After the 2019 ACRL Conference, I wrote a guest ACRLog post about conferencing while chronically ill and the challenges I faced attending my first national library conference. At the time, I thought it was my responsibility to adapt to the conference setting if I wanted to be professionally active. After spending the last two years studying disability in librarianship and coming to terms with my own disabled identity, I realized that the accessibility of our national conferences should not be left up to the individual library workers with illness and/or disability. It is the responsibility of those putting on the conference to provide an accessible and inclusive experience. And while some aspects of the ACRL 2021 were indeed more accessible than 2019, it fell far short of providing equitable access to disabled librarians.
On face value, an all virtual conference is much more accessible for me. I live with Hypermobility Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), fibromyalgia, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). I have daily symptoms that include musculoskeletal pain, chronic fatigue, and cognitive difficulties (also called brain fog). These symptoms make the physicality of national conferences almost unbearable: traveling to and from the city, navigating hotels and conference rooms, and being mentally engaged in session content and professional interactions. Not to mention sick time off to recuperate from the experience. Attending a conference from my bed with supportive pillows and a heating pad eliminates most of those concerns. I can easily rest when I get mentally fatigued and do not need to worry about crossing expansive conference spaces in search of the one quiet room.
It became apparent that accessibility was not integral in conference planning when the directions for presenters were released. All presentations were pre-recorded, and some had live Q&A sessions. ACRL directed presenters to use automatic captioning features to caption their sessions, first with Zoom (which they must have figured out doesn’t provide auto-captions for all accounts) and then using Google Slides. Unfortunately, as many people involved in accessibility know, automatic captions do not provide equitable access. They often lack correct grammar, punctuation, differentiation between homonyms, or clarification on technical terms, jargon, or proper nouns. It is not difficult to learn of the inaccessibility of auto-captions, as even a quick Google search – well within the expertise of academic librarians – shows years of criticism for auto-captions on sites like YouTube.
As a disabled presenter, it felt like captions were nothing but an afterthought in planning. Like late in the game someone asked, “Oh yeah shouldn’t we have captions?” and the planning committee threw together the easiest and cheapest option for them to do so. And despite the fact that sessions were required to be submitted almost a month in advance, there was no apparent review of captions. Captioning varied widely throughout the sessions. Some presentations (like mine) had edited, large-text, and easily readable captions that matched the recording. Others followed the directive to use Google Slides auto-captions, which were very small on screen and words appeared and changed as the presenters spoke, making it difficult to follow along. Then there were some sessions with no captions at all. And almost universally, the emoji buttons the platform so helpfully provided to engage with the sessions covered up captions.
Captions are an essential aspect of recordings because they benefit everyone. They make it possible for Deaf and Hard of Hearing folks to engage with the material, improve concentration for neurodivergent people and those like me who struggle with brain fog, and can help comprehension for non-disabled individuals. They should be the bare minimum for accessible practices, but ACRL’s half-hearted attempt at captions proved more difficult than helpful.
And it wasn’t just the captioning that made this virtual conference hard to navigate as a disabled librarian. The session recordings with a live Q&A played at a scheduled time without the ability to pause the recording. Trying to take notes and follow a condensed session was often overwhelming for my tired brain. I know other librarians with disabilities who stopped watching the live Q&A sessions all together, waiting until the recordings became available with a pause afterwards as it was the only way to stay cognitively engaged with the session. This, of course, meant they missed out on material since the live Q&As were not recorded. The conference platform also proved problematic when trying to use assistive technology. One of the panelists in my session had to turn off a screen reader to be able to appear in the live video Q&A. ACRL did provide live caption for Q&A sessions but only for people who requested accommodations, seeming to do just what was required to meet ADA requirements and no more.
By the end of the week, I was extremely frustrated with a conference I had assumed would be a pleasantly accessible experience. Despite the fact that ACRL included several sessions on disability, they did not appear to include library workers with disability in their planning. So I emailed the Conference Manager, Tory Ondria, expressing disappointment that the remarkably expensive virtual conference (attendance started around $300 for salaried librarians) somehow could not afford captioning services. Interim Executive Director of ACRL Kara Malenfant responded as staff was on furlough. I followed up with a list of specific questions as to the ways accessibility was part of the 2021 Conference planning process:
What specific accessibility concerns did you evaluate when choosing a platform? Was an accessibility audit performed?
