach, learn, and research, all using a new and hastily assigned playbook.  For me and probably others, the  most easily identified part of that process has been “skilling up” on various newly adopted tools.  For many of us, too, there is the remote location aspect.  Work from home, get familiar with some new software–how hard could it be?  I thought of my long list of projects that I typically chip away at, stealing ten minutes here, a half hour there.  It would, I thought, be so much easier to tackle.

After a week, I began informally comparing notes with colleagues.  After passing the two-week mark, I’m finding that I’m not alone in many of my experiences.  Sharing how it’s going has been cathartic.  The value in recounting is in providing an “early stage” platform for discussion.  The more venues to talk together in various groupings about how it’s going, the better.  And, I suspect, it’s a good first step in understanding how to best move forward.  With that in mind, here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Sitting for hours at a stretch at a computer is hard work and leads to a sore back. Like many other colleagues, I thought I just didn’t have a comfortable chair.  I felt a bit like Goldilocks, trying out my options, until I realized it wasn’t a matter of the proper chair–it’s getting up, stretching, doing planks or squats or walking the dog or washing a few dishes.

Sitting for hours (are you noticing a trend already?) at a stretch staring at a screen leads to headaches and eye strain.  Fiddling with the screen brightness, stepping away intermittently, or using inexpensive glasses that filter blue rays are all advisable to combat too much computer gazing.

Though there are less interruptions, it’s still difficult to get everything done. I thought I’d be SOOOO productive when encountering fewer distractions.  I’m getting a lot of work completed, but I’m not conquering my To Do List at the rate I’d anticipated.  The big lesson is that there will always be another task on the list before you get much crossed off.  And, of course, point-of-need service to patrons always comes first.

Skilling up requires patience, practice, and more practice. While I am determined to triumph over each new product designed to assist in delivery of resources and/or services, these last weeks have been humbling.  I appreciate a well-run (and patient) IT department and colleagues who are always happy to assist.

Loss of camaraderie and daily contact with colleagues makes for a very long work day. I knew my subconscious was up to something when I became fixated on having my dog show up for a small committee Skype meeting.  I really wanted to make my team laugh!  When another puppy showed up soon after (with several sets of hands visible maneuvering her into place and offering treats), I understood it wasn’t just me that needed some fun.  Another colleague opined that the serendipity of bumping into folks in hallways (en route to meetings, restrooms, lunches) was a loss of chance contact with people you don’t always work with; sometimes brief conversations led to discoveries of something new, a common interest, or a new approach to a situation.

There’s an emotional toll.  I’m worried about students, especially.   My university, like so many others, continues to work to address issues of food insecurity and homelessness.  Several new initiatives have been quickly launched to reach out and offer support.  The correlation of the spread of COVID 19 and social inequity is more and more apparent, distressing, and heartbreaking.  I’m doing what I can in this moment, but it’s increasingly clear that these efforts, though combined with those of many others, will likely be inadequate.

When I step away from the work at hand and think about the huge changes, I’m wondering how we are all doing.  While there are sure to be conferences, articles, webinars, and more offered about the various aspects of moving academic library resources and services online (in general or in specific circumstances), I’m most concerned that we don’t wait too long to debrief.  So consider this akin to a wave from a colleague from a virtual hallway: How’s it going?  I hope you are okay.

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