How We Work During the Pandemic: Candise Branum

Hello ACRL-Oregon members! During this pandemic, the way we all work and serve our patrons has radically changed. Inspired by the bloggers at ACRLog, we thought we’d provide a window into how some of your Oregon colleagues are managing during this time. During this week, we’ll be posting several blog posts from members of the ACRL-Oregon Board. We’d also love to hear from you! If you’d like to share your experiences on the blog, please feel free to email Meredith Farkas and respond to any or all of the following prompts:

  • What’s the situation at your institution, at the time of writing?
  • What is your day-to-day look like on the job right now?
  • How have you kept communication going with students, faculty, or other users?
  • What has surprised you most about library work during this crisis?

Here’s our first post from ACRL-Oregon President and Oregon College of Oriental Medicine Director, Candise Branum

What’s the situation at your institution, at the time of writing?

Like most other higher education institutions in Oregon, our campus is closed and we’ve transitioned to completely online education, and with very few exceptions, everyone is working remotely. For the college, this is pretty challenging because a huge part of our curriculum is clinical education. Moving didactic classes is fine, but any hands-on classes are either being delayed or having to rethink how to get students the necessary experience. Our clinics were also closed, and some of the clinical staff laid off. The college is pivoting to telemedicine, which is actually a great skill for students to have. But Traditional Chinese Medicine is so much about personal connection and touch that I think many students are having a really hard time believing that they are getting the education required to do this work, and also just missing their community. I know medical schools are looking at different ways they can reopen clinical education so students can get these skills and still graduate, and we’re still waiting for those guidelines to come out.

What is your day-to-day look like on the job right now?

The first month I felt like I was just in crisis mode, trying to get the textbooks and materials needed for our faculty and students, setting up online services, and creating administrative plans around all of this. I’m finally starting to feel like I have a handle on this and things are settling in, but I’m definitely still feeling a lot of anxiety. Especially as a library director who gets to make the decision on what services to offer and when to reopen, every day I’m thinking about what the infection numbers in Multnomah County look like, looking at what others are doing, and just trying to keep my staff safe. I created a staged reopening plan, but I still have a lot of questions and concerns, and it is honestly stressful. 

The other day, Meredith asked on Twitter if people had taken time off work since the pandemic had closed us all down, and I realized that besides cutting out of work 2-hours early to get a head start on binge-watching the final season of She-Ra, I haven’t taken a single day off. I’ve been working longer hours and have been more focused from home than I ever had on campus. My partner sometimes comes into my “office” and says, “Break time! Right now!!” because I have a hard time stepping away from my desk. Everything has seemed like an emergency and time sensitive, so it has been really powerful to be able to finally say, “No. This can wait 5-10 minutes.” I’ve been doing logic puzzles on my breaks, which feels much better than reading news or scrolling through Twitter.

Right now, I’m staffing our virtual reference desk about 8 hours per week, gearing up to teach my first synchronous online class (via Zoom), and doing all the other day-to-day work I would generally do, only my office mates have been replaced by my lazy dog. I’ve been pretty much tied to my computer. All computing, all day. I realized the other day that my legs were cramping up from being at my desk and not getting the chance to walk around campus. So I’ve been taking bike rides after work, which feels so good and is also a good way to transition from “work brain” to “home brain.” 

How have you kept communication going with students, faculty, or other users?

We use the regular channels, like posting on our SIS / course management system, and on our website. OCOM is also holding weekly student town halls, and staff members are invited to that. That is actually nice, because when there are breakout sessions and whatnot, the staff are in those groups with students. 

But honestly, the most engagement we have is through our social media. We’ve started making weekly videos. Right now we are talking about services and providing walkthroughs, but eventually we’d like to do fun stuff like talking about what books we are reading or what we are watching on Netflix. We’ve also bumped our Newsletter up to be weekly. Our Newsletter already had really high stats, and we are seeing this continue even with a weekly newsletter.

What has surprised you most about library work during this crisis?

The OCOM community in general is not what you would call, “Comfortable with technology.” So the ability for our faculty (some who were still on dial up!) and students to be able to pivot to online learning is pretty impressive. One thing that has surprised me is the ability to transform from a community that definitely includes technophobes to a normalcy of online education. It does make me wonder how this will change the delivery of our curriculum in the future.

I genuinely miss our students and my colleagues. I’m mostly an introvert and can totally get by without seeing others, but on campus, I didn’t have my own office. Instead, all of the library staff shared an office, so I generally worked beside at least one other person per day, as well as the student workers who would come by the office to chat. But also, I am so much more productive working from home. Students aren’t stopping by my office, and I’m not chatting with my coworkers about the movies we watched this weekend. I really miss those things. But also it makes me think that once this is all over, everyone who wants to should be able to work from home at least once per week. I don’t have kids, and I know it is really different for parents with their children home. But for me, right now: It is so quiet here. I can hear a bird chirping outside my window and the hum of my computer. I feel centered. For me, I think working from home once a week could be a really nice way of rebooting and focusing in a way that just doesn’t happen for me on a noisy campus.