Was ensuring accessibility largely left up to the chosen platform?
Who from ACRL oversaw accessibility concerns and testing for the conference? What experience with accessibility and/or disability do they have?
Why was a platform that (presumably) did not include captioning chosen?
The auto-caption directive for presenters seemed like an afterthought. How early into planning for the virtual conference were captions considered?
What research, if any, was done into captioning options? Why was auto-captioning, despite being far less effective than correct, added captions, chosen?
In a broader sense, how are library workers with disabilities included in the planning of ACRL conferences?
I expected to get a response along the lines of accessibility was left up to the platform or maybe which portion of the planning committee addressed accessibility concerns, both of which I considered bare minimums. But unfortunately, I was shocked to find that ACRL could shatter my already low expectations. Here’s the response to the above questions I received, in full, shared with permission from Kara Malenfant: “Thanks, Katie, for your helpful and detailed questions. They can certainly help shape reporting to the ACRL Board and our Conference Committee as well as inform work going forward on improving accessibility for future events.”
That was it. No attempt to answer any of my questions. When I asked if there was anyone else who may be able to answer my questions, I was again told that “[W]e learned a lot from our experiences. Things were not perfect, but we did try.” And yet, I received no details about how they tried beyond live captioning accommodation requests. Nothing about how the conference platform was chosen or the session accessibility standards. Only statements about how they will incorporate my concerns for future conferences.
I went into this conference knowing that library organizations provide virtually no support to library workers with disabilities. After all, my panel was titled “Who’s Missing from EDI Advocacy?” and it highlighted the ways ACRL does not support disabled librarians beyond including them in blanket EDI statements. But ACRL 2021 was not only disappointing, it was demoralizing. I received confirmation that the organization that spouts the importance of an equitable profession addresses accessibility as an afterthought. I feel dubious about the effectiveness of any ACRL EDI efforts because the roots of ableism, like racism, are embedded deep in white supremacy culture. Disability intersects in innumerable ways with other marginalized identities. How can we be growing more inclusive as a profession if part of those identities are completely ignored?
I’m left thinking about a friend’s tweet: “Why do library orgs act like disabled library workers don’t exist?” To go a step farther, why should disabled library workers engage with and give money to professional organizations who do nothing to support, protect, or understand us? How can we ensured our lived experience and knowledge will still be shared outside of an inaccessible professional community?
“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill
Today marks the end of our school year at Prairie State College, and the end of my first school year as an academic librarian. In the meantime, I took an online instruction course that emphasized reflective writing. Therefore, as an ACRLog FYAL blogger and in the spirit of reflective writing, I would like to reflect on my first year.
In the beginning of the school year my daughter and I were wrapping up our fourth trimester. She was the only one in the house who was well rested and my husband and I were bleary eyed and foggy. I have ample events that I did things, but I don’t remember doing them. Fast forward a couple of months and by late October, early November she was sleeping through the night.
It took about a month for my brain to work again and I have a better recollection of the end of the fall semester than the beginning. With remote work, regular communication to faculty and students was critical. To accomplish this I picked a number of modalities, hoping that one would “stick.” We now have a monthly faculty newsletter (which apparently are trendy again?), a blog for students with practical tips on how to navigate college, regular social media posts, events (currently done online), and a book club. I attended a number of webinars and a couple of conferences virtually. Between austerity measures at Prairie State and the fact that I’m nursing, I was able to attend these events because they were virtual. My hope is that even after the world is a little safer this will still be an option as it removes some boundaries to conferences.
As far as my role as an instructor librarian, I think my first year went about as well as it could during a pandemic professionally. I’m proud of the work that I have done and think that I have laid a solid foundation for the next few years of “new normal.” (Whatever that means.)
As was evident from many of my entries, personally I struggled. I should say that I am in many ways privileged and even with this, it was a tough and scary environment to launch into my new career. I knew many people who got sick and one who died. We had one COVID-19 scare and have been tested multiple times. I’m not the healthiest person and I was petrified to find out what would happen if I got sick. What would happen to my daughter? My vaccine has given me reassurance and the littlest bit of freedom. My fear though is that we won’t take any lessons from this time and will simply move on as though nothing happened. This brings me back to this Winston Churchill quote. This is the end of the beginning of both the pandemic and my new career. The work continues.
