Low Expectations

That this isn’t what I planned has finally sunk in, as I suppose it has for everyone. I can’t say that I have found pleasure in this new, unexpected, routine. But I think I finally admitted that I have to lower my expectations. This is a fraught and nearly impossible concept for me. Just saying “low expectations” makes me mentally point out all the ways I am not doing as much as other people and need to to do more. My job is easy to do remotely. My kids are handling this situation well enough. I have a house with three floors and a backyard. But I find my to do list absolutely daunting, and find myself completely exhausted, despite doing very little.

I’m going to leave this here, because I just discovered that our campus data center doesn’t have power so we have no library services available online BECAUSE OF COURSE.


How am I Coping? Am I Coping?

I had everything planned. I was supposed to work remotely for a month while I accompanied one of my children for necessary medical travel that required some social distancing–a term that I didn’t even know existed until this week.

Then everything changed. We’ll need to go at some point for this necessary visit, but we don’t know when, and it was canceled with less than twelve hours notice. But basically, my scenario that I had planned for over the course of a year became everyone’s scenario.

The “funny” thing is that I faced a similar problem last year for the first round of this medical travel, when I had less than three weeks notice that I would have to work remotely for a month including flipping my class online. “I sort of know what to do, and can tell everyone else” I thought last week, even though I know that’s not true. I can tell you what went fine in my very specific situation, and what went badly, and it will be different for everyone. Plus then the on-going logistical puzzle got ahead of me, as it did for everyone. But here are a few ideas, that may or may not be helpful.

My class was on human computer interaction for digital humanists, so it truly couldn’t have been better for switching to be online. Everyone in the class knew how to use the appropriate technology (and were all very proficient in a number of platforms), and we could spend time talking about the experience and affordances of being online as legitimate class content. We had readings to discuss, but did it via Zoom, and continued our normal reflection essays and responses in Sakai. It wasn’t a crisis, so everyone could be in their own homes or come to the building to be on Zoom. I also managed to arrange one in person day (it was a nightmare of logistics) for our final presentations, but would have done those remotely otherwise.

The main thing that was a real problem was that we were supposed to have spent much class time the last week of class doing development and design time in class with a sort of pair programming method. I never quite worked out how to replicate that experience remotely, though I am sure it would have been possible. Instead I just spent a lot of time emailing answers to questions that would certainly have been easier if we were staring at the same screen. I think Zoom breakout rooms would have been the way to go, but it was too hard to figure out given my constraints at the time.

Now, let’s talk work. Last year because I didn’t have time to plan I ended up trying to do all my work that I already had lined up (it was a lot) while being a solo parent and remote worker. I decided that was unsustainable and meant I would simultaneously feel that I was always working and never working. As the last two days of full time work and full time parenting have indicated, this is still true. But now everyone is remote! And a full time parent! And all my go-to coping strategies are gone! (My coping strategies all involve being in large groups of people).

But I am still trying to more or less stick to my plan, and more importantly try to put the focused work on the focused times I have, and put more of the work that can be done in fits and starts while I am being a sort-of present parent. This means I am not even attempting a “normal” schedule, and I never intended to do so even when I thought I would be on my own with this whole remote work thing. I’m trying to track the allocations of time to the projects I want to work on the most during this time, and just keep a running of total of hours. If we assume a workday is something like 7.5 hours, I can aim for a certain number of hours per project, and complete that whenever I can. It will probably be a lot of very early mornings or very late nights. I made a pivot table. It felt like the right thing to do. I’m not really ok with the fact that the necessary medical travel is postponed, and I keep hoping that they will suddenly decide it can happen sooner. They won’t, though I hoped too optimistically for that in a version of this plan I created at first. This schedule takes me out to April 15, which is the day I was supposed to be returning to Chicago. Since schools will be closed until at least April 21, I will have to extend it, but presumably my priorities will be somewhat different by then, so I’ll revisit it at this point. I’m also giving myself 2 days off “for Passover”, though what that even means I don’t know.

Here are my results after two days. I am not counting time I spend answering emails, so it’s actually been a bit more time than this, but given that one of these days I was the only adult in the house, I think this is going somewhere.

Project Hours Budgeted Percentage Hours Spent
Meetings 15 11% 3.5
eCommons Daily Work 5 4% 0.15
Daily Technical/Content Needs 25 19% 4.25
Subject Specialist Work 5 4% 0.25
Drupal 8 Migration Planning 15 11%
Digital Platforms Testing and Planning 15 11%
Primo VE Migration Planning and Prep 20 15%
Library Journal Collection Development Article 10 7%
Development Catchup 10 7%
Privacy in Libraries Article Draft 15 11%
135 100% 8.15

We’ll see how this works! It’s not like anyone is going to ask to see my timesheet or whatever. I’m super fortunate in that regard. But it’s important to me to know that I am keeping focused on big projects that will still happen. Life in September won’t be the same as March. I have given up on certainty, but I know that much.


Some Library Intentions for 2020

One’s daily work can seem useless in moments of looming geopolitical crisis. I wrote in my journal the other day about some household organization that made me feel more calm that it did feel like shuffling deck chairs on the metaphorical sinking ship. Reading this article yesterday about a family trying to escape the Australian bush fires was a reminder that no matter what the circumstances in which one finds oneself, there are mundane facts of existence. Like the writer of the article, you may have a small child named Julian who likes Paw Patrol (I certainly do), and you will muddle through whatever crisis you are in, and either make it or not. (The author and his family do, of course!)

So when I found myself thinking back on 2019 and thinking to what I wanted to accomplish in 2020, it was hard to put what feels like a series of looming crises to one side and think about what was important in my daily work. In addition, 2019 was for me an extremely complicated year personally. Professionally it was full of exciting firsts. I taught a graduate seminar. I published a book, though the majority of the work related to that took place in 2018.

Yet, the same day I got my copy of the book I got a call with amazing news that nonetheless meant I had to upend my life for about six weeks. This is on-going, and means that 2020 will involve being gone from home for a month, though luckily with more notice this time so I am not doing anything in the spring semester that can’t be put aside for that month. While I wouldn’t call this a crisis by any stretch, it did make me feel much more inclined to focus on what I knew, and what was important. What is important? Well, for me as a librarian, it’s making sure people can do their own piece of all the work that must happen in privacy and security, and that they can get what they need to do that work.

Years ago I did research on our institutional repository and contacted Iranian researchers who cited work from the repository. They were doing research on English literature, and accessing resources from institutional repositories was really the only way they could get the resources they needed for work that wasn’t particularly well supported by their home institutions. Thinking about stories like that keeps me focused on the part of my job where I get to make work open access. That work is important when we need to increase connection between people internationally.

Now that I’ve been at this job for seven years, I have a bunch of calcified practices that need improvement. I have to do a lot, and I never seem to take the time to radically transform some of the infrastructure and methods for keeping all our stuff current and secure. Things are always changing, so it’s hard to ever declare that I’m not doing anything new for the next few months–but I am setting a lot of boundaries around the time I have to be gone, and choosing to spend that time on infrastructure and thinking about the practices associated with that. One major example is privacy. How can we streamline practices to ensure that we don’t have a lot of random old data sitting around? (It will be put in more scholarly terms in the writing that comes out of it.)

Writing is going to be a major focus of the next few months. I did very little writing in 2019, partly due to time, and partly due to needing a break after an intense writing year of 2018. I will slowly workshop some ideas here, and try to rediscover some joy in the practice.