Friday, May 15, 2020

libraries and the age of anxiety

These days, my social media feeds are rampant with worried academics. And the worry is real as colleges and universities begin furloughs, across many departments and corners  of the institutions.  I've felt uneasy, especially since so much of my job, as it's currently defined, depends on access to physical collections and the business of keeping doors open. (Collections which are inaccessible at the moment and doors which are shut for at least another month or so).  I'm torn on wanting things to get back to "normal" and this strange state of "working from home" that is not altogether unappealing for someone like me.  Moreso than a return to my work environment, where we are discussing a host of approaches to be safe and limit contact, I worry largely over my reliance on public transport and how safe that is as we come back into the world.  On the other hand, being back in the library would ease my fears about my own indispensability should things linger into the red zone for the college this fall. Our particular department has long been bare to the bone--mostly because folks have left for elsewhere and not been replaced--but who knows what happens long run as colleges revamp their priorities and as libraries change to accommodate virtual learning and depend less on physical collections? Or if colleges decide they don't need libraries at all?

In terms of work, there is plenty of it even without those physical collections, though I worry what value other's find in some of it--and if it's enough to save my head when furloughs or cuts come along. Over the past few years, my responsibilities have grown tenfold. What started as simply processing the reserve collection turned into a lot of programming and exhibits stuff (my favorite parts of my job) but then also supervising and processing ILL, then later, some equipment set-up things, then some random clerical tasks after a co-worker went on medical leave in January.  Much of the latter half of those duties fell away with the quarantine--there are no events that require mics or projectors or other random set-up details.  Processing physical ILL's has paused, both borrowing and lending. I am useful in that I can track down electronic materials that other libraries are willing to lend, mostly for faculty, but these are pretty light in traffic (compared to physical lending). Since we gave up actually housing electronic reserve  materials a couple years back and now only help prepare and offer guidance on fair use and such,  there is not much reserve collection usage or processing happenings, though we are purchasing more e-books when we can now and into the future.  There's a lot of cleanup and summer reserve weeding  business, but only a fraction of it is possible working from home. We are getting a new operating system this summer, and a chunk of my time has been perfecting my knowledge of that. so we are ready to go when it's live.

In terms of programming, as I laid out plans in my article, it's gone relatively smoothly and I've learned and tried a lot of things that might still be useful, even when we're back, but engagement still feels low. It's not surprising, given that students are adjusting to upheaval, and it's hard to play creatively now for a lot of us.  I plan to continue some things into summer--zine Mondays, our Book to Art Club, another fun little project me and some staffers hatched.   So much seems lost, but also so much opens up new possibilities. Still I worry.  Worry if it's enough.  Am I doing enough?  And in the most anxiety loaded moments, begin to freak out and make lists of more things I want to do, but even here, don't have nearly enough time or energy to do them.  Somehow, some days still get swallowed whole in trivia. We spend a lot of time recently in zoom meetings,  mostly hriring, which we are still try to make happen if the college allows it, which are draining.. Also, some prep and practice runs for the new system eat some of my time, though both these things should be lessening as we get closer.

Still, in the quieter, less hectic time at home, I have had time to work on some things that get de-prioritized usually in the chaos of a given day--writing projects and grant applications, new endeavors (my cohort yesterday suggested perhaps a return of the Artcache adjusted for pandemic times.)  So there is something to be said of this pause-I am not spending a significant percent of my day amid book returns and purple I-share bags, or chasing down items upstairs,  So that adds some extra more creative time for things that will be good to have done in the long run, especially as we come back to an uncertain future. I'm not sad those things are not in my day, but it nevertheless makes me anxious that they are not. If those tasks are dispensible in the new world, then aren't I just a little?  Even though we still work on revised job descriptions and pay raises, interview new people for ILL & Equipment positions, all good signs, still I worry.    In my less angsty moments, I dismiss it as ridiculous. .  In the bad moments, I am terrified.

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