The tree in Marty Kelley's Fall Is Not Easy was right; change is HARD!
Like that tree, I've had to make a lot of big changes this fall, and it has not been easy. It has been, in a word, overwhelming! I've been at my new job for two weeks, and it has been a huge adjustment on many levels. First, I had to pack up and move across the country, so I am adjusting to leaving my family and pets behind (hopefully to follow me out here eventually), a different climate, living at high altitude, a different culture, not being able to find the same stores or brands I used to buy, and living alone for really the first time ever.
The first week at work I was so completely overwhelmed with all the new information dumped on me all at once my head was spinning, having to learn not only the culture and policies & procedures of a new system, but having to learn all the new rules and procedures related to Covid-19 as I hadn't worked since the initial shutdown in March, signing up for benefits, a billion different new accounts with logins and passwords, codes for security, codes for the safe, a new ILS, different workplace culture, virtual programming, a new community, trying to maintain social distancing, working all day wearing a mask, wiping down every surface over and over.....
Probably one of the biggest adjustments has been getting used to working full-time as it has been a very long time since I worked full-time. For the last seven years I have worked part-time, and before that I was a work-at-home mom for several years and could set my own schedule. Plus, I had not worked at all since the pandemic shutdown in March, and had developed a bad habit of staying up really late at night and sleeping late in the morning. Working full-time has been EXHAUSTING! I do fine up until the last hour or so, then I completely crash by the time I get home. Of course, having to work wearing a mask all day and adjusting to living at high altitude doesn't help.
I don't know how people get anything else done when working full-time, much less complete an MLIS. Many props to those who have/are! By the time I get home, fix myself some dinner, and clean up the kitchen, I am beat and have maybe an hour to relax before I have to get to bed, and by then I am way too tired to read or do anything other than veg in front of the tv. On the weekends I'm torn between the need for down time, wanting get out and get some exercise and explore my new surroundings before it gets too cold, feeling like I need to get caught up on reading, and the necessity of cleaning, laundry, getting groceries, and running other errands.
The library itself is a big change, too. I went from working at a very large, busy suburban branch with a very diverse, highly educated, and somewhat affluent community with a very strong reading culture to a very small branch with a less diverse, working-class community where the digital divide is very evident, and people seem to use the library mostly for computer/internet access and movies, and not so much for books. This system does some things very differently; for example, they have a floating collection rather than each branch having their own collection, which makes learning the collection and reader's advisory particularly challenging because you never know what might be on your shelves on any given day. Another thing they do differently that seems really bizarre to me is that there are no spine labels for fiction, which makes shelving much less efficient and makes finding specific items more difficult. However, my new manager and co-workers all seem great, and really work well together as a team.
Right now the biggest specific challenge is figuring out what to do for programming, and getting something going ASAP. My predecessor left in July, so this branch has been without any type of programming for the under 5 crowd for a few months, and of course haven't had a real storytime since early March. The central youth services department sends out activity kits for older kids once a month, and a co-worker does additional programming and kits for teens and tweens, so my immediate priority is early literacy. I had assumed I'd be doing virtual storytimes, but since so many in our community lack internet access my manager felt that was not the best way to go. We've talked about outdoor in-person storytimes, but with our temperatures going down and Covid cases going up, I'm not sure that is the best way to go right now, knowing that small children are not capable of staying in one spot and maintaining social distancing.
I've had dozens of ideas swirling in my head, and I finally decided to start with a simple grab & go kit with some early literacy tips, suggested activities, a couple of songs/fingerplays, coloring/activity sheets, and materials for 2-3 crafts or early literacy activities, as grab & go bags have been pretty successful with the older kids at this branch and it was something I could do fairly quickly. I'm working on my first one now, and will share more about that once I get it going. Once I get that out, I'll start exploring additional early literacy programming, and I also would like to start doing something STEM related for the 5-10 year old crowd. I'm still not sure what will work, and it may be a difficult period of trial and error. Families lack internet access, but at the same time, few are coming to the library.
This is such a challenging time for all of us, but especially those of us who are in new positions. I feel pressure to get programming going and generate numbers to justify my existence and making my position full-time (I did not realize it had only been part-time previously). It was expected that the person in this position would be able to start doing a lot of outreach to the schools and community after being made full-time, which is desperately needed, but there was some naivete about how long-lasting the pandemic was going to be when this was decided. I would love to do outreach, but as I am high-risk I am not about to set foot in a school or childcare center until an effective vaccine is widely available, though I do plan to see what other kind of support the library could possibly provide to educators and families through the schools.
My hope is that by the first of the year I will have some regular programming in place and be much more settled and no longer feeling overwhelmed, and I really hope that once I am more used to working full-time, wearing a mask, and the altitude I will not feel quite so exhausted at the end of every day and have more time for reading. I feel like I've missed out on this entire year's worth of new books.
Have you found any other type of successful alternative programming besides grab & go kits or virtual storytimes? Is anyone able to do any kind of outreach? Anyone else in their first professional position and scrambling to figure out how to do their job in this new reality? I feel like everyone else has had 8 months to adapt, and I am scrambling to catch up!