Tag Archives: COVID-19

Raining on Parades

23 May

Merriam-Webster’s “Word of the Day” yesterday (something I get in my email each morning) was the word “officious.” Honest, I didn’t know all of the meanings to the word. My initial thoughts were along the lines of something to do with official folks, and sure enough that IS a meaning. The unofficial meaning. But the official meaning is, “volunteering one’s services where they are neither asked nor needed MEDDLESOME.” And I have to admit, it is/was oh-so-appropriate of a word following my time at last week’s annual meeting of the Medical Library Association (in conjunction with the Special Libraries Association).

We met in Detroit, Michigan – a place I’d never visited beyond the airport – this year. Detroit is a city working very hard to build back, showcase, recreate its heritage as a place of invention, innovation, and inspiration in industry, music, and more. I’m really happy that we decided to hold our meeting there this year. I truly enjoyed exploring the city and would love to return for another couple of weeks to experience all that I could never see and do in a few days outside of the meeting. But I did get to a Tigers’ game, ate Buddy’s pizza, had breakfast at The Dime Store, tried MULTIPLE Coney’s (Lafayette being my favorite), sipped fancy cocktails at The Shelby (speakeasy), and more. AND I soaked up content from one of the best MLA meetings that I’ve attended in a long while.

Last year, we met in-person in New Orleans (like this year, a hybrid meeting) and it was great. I vaccinated in every way possible and packed my bags for the Crescent City fully prepared (and accepting) that I’d catch COVID. And I didn’t care. When else was I going to get to go to one of America’s greatest cities for a work event? When was I going to hear the amazing music and eat such incredible food? I weighed my pros and cons, did my risk assessment, did the math and came to the evidence-based conclusion of “Hell yeah!” I was going all in. And that sentence, despite its somewhat flippant tone, is the complete truth. After 2+ years of a global pandemic, following each and every swaying guideline, going to work in a medical school attached to a hospital both unvaccinated and vaccinated, I was DONE with that expletive virus. Yes, I know it wasn’t done with us, but in terms of everything we teach our medical students, when it comes to evidence-based practice, I was 110% ready to put my actions behind my teaching.

And I went to New Orleans and had an amazing time (can’t wait to return). The meeting was good and the culture of the city better. I won’t trade it for nothin’. Some attendees DID get COVID, despite everyone following the masking rules and other regulations put in place by the City’s public health department. But thankfully one of the requirements for attendance was current vaccination status and so while some people did catch the virus, no one got terribly ill. THE POINT OF VACCINATION.

A year later, we were set to head to Detroit. COVID is further behind in the mirror, thanks to global scientific efforts to develop vaccines. Are people still catching the virus? Yes. But the devastating death tolls are factually (very much) on the decline and life as we knew it pre-2020 is popping back up like crocuses in spring. And quite frankly, this is something to be celebrated. In each and every way. We are, as a global society, putting the pieces of our collective self back together.

And in this context, I headed off to Detroit, SO looking forward to attending a professional meeting in as close to “normal” sense as I’d known in the past 3+ years. It was a celebration of survival – physical, mental, emotional. We made it!

I arrived on Monday and slowly bumped into friends/colleagues (frolleagues). I shared some hugs, some laughs, some sort of difficult-to-describe elation at returning to normal. It was – AND IS – a moment of celebration and gratitude. As medical librarians, how can we not be grateful for the unfathomable efforts in science and healthcare that got us to today? Maybe we had a small part. Maybe not. But regardless, we got here. We watched biomedical research and medical practice – the disciplines that we support in our work – come together in perfection and deliver us a vaccine in record time. Despite politics, misinformation, crazy-assed everything, we are here today – a society that successfully addressed the pandemic and, despite countless losses, came out the other side.

And during the opening session of our meeting last week, with all of these thoughts and feelings built up in my heart and mind and spirit, I tweeted this:

It WAS wonderful. It was a celebration to be back together. It was a feeling of huge accomplishment – or maybe relief – that we made it through. We were still here.

But no sooner had I tweeted this that others on Twitter (known and unknown) felt the need to judge, to draw attention (to themselves or us, I still don’t know), to all-the-way-back-to-yesterday’s-vocabulary-word, be OFFICIOUS. Meddlesome. Offering their opinions and their advice, and quite frankly NOTHING asked of them, to my tweet.

Why? Because the attendees of this year’s meeting informed themselves of the current rates of COVID in Detroit, they informed themselves of the current guidelines provided by public health officials – local, state, federal, international. They opted to weigh the risks/benefits of attending. They behaved in manners that allowed them to do so as safely as possible (masking if needed, current on vaccinations). The fear-based judgement to my simple tweet of celebration remains a mystery.

