So I’ve been at this work from home thing a little over eight weeks now. At the start, I shared some details about how I was approaching the new reality by carefully structuring my days and keeping productive. I reread that post now and I can see how part of me was still in a bit of shock. The world had changed so quickly and yet I felt like I was in a slow-moving apocalypse.
Part of me still kind of feels like that. For all that my state (New York) seems to be past the worst of the first wave of the outbreak, it still feels very much like Winter is Coming. One by one, the universities in my area have fallen to furloughs and layoffs. The budget situation at my own university is…not pretty. We’re being told they’re doing everything they can to avoid job losses and I believe those who are telling us this but, realistically, it’s hard to imagine how we could possibly get out of this without some real damage being wrought to people’s job situations. We’ll see what happens.
In the meantime, now that we’ve moved from the early stages of this crisis to something that looks more like a middle stage, I thought I’d share some updated thoughts and reflections.
As always, I want to acknowledge that these reflections are coming from a place of privilege for all of the same reasons I’ve cited in past posts.
Fragmented days: So when I originally shared that one of my strategies for keeping productive was to create a structure to my day, I didn’t realize that somehow my WFH calendar was going to fill up with piles of meetings. Committee meetings, department meetings, faculty meetings, union meetings…it’s a lot of meetings. Some of these are just a means to stay connected while we’re all physically separated. Others are wrapping up necessary work that was started before the crisis set in. A few are focused on important updates about the status of things and strategizing for the future. Seriously, though. I feel like I have more meetings now than I ever did when I went to work every day. It’s driving me a little crazy, in part because I’ve discovered that it’s a lot harder for me to keep track of meeting times when I’m not in my office. And also because some of these meetings come with a certain amount of extra work. That’s always true of, say, committee meetings but these days my mental bandwidth feels more limited than it used to be. There are days when I get another packet of information to review or I’m included on a flurry of e-mails about some procedural issue and I just…can’t. I just can’t. And I say this as someone who only has herself to worry about on a day-to-day basis. I can’t imagine what a struggle this must be for my colleagues who have children and other family members to look after.
Boundaries: One of the big projects I’m working on right now is my first book, which I’m writing for ALA. I found out my proposal had been accepted literally right after we moved to working from home. As intimidated as I was (and still am) about taking on such a big project, it seemed like perfect timing. Like, if I was going to be working from home now, I might be able to focus a little more on my writing than I’m able to in normal times. Plus, I had plenty of time to actually write the book since, in naming the timeline for the project, I had erred on the side of asking for way too much time rather than not asking for enough. Still, even though I’m making good progress, it’s taken me some time to find my footing and I wish I was further along that I am. I just haven’t gotten as much done as I wanted to in the time frame I was hoping. Meanwhile, my colleague, who has a lot of experience authoring and editing books, is zooming along on a book project of her own and (somewhat jokingly) projected that her project, which is much more scholarly than mine, might be done by the end of summer even though it’s not due until next year. Which makes me feel even worse about my own slow progress.
Here’s the thing. My colleague is someone who does not limit the work day to set hours. Which is to say, when we’re in the office, she’ll be in the office only during certain periods of the day but she’s someone who takes her work home with her so that she can continue working on it in the evenings and on weekends. By doing this, she gets a lot done. Like, a lot.
I don’t do that. When I work, I work between set hours and then I put my work away and don’t look at it again until my next shift. No evenings. No weekends. Not unless I’m desperately, disastrously far behind (…or I have an evening or weekend reference shift, but that’s different). I’m good at managing time so I can do this and still be pretty productive but I definitely don’t get as much work done as my colleague. Maintaining these boundaries between work time and personal time has always been important to me.
And it remains so even though the actual border between work time and personal time has been blurred by the fact that my work now takes place inside my home. I’ve chosen set hours to be my “work time.” Those set hours are the same every day. When those hours are over, I stop working.
Could I get more done if I kept working? Could I get my whole book done by the end of summer if I devoted more time to it now? I mean, maybe. But holy crap would I be burned out by the time I got there.
No longer under the radar: With everything that’s going on, it’s become important for the library itself and therefore different departments within the library to account for how we are continuing to connect with and support our students through this time. In my department, we’re continuing to contribute to our library’s virtual reference service. Some of my colleagues are teaching online credit courses (mine ended just before the crisis hit). And we have a bunch of online tutorials and materials that faculty can use to help teach their students about information literacy in lieu of in-person one shot sessions.
Except those tutorials and other materials aren’t getting as much use as we would like. Truthfully, they never do but suddenly the number of views each tutorial gets matters a lot more because creating these materials is all well and good but if relatively few people are using them, we’re not really connecting to students as much as we could/should. That’s a potentially dangerous position to be in if and when it comes time to start making cuts.
So now there’s a lot of brainstorming going on as our university tries to decide which model of instruction to settle on for the fall (online, hybrid, or in-person). Our credit courses are already pretty much online at this point, so there’s no change there. But how do we promote our online materials and tutorials to increase their visibility and use? How do we translate our one-shot sessions into online environments like Zoom? How do we let faculty know the ways in which we’re still available to assist with research instruction even though we’re not in the library? What new ways can we find to connect with students and show that we’re having an impact on their learning?
I’m sure these are questions a lot of academic libraries are grappling with right now or will be soon.
Hopefully we can all find good answers.