By Traci Mark, Studio Manager and Educational Programming Associate, METRO Library Council

This webinar was moderated by Davis Erin Anderson, Assistant Director for Programs and Partnerships at METRO Library Council. The panelists include Linda Miles (Assistant Professor and Librarian at Hostos Community College), Susanne Markgren (Assistant Director, Head of Technical Services at Manhattan College), Angela Washington (Associate Manager for Finance and Administration at The Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Karen LaRocaa-Fels (Director of the Ossining Public Library).

This year has presented us with many changes that have forced us to shift our perspective on how we live our everyday lives, how we engage with others, how we confront the political system that hasn’t taken care of us during a time of need and the deep systemic issues that are intertwined with this. On a micro and macro level, this has been a year where we’ve all taken time to reflect. But there are still unknowns that make it impossible for us to predict what our future will look like. 

Our panelists have been grappling with these big questions, too. Even though the pandemic is worse now than it was earlier in the year, it seems as though we’re more equipped to handle the stress of it. Maybe some of us even see a glimmer of hope for the future. March 2020, when we all began to shift to working remotely, was a challenging time.“During the early weeks of March, there was a lot of concern and a lot of panic going on. We were in the workplace, but we were concerned. We were very concerned about our library workers, our students and the patrons in the library,” Linda Miles recalled. Learning how to replicate online services to mimic in person experiences was a challenge for everyone. “The big priority on our campus was getting the students out of the dorms,” Susanne Markgren said, bringing up another hurdle that institutions faced: unexpectedly losing sources of income. At Manhattan College, difficult but necessary decisions were made to keep students, staff, and patrons safe. Learning the best way to communicate and handle administrative tasks, dealing with vendors, providing access and checking in with everyone’s mental and emotional wellbeing continue to be major priorities during this time. 

Personally, each panelist faced challenges in shifting to working from their homes and learning how to separate their jobs from their home life. “I like the separation of work and home life…I find that physical separation is really good for me mentally,” Karen LaRocca-Fels said. Another challenge was for supervisors and managers to find work for their staff whose jobs were mainly based in physical spaces. Markgren mentioned that she needed to find projects for library staff who faced this. Some moved to other departments where help was needed with contact tracing or outreach to students. Others were able to pick up projects that had been on the backburner for a long time. Taking on projects that are social justice related have been important as well. “The museum and library have become more interested in being active and seeing what we could do to make ourselves more aware of what’s going on. Things like, we have a project where we’re working on building the collection for African American and other people of color artists and filling in the holes that have been there for decades,” Angela Washington said about her work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Working toward equity has been a huge part of 2020 that we hope continues in the future. 

How are we feeling now that the year is almost over? Our panelists understandably express a feeling of relief, apprehension, and worry of another shutdown and possibly more layoffs. Even though we cannot predict what our future will look like, our panelists mention that they’re also feeling positive. “I think in reflection we’re learning about some of the things that didn’t work. I think it’s become really apparent that it’s important to look at the failures and to try to find strategies to address some of those challenges that maybe aren’t the ones we were expecting,” Linda Miles said. We hope that we can take the lessons learned from 2020 and apply them in the future. 

Thank you to our panelists for sharing their time and wisdom with us. Hope everyone has a happy new year.