Remember the day you started your new job as a Youth Librarian? Well, now many of us can re-live that moment as libraries slowly open back up and we try to figure out how to work again in the midst of a pandemic.
The staff at my library came back to work onsite at the end of May (not open to the public) but I was able to work remotely until earlier this month due to my lack of daycare. This meant I was in my little COVID bubble for much longer than my staff. I felt relieved to be able to stay home, even though working remotely with a 5-year-old comes with its own challenges and I felt guilty about not being there with my staff to brave this new world. Although I am the Youth Services Director and Assistant Director, I was out of the loop for most of this time. It wasn’t intentional, it was just an out-of-sight, out-of-mind kind of thing. I was working on website updates, and learning a new Summer Reading software, while my staff was learning how to function in an entirely new environment of social distancing and sanitizing.
When I returned to work this month, I was a complete ball of stress for so many reasons. I had been working from the safety of my home and now I would be with OTHER PEOPLE, having to remember to social distance and put my mask on before I left my office. And could I work for hours while wearing a mask? I worried about re-learning opening and closing procedures and curbside pickup protocol, even though I actually helped to write them. I was apprehensive about how staff would react to me coming back after all this time. (There was a good deal of tension during the months we were working remotely and I knew that there had been issues with me managing staff onsite while working from home.) The stress of reopening so soon after I started back was also a huge worry. I was convinced we weren’t ready – that I wasn’t ready – to open to the public and lose what little control we had over who was coming in the building. I especially worried about how I would adjust to my new-old life of going into work every day instead of rolling out of bed and onto my laptop, and also how it would affect my daughter who had me all to herself for 4 months.
Then there was my actual job, which for 14 years I based on the concept of getting people to come to the library, and was now kind of the exact opposite. In fact, it was sadly comical that our summer reading programs, purposely not online and based on patrons actually coming to the library, was reduced to online only for teens and paper bags with bingo sheets left outside on the sidewalk for kids. We spent years training patrons to return items inside during open hours if they were coming inside and not in the outside drop box. Now it’s the complete opposite.
Thankfully, a lot of my stress about going back to work has gone away since I actually went back to work. Go figure. I don’t feel like I’m a new employee anymore. Learning new procedures hasn’t been as bad as I thought. And being with other staff, and now a limited amount of patrons, hasn’t been so bad. Our patrons have been very supportive and are very happy that we are actually open. And I can wear a mask for extended amounts of time without suffocating or having any horrible side effects! Amazing! We have been lucky that no one has refused to follow rules about wearing masks, but I feel more prepared if that happens because it’s important to me to keep my staff and my family safe. And while my daycare situation is anything but easy, we are making it work until school starts… (that’s a whole other can of worms that I can’t really bring myself to think about right now!)
If there is one thing we librarians – especially Youth Librarians – are good at, it’s adapting. It’s what we’ve been doing this whole time. We plan programs that utterly fail, and then learn from our mistakes and try it again. We connect with different teens in different ways, always looking for that common ground to stand on. Even as I am typing this, I realized that my job has not actually been to “get people to come to the library” – my job is to REACH people through library services, even if it means they can’t actually come to the library. Right now, we are living day-to-day, uncertain of what will happen to our libraries, our jobs, and everything else. I know I’m just repeating what everyone else is saying, but it’s OK to be fearful and stressed about what’s going on. It’s a scary and stressful time! And yes, going back to work will be different because the world is different. But the library is still the library, in whatever form people need it to be, and I’ll keep calm and library on. 😉