As the weeks and months of library closure add up… and our move back dates get pushed back for the health and safety of our locations, I think there is a lot to reimagine in how our services, buildings, spaces, and lives will be changed in that aftermath.
I’ve been sheltering in place since my library closed on March 15th, and sharing an apartment with my boyfriend who still works his 8 hour days in our spare bedroom. I haven’t seen any friends during this time, sparing a drive-by to a friend’s house for her birthday in early April.
When we go out, we wear masks and gloves and wash our hands compulsively after– I typically forget why I am counting and end up counting until 44 before I realize that I could have stopped at 20. We head to Costco once a month and a farmer’s market on a few Sundays and try to make do on whatever is in the apartment.
I am fortunate to be onboarding a new children’s librarian for the last month– probably one of our last new hires for awhile as my system and city is in a hiring freeze– and I keep trying to orient her to how life was at our branch and how it might look in an unknowable future.
I like to call myself a reluctant optimist– I don’t like being an optimist, but I can’t fight my nature to always see challenges as opportunities to learn lessons and gain skills. During this closure, we have all had to readjust to life as we knew it and when we start to go back in some way, we will see differences in our workspaces and interactions. And those differences will be hard for a new normal, but there are opportunities!
I work in a busy, urban system and as a result, we are normally understaffed and overstuffed with services for the public. There is so much that we want to do and try to do for our patrons, especially vulnerable populations. Libraries always try to fill gaps in services and community connections, and yet some of these gaps come at the cost of staff burnout or staff stress from call outs. We hear in the libraries that we need to do more with less, and then we constantly accept less and less help or support and it’s all part of the job.
As libraries across the nation try to relaunch— we have to think about doing less and doing it slowly. We have to prioritize the health and safety of our staff and patrons, as they begin to fill in the empty spaces of our buildings. We won’t just reopen like it’s March 16th and business as normal. Some libraries never fully closed or may have altered their services, but we all live in a new normal and will have a restart on services. We will need to adjust our hours, our numbers, our expectations, and our realities in response to this public health emergency for our patrons and our selves.
Now is not the time for MORE with LESS. Now is the time for MORE PPE, MORE Regulations on numbers, MORE Protection for staff, MORE commitment to science, MORE Admins on front lines, MORE Safety, etc. And as much as it might be different than everything we have ever done in libraries, now is the time for LESS face to face interactions, LESS in-person programs, LESS in-person services, etc.
If we live in the LESS for the moment, hopefully, we will gain MORE for a change. Like MORE staff being safe and MORE risks averted. In the meantime– be sure to speak up about your fears and concerns about reopening– we all feel worried and anxious, and these are shareable feelings. And be SAFE!