Librarians Phasing in a New Normal: Part 1

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

September 29, 2020

Whether you perform your job through teleworking, working from home, or on the front lines, your life has changed dramatically since mid-March 2020. Let’s look back at where we started from in the early days of March and recognize how we continue to adjust to our new normal and routines.

You are probably working from home, yet that space that was once an escape from the busy, hectic world of work. Home was a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the office, the constant interruptions, the phones, e-mail dings, and background noise. 

Looking Back

In the first days of ‘sheltering in place’, meaning at home under COVID-19 restrictions, our living spaces were filled with noise, with spouses and children, parents and relatives, and pets of course. Working spaces were carved out. We co-opted kitchen tables, living room chairs, the bedroom, or any spare space that wasn’t inhabited by someone or something else. 

There was the shock and scramble to get faster internet speeds and to install and learn a host of new software and apps on laptops and mobile devices. There were security protocols and the need for more robust VPNs for secure, proprietary work. There was the realization that the printer was inadequate, or there wasn’t one at home where you needed it. If you were depending upon your local library or office supply store for copies, they were closed. 

For many, those first days were quite an adjustment from “OMG, I have to make my own coffee” to “I have to make my own meals!” From “how do I help my clients” to “what happens next?”

Yes, the first days were tough, but you adjusted. It might come as a shock that the emotions you were feeling, along with the pandemonium, are part of the grieving process. You aren’t in mourning for a person, but for yourself, your comfortable routines, and the quotidian actions that are part of your life. Now they aren’t. These changes came in a flash, with a bang, and a lot of fear and panic. 

None of the changes made to your work life were voluntary. That’s all part of the grieving process.

First steps

Working from home means your concept (and the appeal) of personal space has changed dramatically. For many, it changed overnight, within the blink of an eye. One day you were in the office, then you received that phone call or memo or email to pack up your personal stuff, your laptop and electronics, and take them home to work for an unknown period of time. Probably a few weeks or a month. 

As you packed up, you were likely in shock. It felt like you were fired, yet you had a job to perform the next day or on Monday, without the support and ever-present collegiality of your fellow workers and office mates. 

Many questions went through your head. 

  • Where will I sit myself down to work? 
  • How will I work when my family, kids, pets, are in the same space? I need privacy and I don’t have a door to close or a second room to settle into. 
  • What about income? Will I still be employed and get a paycheck in a month? 
  • Will I have enough work to keep me busy, to keep me employed? Will I have a job to go back to?

There were other questions or issues that went through your mental checklist. Internet access? What’s the speed and is it going to work efficiently? Do I need a VPN? How do I connect? Video conferencing? Really? My equipment is old enough I don’t have a camera or mic, will the office give me equipment? 

The next morning when you woke up you are plagued with other questions. Do I really have to work from 8 to 5 if I am at home? Can I work different hours? Does lunch count? Can I go to the bank or the grocery store? When will I fit that in if I’m home? Do I have to dress for work? Will anyone know what I’m wearing? 

Fortunately, though your first steps were wobbly and you were trouble-shooting for a few days, you’ve wrestled with these questions and found solutions that work for your institutions and your mental well-being. 

Five Months and Counting

It’s now five months and counting and you’ve started to adjust. It took a while. Here’s what you’ve accomplished. Take a minute to recognize how you’ve adjusted to the new reality. 

  • You figured out how to keep from distracting yourself with social media and e-mail. 
  • You learned how to balance work and life and kids and pets and grocery shopping and everything else. 
  • You found a quiet place to work in the house. And now, and now, you are looking at working at home for ‘forever.’ For an unknown period of time that was okay when it was temporary but now it may be permanent. 
  • You have a better idea of what you need on a daily and weekly basis to be productive. 
  • You have a better handle on your work day and week and are comfortable working ‘alone.’ 
  • You’ve got video conference check-in meetings, group chat sessions, and better support for IT problems, and are on top of your productivity. 
  • You’ve got a better handle on work / life balance with some exercise and meditation thrown in.

Now it’s time to lay a new baseline for productivity and sanity.

Looking forward

It’s pretty clear from initial experiences of “reopening” businesses and universities that the next six months are going to be a combination of the same and a bold attempt to reshape work and learning environments.

Now is the perfect time and opportunity to reshape the concept of work, the concept of schooling, and education. Take a hard look at how your work flow functions, the dynamic between work at a desk in an office or working pod to working from home with virtual meetings and online collaborative efforts. 

Take the opportunity to evaluate and re-conceptualize how to meet the needs of your patrons. You already:

  • Streamlined work routines developed over the past five or six months. 
  • Confirmed through dogged determination that “just in time” delivery of information works, that remote access to online resources and reference materials is efficient. 
  • Recognize that our clients ask more difficult, more complex questions—continuously challenging us as information professionals to be on top of current research trends, new technologies, and innovations.

Now, look forward to reshaping your work, dissemination and distribution of information, and satisfaction in work delivered in an efficient manner.

Summing it up

It’s time to accept that the “new normal” is what part of the evolution of work and life in the midst of this pandemic. You’ve established a work and life balance that is the key to self-care, a healthy life, and satisfaction in a job well done. 

Looking forward, there are many opportunities to reshape work, reshape the delivery of information, and to jettison routines that are cumbersome and out of date. Let’s move forward and embrace the changes coming at us.

Part II of Phasing in a new normal will focus on “Where are you going—or rather, where do you want to go?”

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam B. Kahn, MLS, PhD provides education and consulting for libraries, archives, corporations, and individuals. See Miriam’s pieces for Lucidea covering library technology and skills and strategies for special librarians. Refresh your knowledge of Lucidea’s flagship ILS, SydneyEnterprise, here.

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