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Back in the Saddle (kinda)

18 Aug

Like lots of libraries – and many other kinds of businesses and work – my library closed to the students, faculty, staff, and public back in the cold days of March. We worked remotely beginning March 16 and stayed that way all the way up to … August 3. Just shy of 5 months. Even living through it, it seems surreal. Our doors reopened with limited hours, a skeleton crew, and a whole lot of new rules (we wait to see how well people will comply) to hopefully keep us safe and free from exchanging the COVID virus that’s ravaged our societies.

I got through the months at home by doing a lot of streaks – songs, doodles, walks, the NYTimes crossword puzzle. I kept busy with things for work, but honestly struggled with the routine of working remotely. I’m not really made for it. I like the connection aspects of my job. I like coming into work. I like separating work from home. That whole work-life balance idea? It’s hard enough to balance it in our usual, virtually-connected world. Add remote working to it and … MALARKEY!

I have a lot of thoughts about these things – a lot of concerns for the future of work, i.e. how it will happen and some of the new norms we’ll accept, thanks to COVID. But that’s for another post. I also have several posts gestating about some of the really terrific professional development opportunities I’ve taken advantage of over the past months, including the vConference of the Medical Library Association and FORCE 11’s Scholarly Communications Institute (FSCI). I look forward to sharing them here, too (sketchnotes included).

For now, I’m just a couple hours away from a mini-staycation, getting ready to monitor the LibChat service at the end of the day, and taking advantage of a quiet office space. I’m enjoying doing exercises in my new copy of “Observe, Collect, Draw!” by Georgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec, based on their wonderful book, “Dear Data” that came out a few years back. I loved their book and wondered how to ever come up with my own style for doing what they did. Fortunately, this visual journal is filled with exercises to help me do just that. I plan to have it accompany me on part of my staycation, for sure.

Longing for Home

2 Jun

I was in a supervisors meeting this morning and as has become the norm, we had some discussion about how and when we might return to the library after being away from there since mid-March. This is our new normal, to use a phrase that makes me just a bit sick to my stomach. Masks and tests and cleaning and spaced seating – all things to accept, get used to, plan for. At one point, my director said that we need to figure out who benefits from the library being open, as a physical space (because we’ve not missed a beat, in terms of working in this virtual environment). We think about our patrons – students, faculty, staff, clinicians. When and how do they benefit by reopening the library?

Upon hearing this question, I found myself saying, “What about me? I benefit from the library being open.” I don’t mean this selfishly. I’m not storming any gates or marching in the streets to protest the measures we’ve taken to control this pandemic, but that said, I’m tired of this virtual working world. The library – the physical place with my desk and my computer, surrounded by my colleagues, the cafeteria down the hall, the lawn outside, people milling about – I benefit from all of this. When you think about it, I’ve spent an awful lot of my life there. And it’s a life that I’ve enjoyed.

I can easily do the work that I do from home. I’m so very proud of the staff in my department, of all of my colleagues in the library, for how quickly and seamlessly we moved into this means of working. We have addressed every question, every issue. We’ve solved problems, taught classes, zoomed a thousand hours. We can do it.

I love my home, I love the slower pace of my mornings, I love starting my days with the NY Times crossword puzzle and my coffee. I appreciate doing my laundry whenever I feel like it. I like not taking a shower until the middle of the day, if I want. I enjoy taking a mid-afternoon break to walk my dog in the park. I’ve relished watching spring arrive – all of the baby birds, the baby bunnies, the plants blooming. I’ve been astounded by all of the neighbors I’ve met and spoken to. I’ve found a dozen different ways to nurture my creativity, to devote some time to it that I don’t always do when I’m in the routine of work. And I know how absolutely fortunate I am for my situation and I am most grateful for it.

All of this.

And yet.

I want to go back to work. I want to get up, walk my dog, iron my clothes, take a shower, pack my lunch, and head out the door. I want to sit at my desk, see the people that I work with, see the faculty and staff and students that I work for. I’m tired of emailing. I’m tired of zooming.

I want to walk out of work at the end of the day, drive down Shrewsbury Street, stop at one of my neighborhood pubs I enjoy, see friends that I know. I want to go to my guitar lesson on Friday afternoons. I want to play trivia on Wednesday nights. I want to enjoy being home on the weekend, because I’ve not been in my home all week. I want the boring, mundane, 9-5 work week back. I do! I miss it.

Typing this, I feel pretty petty, whining about all of this as my country seems to be coming apart at the seams. But I also cannot help but believe that there’s a connection to all of this. Whatever our “libraries” are – our work, our schools, our routines, our lives – they’ve all been disrupted. For months. Toss into the equation the horrible fact of systemic racism and a feckless, impotent, pathologically insane person in the White House and an evil-to-the-core leader of the Senate and of course we’re going to blow up. For every good and every wrong reason, we are going to explode.