As I logged into the ACRL 2021 Virtual Conference Opening Keynote, I was excited and nervous for the conference. I didn’t know what to expect. Would I find new and inspiring ideas? Would I find old and tired conversations that I’ve participated in over and over again? Would I find the virtual format engaging? Who would I be hearing from? How difficult would it be to find non-dominant voices?
My recent focus in research has primarily been on critical librarianship, information literacy, and open pedagogy. These subjects were well represented on the calendar. And, in the actual sessions, I found perspectives and conversations that were entirely new to me. Now, this isn’t true across the board, but the virtual conference allowed me to watch other sessions if I didn’t find the discussion in a given session to be meaningful.
From the opening keynote with Tressie McMillan Cottom and conversations about information and platform capitalism, to a deconstruction of imposter syndrome by former library pages, I found many of the new perspectives to which I was exposed to be helpful and well-grounded in a critical theoretical framework. The critical perspectives brought by the presenters helped me to articulate some of the challenges that I have been wrestling with recently: feeling gas lit by higher education conversations focused on productivity rather than recovery and healing, an alarming preference for surveillance of students rather than connection with students, and the continued omission of critical anti-racist approaches from conversations about progress. Luckily, I haven’t felt this in my library specifically, but I have found the broader discourse in higher education to be discouraging, especially since the start of the spring semester.
In addition to McMillan Cottom’s keynote, the session with We Here, “Systemic Oppression Requires Systemic Change,” highlighted specific instances of racism and oppression in librarianship. Recently, I’ve often felt as if I am blindly gesturing at these issues on a strictly theoretical level. For the most part when I speak about the systemic racism of libraries, I get a few nods, but more blank stares. The presentation underscored that there are concrete and present manifestations of white supremacy in academic librarianship, and it is not strictly an obscured, ominous force that is difficult to uncover. While many conversations about anti-racist work have died out since the summer, this presentation encouraged me to continue seeking anti-racist organization within librarianship and without.
I walked away from the ACRL Virtual Conference with new ideas, a handful of lesson plan sketches, and a re-assurance that I am not the only one trying to have conversations about critical librarianship. In fact, the ability to quickly move between virtual sessions allowed me to find something that really felt like a community. I only wish I had the opportunity to build more connections with that community. At future ACRL conferences, whether virtual or in person, I am excited to find ways to intentionally build relationships.
Last April, some ACRLog team members reflected on how things were going in our respective libraries. At that time, we were in the very early days of the pandemic and had no idea what was ahead of us, or for how long. Now, over a year later, we’re all still navigating an uncertain and stressful landscape. We thought we’d pause to reflect again for an updated view of how things are going where we work.
What’s the situation at your institution, at the time of writing?
Alex Harrington: All our students are back, although instructors may be using more remote work than they used to. College of Medicine employees are encouraged to continue working from home if they can. There are temperature-checking iPads at the entrance, but nobody is posted there anymore to ensure that people use them. Our library hours were cut and I think they’re going to stay that way, but it wasn’t a drastic cut.
Emily Hampton Haynes: The campus is open to faculty, staff, and students only. As a community college with only a few main entrances, it’s easy to manage access to the campus through two designated screening areas. Most of our classes are fully online, and about 25% of classes meet on campus (prioritizing classes that have an in-person component, such as science labs, art studio, and nursing classes).
In the library specifically, we work a rotating shift schedule where only one person from each department is on-campus at the same time. For example, I’m on campus for 4-hour reference shifts Thursday evenings and Friday mornings, and the rest of the time I’m working remotely. In the last year, about 95% of the info lit classes I’ve taught have been online, synchronous instruction through Teams, with some tutorial videos and a handful of in-person classes. Teaching through a mask is no joke, I don’t envy those who have to do it every day!
