This webinar was moderated by Davis Erin Anderson, the Assistant Director for Programs and Partnerships at METRO Library Council. The panelists include Emily Drabinski (CUNY Grad Center), Lisa Norberg (Cooper Union), and Alvetina (Allie) Verbovetskaya (CUNY Office of Library Services).
The transition to working from home looked different for each of our panelists. Allie Verbovetskaya had been accustomed to using Zoom frequently to collaborate with colleagues who were dispersed among New York City before COVID. Lisa Norberg had just begun a new position at Cooper Union and was beginning to schedule in person meetings with faculty and students. Emily Drabinski likens her experience to “normal time” before March 15th and “crisis time” after. “The world seems not at all like it was six weeks ago, and that has been a huge transition for us” Drabinski said.
Of all of our panelists, Verbovetskaya and her team had most of their technical equipment in place because of frequent work travel, though working from home full time has still been challenging. “We have children, we have pets, we have all kinds of things that we weren’t used to always being in our presence and in our work lives” Verbovetskaya said. Since her team mainly deals with tech, they are on call all the time. They have remote access to their machines though the Internet and WiFi has been dependent on how well connected they are at home.
Meanwhile, Norberg’s team was not as well prepared to work remotely, relying more on in person services and local consortium collections. Cooper Union launched chat reference service, trained staff to do online instruction, and expanded access to remote resources. “It was chaotic” Norberg says. Drabinski echoes this statement, noting that many access problems that have come up are class inflected. Staff members who have a higher salary or management titles typically already have several devices at home, often one for each family member, and ample WiFi. Drabinski shared that The Graduate Center at CUNY tried to be proactive and shipped laptops to people’s homes as a response to this.
Now that we’re all settling into a “new normal,” Drabinski has been thinking about meaningful work that staff and student workers can engage in at home in place of daily library tasks. This includes work that staff and students care about that was not prioritized before, but is just as important. Norberg is careful not to ask too much of her student workers right now. “I know that our students are really stressed right now, they’re also dealing with a lot. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that they get paid.”
When asked how each of our panelists continues to work with their colleagues in a positive way, they recommended having weekly meetings and being open and accessible to staff to express their concerns and anxieties. Other advice from our panelists includes allowing for flexibility in deadlines and work hours, permitting staff to skip meetings if they’re not relevant to the work they’re doing, and finding the balance between keeping people informed without overwhelming them with messages and virtual meetings. “Eighty percent of the time I want to be listening to you, and twenty percent of the time I want to be talking to you,” Drabinski says. Things seem to be changing from week to week. Having compassion for yourself and your staff is priority right now.
- Working from home looks different for each panelist. Some already used Zoom to manage staff and projects and others had a huge learning curve and had to launch new services and train staff in a matter of weeks.
- It’s important to have open communication with your staff surrounding tougher issues, like budget cuts, even if there are no definitive answers yet.
- Find balance between keeping staff informed without overwhelming them.
- Finding ways to be sociable outside of work can be helpful.
- Not all library workers make an equitable salary. Some of us have more access to technical devices and WiFi than others. The inequities showing who can and can’t work from home are being made clear during this time.
- Ergonomically friendly workstation tips (if possible): Make sure your feet are flat on the ground. Be seated so that your hips are above your knees. Use a pillow behind you, if needed, to provide more comfort. Have your elbows higher than your wrists while using your device. If you have a laptop stand that elevates, use it so that you are looking straight at the screen rather than looking down (books work as a platform, too). Keep your posture in mind.
- Talk to your manager about engaging in work you find meaningful.
We thank Emily, Allie and Lisa for their time and insight on this topic. Please join us for one of our upcoming community calls, online workshops, and virtual panel discussions. Learn more about our events at metro.org/events.