Because my tweet was one of celebration. For all of the rightfully-so precautions that our society took over the last few years to survive a global pandemic, the same that linger even today in the negative, “COVID SPREADER!” responses to my tweet, the reality is that the social isolation caused by COVID was as debilitating as the physical toll. We human beings are social creatures. We NEED contact with others. Some surely more than others (count me in that camp – I take daily medication to keep my mental health in check), but bottom line, the saying is true: No one is an island. No human survives alone. We need one another. The mental health tolls of this pandemic are no less costly than the physical.

And so, yes, measure yourself and your situation; take into account your experience with the virus; take in the whole of your health – physical, mental, and emotional; and seek out the facts – public health data, group behavior, policies and practice. And then make for YOURSELF the best decision(s). Weigh the risks/benefits. Practice what you preach as medical educators.

And stop judging others when their conclusions do not match your own

I end this with a story that’s been on my mind since all of this started last week (because what happened on Twitter last week really did put a damper on what was a wonderful week). When I was home for Christmas break during my junior year of college, my mom died suddenly in a car accident. It was devastating to every layer of my being and it it sticks with me to this very day.

That spring, my best friend and roommate had plans to go to London with her mom over Spring Break. It upset me in all kinds of ways. I wanted to go. I wanted to be with my best friend. I wanted to not be alone.

I wanted to go to London with MY mom.

But that wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t possible. It was a fact of life. And when my best friend and roommate said to me, “I am going on this trip. I know your mom died, and you know how hurt I am for you. But my mom didn’t die.”, it was a moment of truth that I wish those Twitter naysayers could absorb.

We are struggling as a profession, as a society, as a species right now (except maybe in Florida or Texas) to reconcile being a people in existence that supports diversity and equity and inclusion. And all for the very best reasons. But to achieve such, we have to remember that life, in and of itself, isn’t innately fair. And we have to be able to accept our own decisions and limitations, in the same manner as we accept others. And/or vice versa. And please, for the sake of one another, learn to celebrate the good things in life. For yourself AND others.

Towards WE, Away from ME

1 Sep

I was speaking with my boss, the associate director of my library, today about an upcoming supervisors retreat we’re planning. Earlier she asked those of us attending for comments and suggestions to help plan the day – to make it a day we’d feel invested in. The deadline was yesterday and before the day ended, I sent her a note saying I wasn’t ignoring her request, but that I honestly had nothing. Nothing to offer. Nothing to add. No fun or engaging exercises I hoped we could do together. I’m usually very good at this kind of thing. I like retreats to spark and reinvigorate work. But I can think of nothing right now.

Perhaps I’m tired. Perhaps everyone is. The world seems tired to me. If you read or listen to the news, there’s so much anger and meanness, bickering and selfishness, war and strife, and a pandemic that simply won’t quit – or at least one that has left us with so many signals that things will never be what they once were. It makes me weary.

It also makes me sad. My boss said this morning, “It’s a kind of an ennui we’re experiencing.” She said, “ennui” but I heard, “un-we.” And I said, “That’s exactly what it is. UN-WE.” We’re a very productive library, ticking off boxes and accomplishing projects and providing services, but the further we get from March 13, 2020, the further we get from the collective sense of team – of “WE” – that I once took for granted. Our virtual and hybrid working worlds have not and do not take away from productivity, but they have taken something – something that’s not easy to log in the reference services database.

A few weeks ago I attended the annual Boston Library Consortium Forum. Once called “Networking Day,” this year’s Forum was the first held in person (with a virtual component) since 2019. Per the BLC’s announcement, it was a day “dedicated to uplifting and celebrating our community” and being together in person at the University of Connecticut did much to achieve this goal. The keynote speaker was Charles Vogl, the author of “The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging” among other works. He is a sought-after speaker on the practice of bringing people together; helping people to not feel disconnected and alone in life.

His talk was virtual (hmmm…) but engaging and insightful and funny. He also led us through some activities that helped people share honestly and openly about times we’ve felt alone, and during the Q&A time, he asked individuals to volunteer to share their stories and experiences with the larger audience. It was an excellent talk and the activities were helpful, personally. However, when I asked Vogl his thoughts on how we can rebuild community at work, I was sad to hear him jokingly say, “No one really wants to be friends with the people that they work with.” People laughed, but to me it was disappointing. It’s a serious question. Maybe we don’t look to find our best friends at work, but given the amount of time we spend working, it sure seems to me that we’d benefit from being a community. If community is about belonging, I believe we do better when we feel we belong at work.

I’ve heard from a number of people – from friends and colleagues in my profession, as well as friends who do very different work – that it seems there’s a trend where we’re all doing our own thing. Plenty of times we’re doing the things that we do well, but we’re doing them in our own silos, our own homes, our own pods. We’ve lost some of that collaborative spirit among colleagues.

I’m at a loss for what to offer for retreat planning, but I hope some of our work together helps us come up with some ideas and actions to address this. COVID affected and exposed so much in our societies. I imagine we’ll experience the fall-out for years to come.

Vermont farm with silos. Image by David from Pixabay

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.