Jen Jarson: We don’t have many students on campus at this point. Most classes are still happening online this semester. Some classes have in-person components that bring students to campus–a few classes that are regularly scheduled to be fully or partially in-person and some that occasionally require students to come in for exams or particular learning experiences. Our campus doesn’t have any residential facilities, so while students are welcome to come to campus to make use of spaces and resources, they are rarely just incidentally hanging around. As a result of all this, traffic in the library has been very low. Our library space is open, but on a reduced schedule because of COVID protocols related to staffing (although there isn’t demand for more hours given the very low on-campus traffic). Our information literacy instruction program is entirely online–and working quite well that way, thankfully. Same for reference/research consultation. Our institution is still requiring that we quarantine returned materials and we have restrictions in place regarding accessing/borrowing print materials due to our agreement with the HathiTrust to enable their Emergency Temporary Access Service. So collections-related services (like physical course reserves, a big deal for us) have taken the biggest hit, I think.
Maura Smale: Our campus is still mostly closed — there are two buildings that have some face to face classes, mostly in the allied health departments and a few other hands-on lab classes, with probably less than 10% of students coming to campus this semester. The library is within a complex of 4 connected buildings that aren’t open to students, and our space is still closed. We’re still providing all library services online, including 100% online instruction and reference, and haven’t yet started accepting returns of or circulating print materials; our textbook reserve collection, which has historically seen heavy use, isn’t available. Some library faculty and staff are coming in to work in our offices on a voluntary basis, mostly for the change of scenery (that’s definitely the case for me, and I’ve been working in my office one day/week).
Veronica Arellano Douglas: Our main library remains open, but with limited hours, while our subject libraries are open Monday-Friday only, again, with limited hours. My colleagues in Access Services are the people keeping the building open, while a few folks from other departments come in once or twice a week to work on tasks that can only be in the building. My department, Liaison Services, is still working from home. The university’s Spring semester classes just ended, making the campus seem even quieter than it already was earlier in the semester. Most classes were online this spring and that will continue to be the case for the summer session.
What do you anticipate the Fall will look like for your library?
Maura: As of this writing my university (the City University of New York) is aiming for 25% in-person instruction in the Fall, with each college making its own specific plans. I’m really hoping that CUNY will require all students who will be on campus in the Fall to be vaccinated (and honestly I’d prefer that requirement for employees, too), but there’s been no decision on that yet. For CUNY a big concern is public transportation — nearly all students and employees travel to our almost-entirely commuter colleges on subways and buses, and many folx are still understandably hesitant to return to mass transit. At my college it’s likely that the majority of face to face courses will remain in the two buildings that are currently hosting classes, and it’s not clear yet what parts of the buildings where our library is located will be accessible to students. In the library we are moving forward with plans to begin circulating print materials again (grab and go); instruction and reference will stay fully online in the Fall. It seems unlikely that we’ll be open for study space or computer use (there are other computer labs on campus that will be open), though our plans may change over the Summer as (hopefully) more of NYC is vaccinated.
Jen: At this point, my institution is planning to return to pre-pandemic levels of in-person instruction. (Of course, that’s dependent on the status of the pandemic at that point.) It’s unclear how social distancing guidelines will be revised, though. If the guidelines stay at 6 feet or are only partially reduced, we won’t be able to accommodate that many in-person classes given limited classroom sizes at my campus. Those decisions will impact how many students are on campus, but either way we’re expecting to expand our library hours back to normal, or near-normal. We anticipate that mandates to quarantine returned materials and other restrictions on collections will be lifted, so we’re excited at the prospect of restoring our physical course reserves service which so many of our students count on. We still have a lot to figure out–our information literacy instruction program, our space, our staffing schedule, and more–because so much of that hinges on what expectations the university sets about distancing and other COVID-related guidelines.
Veronica: Honestly, I have no clue. Right now we are very much in an information vacuum. Being a public institution means that so much of our administrative design making is based on state-mandates and given the governor’s propensity to open everything it seems likely we will be on campus in the fall barring no major changes in the medical situation (which is a huge unknown). We’re trying to plan space arrangements within the library and our classrooms and encourage faculty and librarians to continue to use online lessons and online synchronous instruction. In some ways my biggest fear is that we will just go back to work as it was pre-pandemic, having changed nothing about the ways in which we accommodate worker needs to create safe, healthy work environments. We’ll see, I guess.