So, yes. I want my library to reopen. For me. And I want yours to reopen for you, too. I honestly believe that we all need it. Now.

don’t sit your life

6 Nov

I have a print made by someone who went to the Maine College of Art with my spouse many years ago now. It’s worn around the edges and has holes in it made by the many thumbtacks that have held it up on the boards above my different desks. It’s a series of drawings – five in total – that run, left to right: highchair, toddler’s chair, table chair, lounge chair, and wheelchair. And it has the caption, “don’t sit your life.” The message, of course, is to keep moving. Sitting can kill us, so the research says.

I personally sit way too much. I’ve struggled a lot with my weight over the past few years, in large part because I don’t move enough. My job is fairly sedentary and as one gets heavier, it gets all the harder to exercise. Kind of a double-edged sword. Or a catch-22.

IMG_7937One thing I’m fairly consistent about, however, is the morning walk with my dog. It’s one of the benefits of having a dog. We get up each morning during the work week and take a half-hour to 45-minute walk through our neighborhood park. It’s a routine that I like very much and it’s the very first thing I do, Monday thru Friday. 

I’ve always enjoyed walking as both a form of physical exercise and also as something that improves my mental health. It helps me think. It clears my head. It lets me focus on things around me – weather, birds, trees, paths – rather than all of the thoughts rambling inside my head. 

Back when I studied exercise physiology, I was drawn to the connections between physical activity and mental health. Studies show that exercise benefits childhood development, improves cognition both in young people and adults, is effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety, and helps in slowing the decline of our cognitive functions as we age. Bottom line, exercise is good for our brains. 

I got to thinking about this more recently after hearing a keynote lecture by Lesley McAra, director of the Edinburgh Futures Institute at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The lecture, “Who or what are universities for? Reflections on the communication and use of scientific knowledge” was a stellar opening for FORCE19, held in Edinburgh last month. Screen Shot 2019-11-06 at 4.13.45 PM It was the last slide, too, her closing thoughts, that really impressed me. Quoting from the contemporary British author, Robert MacFarlane, she reminded us all that we live here now, following countless many who’ve come before us. And she asked us to reflect on how and why and what we do as we tramp along our daily paths during our lives, will ever be remembered by those who come along after us – thousands of years from now. Great question.

And as I stated earlier, I enjoy walking. Walking around the streets of Edinburgh, it was easy to be mindful of how long people have been roaming the planet. It is a city so very much older than any in the United States where I live. I walked along, thinking of all of the others who, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years ago, walked on the same roads. And when I got home from the meetings, I ordered Robert MacFarlane’s book, The Old Ways. The one that Dr. McAra had quoted from in her talk. I’ve been carrying it with me since.

Reading this particular passage, I got to thinking, again, about the importance of walking, the changes to libraries and the delivery of scholarly works, and how the two might be interconnected – and not necessarily in a good way:

IMG_7958

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert MacFarlane, pg. 27.

The convenience of information at our fingertips means that we can sit and type and search and find the article(s) we need, all without ever having to get up and walk to the library, or walk through the shelves. I’ve read in the past how the journal article evolving from something couched in-between other articles, bound up in a journal, to a stand-alone entity that you find and download (or read online), can have an effect. We risk the loss of those moments of serendipity – when reading something in a journal leads you to notice the article that comes before it, or the one a few pages away, and you make a connection that you can’t and won’t make when the connection is broken. Browsing shelves, one title can lead to another and another and our minds draw lines and create intersections and some incredibly creative solutions or ideas can occur. 

But more, is there not something else happening simply by our moving that helps to spark these creative moments? Does taking a break, walking away from a desk or a computer screen, walking to a physical library to seek out that article, can this be something we really don’t wish to sacrifice? Might our minds work better when we move?

One of our best contemporary singer-songwriters, Mary Chapin Carpenter, has spoken often of her habit of “song-walking” and how important it is to her creative process. Research and science and medicine are all creative processes, too. I’ve no doubt that if I asked researchers on my campus what they do when the get stuck trying to figure something out, any number of them would answer “take a walk.” Once upon a time, that walk may have been to the library or more, once upon a time walking to the library was simply part of a day’s work. And that natural pattern may well have nurtured some ideas and solutions, without them ever having noticed.

IMG_7919The floors of my library look like this today. We’ve been undergoing a renovation that will result in our collection being about 1/3 of what it once was. This isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself. It opens up space that students need for all kinds of study set-ups. It gives us a chance to think of how we can utilize our space differently. Better. It’s exciting. But it also makes me aware of what’s lost. The shelves of my library left footprints behind. And I can still remember what they held.

I need to take more walks to generate more thoughts for blog posts. I’ve missed spending time here.