Friday, January 1, 2021

Reflecting on 2020 and Looking at 2021


Every new year I like to reflect on the year that has passed, looking at everything I've experienced, accomplished and learned, and set goals for the year ahead. I was about to start this article off saying something like "Well, it's time for my usual new year's post...." when I realized that there was nothing "usual" about it this year. Before I write my annual post, I look at the one from the previous year to see how I did on meeting my goals, and as I read it I found myself thinking, "oh, you poor na├»ve thing, you have NO idea what is coming for you!" 2020 was a disaster of a year, bringing hardships, challenges, and changes that turned our world upside down, and will continue to have ramifications into 2021.

Personally, I am very thankful that I and my family are still healthy, seemingly having evaded Covid-19 thus far (though I think I may have actually had it back in February, but we'll never know for sure). Professionally though, I was greatly impacted. Looking back at my goals for the year, I actually managed to meet some of them: I finished my MLIS (though to my dismay graduation was cancelled) and I attended PLA. Unfortunately, I was not able to expand my programming experience in the way I wanted, but I have gained experience adapting the programming I'm experienced with to virtual and other alternate formats. And oddly enough, I did achieve my goal of getting a full-time professional librarian position much sooner than expected, though most definitely not the way I wanted it to happen.

I had intended on staying in my part-time paraprofessional position for a little while longer, in order to have a bit of a break after finishing library school, and because I really loved the job, the patrons, and the people I worked with. I was going to give it up to a year to wait and see if a position opened up in my system or in one of the several surrounding counties, then start looking out of state if necessary, giving my son time to finish high school, my husband to reach early retirement eligibility, and get our house ready to put on the market. But as I've written about previously, I and 100 other staff were blindsided in July with a permanent mass layoff, which forced me to start job-hunting out of state immediately. I was very fortunate to find a position after just two months of searching, but it required my to leave my family behind and relocate across the country by myself, for the time being.

So, since nothing has been normal I really haven't been able to attain that work-life balance, but now that I've settled into my new job and new home, I'm working on it. I am eating more healthfully and getting out and exploring the area when I can, but still need to work on getting more exercise and finding time to read. I've read very little in the last 6 months, and did not meet my Goodreads goal after exceeding it the previous year.

As to goals for the upcoming year.....Well, I'm not really setting any this time. I just feel like things are still too uncertain, and I know the pandemic is going to continue to impact us, in general and libraries specifically, on into 2022. I don't know if I like my new job yet, because I'm not really able to do it. I've been in limbo, partly because of being shutdown due to the pandemic, and partly because my manager left two weeks after I got there (!) and we don't have a new one yet. So while I know the job description, I've yet to have a conversation about goals and expectations with anyone above me, other than the fact that I (and all the other branch librarians) are going to officially be made assistant managers of our respective branches, which again, until I get a manager, I don't know exactly what that's going to look like. So, in the meantime, I'm focusing on learning the systems and culture, trying to get a feel for the community, and doing what I think I should and can do with programming.

So my plan for the year is basically just to survive, to figure out my place in my new system, continue to try to introduce and adapt programming, and find opportunities for professional growth where I can. I am not making any decisions or plans for the future beyond that. At the end of the year I hope to have a better idea of where I want to go from here. My husband may join me and we'll permanently relocate here, I may decide I want to return home when something opens up there, I may decide to try a different location, or maybe another year of wait and see. It's really hard to judge how much I like this job and area when things are so not normal. I hope with the introduction of the vaccine that I and my family members will soon feel more comfortable traveling so that I can go home to visit and that they can come here, but I know we are still a long way from normal. But for the next year, I committed to this position and doing the best that I can and developing as much as I can.

What do I see in the future for libraries in general? I think we are still months away from being able to do indoors in-person programming safely, though I plan to give outdoor programming a try. I know some libraries are doing in-person already, and I just can't agree with that. I know my new community desperately needs outreach at all levels, but I personally won't feel safe doing that for quite some time. Almost every time I have gotten sick has been after an outreach visit, and as a parent I know what germ factories schools are and I know that kids are not capable of social distancing and not the best practitioners of good hygiene. I think many of us will continue virtual programming just because we don't know what else to do, though I don't think it is particularly successful, though in some cases there may be a small audience.

 I think this next year will be tough to navigate as management tries to balance demands from boards and community members who may not have a good grasp of the risks and try to push a return to normal services long before things are back to normal with the need to be responsible and to protect the health and safety of staff and patrons. I am afraid many library staff will be pressured to do things they are not comfortable with and feel compromises safety in order to keep their jobs. I think curbside service will be in demand even after normal hours and services resume as many patrons have come to enjoy and appreciate the convenience, and while I do think it is a worthwhile service to continue, we also will have to work to convince them to come in the building and to browse sometimes as well. I'm not sure if virtual program will be a thing long-term, and likely depends on the library and community. Perhaps to some degree, but I just don't see it being a large-scale success overall.

To sum it up, I think we still have a long road back to anything approaching "normal", and that it won't be the same normal as before. We are forever changed personally, as a profession, and as a society by this pandemic and everything associated with it. Once libraries are finally able to resume normal hours, operations, and services we are going to have to work really hard to bring the public back. I fear we have lost much of the progress made over the last 25 years or so in engaging with the community and making the library a community center. 

The pandemic has also revealed a HUGE disconnect between management and staff, and the way many library boards and administrations have treated their staff during this has been unconscionable, treating them as disposable and expendable, and this needs to change! Staff morale is at an all time low across the country, and libraries can never fully recover until this is addressed, in a positive way, not in the typical "the beatings will continue until morale improves" kind of way that too many directors seem to employ. And it's not just those of us who were thrown away by our library administrations that have suffered, the survivors have suffered as well. I really worry about the library systems that made such short-sighted decisions as the one I used to work for and wonder how well they will weather this compared to systems that both found ways to retain most or all of their staff and prioritized staff safety. That nice new building the salaries of those let go helped fund may get headlines, but how well is it going to operate if you've thrown away or burned out all of your knowledgeable and experienced staff?

I wish everyone well as we continue to navigate through strange and uncertain times, and thank all those out there who have come together to share ideas and support one another during this difficult time!

Saying "Happy New Year!" doesn't really feel quite this year, but I wish for everyone to have some peace and calm this year, less of the stress and chaos of the last year, and of course I wish all of us and our loved ones good health! 

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