What have we learned during the pandemic that may enrich our work practices as we transition toward a time when in-person, on-campus engagement is more common?
Angie Rathmel: There’s been very deliberate attention to this question at my campus, which aims to resume mostly in-person learning this Fall. My library colleagues noted how successfully we have collectively been able to provide our services, even with the majority of our workforce remote. I supervise a unit where remote and onsite work during the pandemic split out at about 85% – 15% respectively. This small but essential in-person staff presence forged unofficial leadership channels, required a more deliberate communication style, and created a distinctive experience of collective trust. All of these I think can enrich our practices as we are more increasingly together in person. One would think these successes, combined with the practical and technological efficiencies and productivity gains, would lead us to normalize remote work in ways we haven’t previously. But I’m discovering how counter that idea runs to the prevailing notion of “returning to normal”. I’m still trying to reconcile this disconnect, but feel strongly that enriching our work practices requires us to do more than overlay these lessons onto a former normal. The lesson that I feel we need to keep learning through practice is the awareness of how our decisions and actions impact others.If we were to practice more generous thinking as we try to answer this question, it might look less like “what did I learn?” and more like “what did I learn about your experience that was different than mine?” or “How did my experience shape yours and vice versa.” See also “how can we best support one another…”
Hailley Fargo: As a librarian who helps to host events and workshops outside the classroom, the pandemic really pushed me and my colleagues to think more intentionally/strategically about what events we could support in an online environment. We worked more closely with student clubs and offered smaller scale events like zine workshops. It allowed us to learn more about the student pandemic experience and host events where every participant was really jazzed and excited to be there. I hope we can take this lesson and bring it into a more hybrid and or in-person situation. It’s nice to be able to focus on meaningful outreach while also coming to a better understanding of our student community.
Veronica: I’ve learned how important childcare, eldercare, and other kinds of full-time caregiving (which includes K-12 school and caring for adults with special needs) is to all of the work that we do. Without it, our work is extremely difficult to impossible. My biggest hope is that we start to pay caregivers what they are worth. Secondary to that, I’d like to continue to see flexible scheduling for all employees who are caregivers and parents, who suffer from illness, who have disabilities, and who need the kind of flexibility we’ve had this year to do the kind of work that keeps our libraries running. I take a break from work everyday to pick up my son from school at 3pm because there is no after-school care in a pandemic. When we get home I fix him a snack, get him set up with something to do or watch, then I go back to work. This would never have happened pre-pandemic, but what will happen post-pandemic? Will I still be able to pick him up and continue my work at home everyday? 3 times a week? Once a week?
What practices do you want to keep when you return to campus? What do you want to leave behind?
Alex: I very much want to continue to work from home some of the time. The extra time in close proximity to my cat and the ability to get up and do a housework task in the middle of the day (so I don’t have to tackle it when I get home) has done wonders for my mental health. Certain work is easier to get done at home. Also, in March 2020, we implemented weekly check-in meetings on Monday mornings, to update the rest of our location’s library employees on important matters, and to make sure everyone is doing generally okay. I think we should keep them, because it connects us and makes sure nobody misses important information or deadlines, and gives us a chance to share the good and the bad.
I won’t mind leaving behind virtual-only instruction. Some workshops and orientations, I just do better in person. I like to walk around, gesture a lot (which gets cut off by my webcam), and see reactions to my jokes. (I fully support turning off your camera if you Just Can’t Right Now, but I also feed on laughter and need to be validated while I teach.)
Want to keep: The slower, contemplative pace for planning instruction. The creativity and problem-solving of making online learning materials. The awareness and respect for colleagues’ and students’ lives outside of the workplace.
Want to leave: The isolation from my coworkers, the confusion and hurt feelings from all-virtual communication, the two hour Teams meetings with no stretch breaks.
Jen: I agree with what my colleagues are noting here about compassion and flexibility. Additionally, I’m grateful for the new techniques that teaching online has given me an opportunity to explore. I recognize that I might be an outlier here! I’m as Zoomed out as anyone, of course. But the challenge of trying to engage students in the online classroom has actually helped me think about how to revitalize my in-person instruction, too. I definitely plan to sustain (and hopefully grow) some of the techniques I’ve been using.
