Remote Work: A Chance for Reinvention

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS

Before 2020, many of us may have daydreamed about working from home: no alarm clock, no commute, flexible schedule. The reality, however, isn’t always rosy and presents its own challenges. Those of us who were new to remote work (and remote learning) agreed that it was fine (at first) to be house-bound when schools and non-essential businesses closed in mid-March. But then two weeks became two months.

And we wondered, “Where do work and school begin and end?” We struggled with our sense of time and place, sleep and wakefulness routines were thrown out the window, and then there was the “COVID 15” weight gain from those comfy clothes combined with too-easy access to the kitchen.

As an introvert and homebody, I definitely enjoy my solitude, but quickly found that I needed a bit more stimulation and structure….and a decent chair. Though I was quite pleased with all I could accomplish on a 10-year-old laptop with a hotspot for Internet, I was elated when I eventually went back to work on-site.

The COVID-19 pandemic persists, and a return to more lockdown measures may be looming. It helps to be prepared. PC Magazine has lots of great tips on how to work better from home, from getting organized to creating comfortable and functional workspaces and perfecting your videoconferencing presence.

This year, reinvention has been key. We have all had to figure out how we can still do business with as little human contact as possible. In libraries, there are striking similarities to obstacles we have long faced, and worked to overcome as individuals. Libraries constantly battle barriers to access: inclement weather, building issues, and outages to power or telecommunications. In the face of those challenges, we do everything in our power to stay open. When plan A fails, we run through plans B, C, and D before finally making the determination we can’t open the doors of our buildings at all. So it has been this year with the pandemic, and we have been forced to find new ways to adapt and serve our patrons in the absence of in-person visitation.

Before 2020, virtual library resources were more of a companion—an enhancement to what we offered in person. Suddenly, our online presence went from the backup plan to the spotlight and became absolutely essential to maintaining a connection with the community.

Libraries have long championed their abilities to transcend physical walls and this year we have taken that to whole new levels. From virtual storytimes and book clubs to YouTube channels and Instagram accounts, the speed with which libraries adapted to virtual programming is astounding. Most of us saw stay-at-home orders start in March. WebJunction compiled this list of programming activities in April!

And, as usual, librarians were ready to share their social media successes with their colleagues on Public Libraries Online and virtual book club tips on Programming Librarian.

Hopefully you’ve been encouraged as patrons have embraced their online accounts, placed holds, taken advantage of e-books and other e-resources, used curbside pickup, and tried make-and-take craft projects. These are great ways to connect with those who may have difficulty visiting us in person, for any number of non-COVID-19 reasons: mobility issues, lack of transportation, parking woes, conflicting work schedules.

Convenience services such as these will likely be the new normal. Dedicated areas /entrances for specific things such as holds pickup may continue to be a good idea in the post-pandemic world, just to help people navigate their busy lives.

Virtual conferences and professional development have taken the place of far-flung conventions and centralized meetings. We can now connect with our colleagues and vendors in new and exciting ways. Without the travel constraints and caps on attendance, more of us are able to take advantage of more opportunities than before. Even within our organizations, the use of meeting software has become commonplace. And have you noticed, these virtual meetings seem to be much shorter and to-the-point? Look for the silver lining!

Technology is great, when it works. This year has revealed the skills gap and infrastructure gap. What is meant to be the great equalizer has divided the haves from the have-nots, whether it be know-how, hardware, or bandwidth.

Nine months into the pandemic, we are all struggling. Any semblance of normalcy is gone, and this has wreaked havoc on all aspects of life. Fear, depression, and isolation are running rampant. And the catastrophic effects on the economy, small business, and jobs will be with us long after the darkest days are in the rearview mirror. Not to mention the loss of loved ones to the virus.

However, libraries are uniquely positioned to come out of this stronger, and with a lasting reach, as we have historically been there for individuals in crisis. As Fred Rogers was quoted as saying, in times of disaster, “look for the helpers.” Libraries help.

For further reading: Libraries and the Coronavirus

Stephanie Campbell has worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.

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