Maura: We were a 100% onsite all the time workplace before the pandemic, and I’m hoping we can keep some flexibility in all of our work moving forward. This is likely to be complicated by the different classifications that library workers hold at my university: we have library faculty, what the university terms professional staff, IT staff, and civil service staff, represented by two different unions. While of course we haven’t been able to offer every library service remotely during the pandemic, everyone has had work to do and everyone’s contributed to keeping library resources and services available for our patrons. I’m committed to advocating for all library workers to have the flexibility to do some work from home in the future.
I do look forward to seeing my colleagues in person again, and to having meetings where we’re all in the same room. I’ve tried to be very mindful about communication this year, not calling a meeting when an email will suffice, and not sending too many emails if I can help it. But communication has still been a huge challenge, especially considering all of my colleagues’ different commitments, with some folx more Zoom-bound than others. Once we all have a more regular presence in the physical library I hope that communication will get easier.
Hailley: I want to keep the boundaries I have been able to create between my work and my personal life (including hobbies!). I don’t know why the pandemic has aided so much in creating that separation but I hope to maintain it as we return to in-person work. Similar to Emily, I’m excited to leave behind the solo work; I’m so excited to run into colleagues in the library and have those spur of the moment chats that can result in a new idea or collaboration.
Veronica: I want to continue to offer virtual options for student consultations and classes. I think it meets a need we’ve always had as a large urban university where so many students and instructors commute long distances. It takes into account everyone’s personal needs and life situations.
How can we best support one another as we prepare for and navigate this transition back to campuses?
Alex: Flexibility in all possible ways. It is very important to remember that everyone is going to recover and transition in their own way, in their own order, and at their own pace. Communication, too, will continue to be key. This includes: asking others about their comfort level with certain procedures, letting people know where you are in the transition process, and expressing your needs and boundaries while hearing others’.
Angie: I keep thinking about how the pandemic has reinforced a practice for how our individual actions and responsibilities primarily protect and support others more than ourselves — my mask protects you and your mask protects me. Keeping this “other” focus in our communications, in our decision-making reflections, and in our individual actions is the best way I see to collectively support one another and collectively prepare to transition back to campus (or in any change, maybe).
As a sort of “other” when it came to in-person-work, introverts gained a level of ease and privilege in remote-work. Those who have been working in person throughout the pandemic (both introverts and extroverts) are now that “other” as the majority transition back. If we don’t provide opportunities to surface the nuanced needs of each“other” in all kinds of circumstances, we won’t know how to support or fully benefit from our learning. Creating space for both those shared and distinctive experiences could be a particularly healing act we all need right now.
Emily: “Grace” is going to be my refrain as we transition back to campus. We don’t know what Fall will look like at our community college yet — although administration wants us 100% in person, their decision will be based on numbers and recommendations from the county health department. So as of now a lot feels still up in the air. And that’s why having grace for one another is such an important guiding principle for me. What this could look like in practice:
Flexibility around arrival time – We’ve all gotten used to our 30 second commute, and transitioning back is going to be an adjustment. I’d like to see redundancy in scheduling for the first hour of the day, so that opening the library is not on the shoulders of just one person.
Social support for using vacation leave – I discussed this in my last post, but with the return of students and our old routines, PTO will be an essential form of self-care. I want my coworkers to know that I’m willing to cover for them if they need a break at the desk or a full day off, even when the semester gets busy.
Give each other the benefit of the doubt – I could see friction arising around sharing work space again as we return to campus. But let’s give folks the benefit of the doubt when they inconvenience us, or when a comment lands weird in an email or note left on the reference desk. I intend to not take things personally, to ask for clarification when I’m confused or hurt, and let the little things go when I can.
Patience with students – Sure, there are things that bug me about student behaviors in the library: students that wait til the last minute and stress me out with their urgency, ask me to do their homework for them, or make appointments and don’t show up. I want to extend them grace too, and remember that this will be a big adjustment for them as much as it is for me, after a year of profound trauma and chronic stress.
Maura: I am +1 on everything that my fellow ACRLoggers have said: flexibility, patience, compassion, and just overall emphasizing care in all of our interactions — with each other, with students and others on campus — is what I’m keeping top of mind as we start getting back into the physical library. I’m so proud of the work we’ve all done, we’ve all supported each other through this very difficult year, keeping safety at the forefront. And while I know there are many challenges ahead, I think we’re in the best place we could be to address them. I’m also going to continue to encourage my colleagues (and myself!) to use our vacation days — even if we’re not going to be traveling during the summer, I hope we can all take some time to rest.
Veronica: I think that we need to understand that not everyone is going to acclimate to post-pandemic life in the same way. Be kind and understanding to your colleagues, or as Emily put it, show them a measure of grace. Some folks might not be comfortable sitting in a small meeting room, others might not want to go to lunch as often, and still others may want to hug everyone they meet. Faculty and students will need time to adjust to in person relationships again and our virtual connections may start to suffer a bit. We will just need to remind ourselves that everyone is adjusting in their own way.
How are you doing? How are things going at your library? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
This guest post is from Abigail Gulya, Metadata Librarian at University of Pittsburgh.
I make a lot of choices throughout the day. Some of them are pretty simple. Will I have coffee today? (Yes. Many times.) Some of them are a little more complex. I have three projects, and all of them are due immediately. Which do I start first? I make a lot of decisions with a lot of choices and a lot of impacts, but one thing remains the same.
I’m so tired.
Decision: I’m tired of being tired. I wanted to find a way to experience life without my brain feeling like a moldy sponge. I needed a change. In my case I was good at my job, but decision fatigue was using up all my focus. Decision fatigue is what happens when you are forced to make decisions for a long period of time. The basic idea is that each of those decisions takes up energy and focus and as humans we have a finite supply of that without rest. So, in theory, if I could remove all the excess decisions around my tasks throughout the day, I would end the workday with energy to spare.
Next Decision: Decide how to fix the cycle of exhaustion. I love organizing. I adore productivity tips and tricks. My YouTube feed is full of people extolling the virtues of the newest thing guaranteed to help put every aspect of life into nicely organized boxes. Unfortunately, I love it a little too much. Sometimes I get trapped in a cycle of trying the fancy new app or method thinking “Yes! This will solve all of my problems! I’ll just redo everything and it’ll be pretty and the prettiness will inspire me to be Superwoman!” Spoiler: pretty color-coding does not magically fix your library’s catalog issues.
Next Decision: Ignore the shiny baubles and focus on getting a system that works. First things first, I had to gather all the tasks/plans/half-developed thoughts I had. After digging through partial bullet journals, online trackers, note-taking apps and not-quite-sticky-anymore notes, I had a metaphorical mountain of stuff to do. Gross. Now what?
Next Decision: Determine how I work best. Instead of forcing myself into someone else’s method, respect my own personality and embrace that. Next, notice where it’s lacking. For me it was priorities and dates. I hate them. They stress me out. My tasks tended to only get a priority when it was super urgent (which was all the time) so it was like having no priority at all.
Next Decision: Actually apply priorities, and add start AND due dates to tasks. It was tedious and applying them to my task tower was a lot of effort. But it was worth it. Something wonderful happened. I’d start my day by opening my project management tool of choice (ClickUp™) and my “to do” list was nicely lined up for me in order of most to least importance. Tasks that took more than one day showed up on their start day and I knew exactly how long I had to finish them. I didn’t have to think and didn’t have to decide which was more important. That work had already been done, I just had to execute the task. When I had to create new tasks, I would quickly put in its priority level and dates, and then go on my way knowing it would show up on my list when needed.
Because I’m not spending all my time deciding what I should do next and weighing the pros and cons, I’m able to devote my energy on the tasks themselves. Which means they actually get completed. That gives me a sense of accomplishment, which makes me happy and therefore safely removed from moldy-sponge-brain status.
Taking care to reduce unnecessary decisions from my daily routines has become a form of emotional and mental self-care for me. I hope that anyone out there who may be experiencing decision fatigue without realizing it can find some help and encouragement from my story. Amelia Earhart once said, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” I believe that most librarians are tenacious by nature of the job, so the Next Decision: is up to you.