How We Work During the Pandemic: Meredith Farkas

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

Our second post is from Meredith Farkas, Faculty Librarian at Portland Community College and ACRL-Oregon Past-President.

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

Like a lot of places, everything felt like it was happening way too slowly and then suddenly moved way too fast. We learned late on the night of Tuesday March 18th that the campus would be closing at the end of the day on Friday and then received an email at 5am Wednesday saying that each campus library would be closing at noon that very day. I’m so relieved I had the presence of mind to run to work that morning and grab my desk chair, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and other office supplies. The speed of everything unfortunately left us no time to get faculty to grab and/or scan their reserve materials or to get any equipment other than our laptops parceled out. The libraries have been fully closed since then and we are not even supposed to visit campus (my campus has a locked gate!) so there is no access to our physical collection. We are definitely going to stay closed over the summer and our College President has said that we’ll be mostly remote for Fall, though that is open to revision if conditions change. 

My colleagues in the Library did a fantastic job of quickly moving to support faculty teaching online with documentation, training, resources, collections, and teaching. In the midst of the upheaval in our own lives, everyone pulled together beautifully to support faculty (and, by extension, our students) as they moved their courses online. It was inspiring.

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

It took me a long time to setting into a sane routine. The first few weeks, I was so busy supporting library faculty and disciplinary faculty with online teaching that I was basically working from dawn to dusk and ignoring my family. Having taught online in various contexts since 2005, I wanted to share as much knowledge and provide as much support as I could. But I was totally burnt out by week 2 of the term. Now, I’ve found a better balance and one that gives me the flexibility to support my son’s learning as well (he’s in 5th grade and wow, elementary school remote teaching is a MESS!). I try to work relatively close to the hours that I worked pre-COVID-19, though work and life are definitely bleeding into each other a lot more — setting boundaries is tough! I embedded in a lot of classes this term — probably more than I should have — and built a lot of interactive tutorials to support specific classes. I’ve been using Google Forms to make them (here are some examples) which is deeply unfancy, but allows faculty to make their own copy and tailor it to their context. 

At PCC, I work in cubicle-land and I’ve been shocked by how much I miss it, mainly because I miss chatting with my incredible colleagues. We’ve been using Slack as a virtual chat tool, but it’s not the same. These days, my work chats tend to involve my son running into the room with “important” things he needs to tell me like “did you know that as recently as 500 years ago, there was a land bridge connecting Sri Lanka and India?” 

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

I’ve been sending a lot more emails to faculty than I normally would. Usually, I market instruction via our campus listserv at the start of the term. We didn’t hear from a lot of the faculty we usually collaborate with because they were so overwhelmed that they didn’t even have the bandwidth to ask for help (a good reminder of what happens to our students when they get overwhelmed!). So a couple of weeks in, I sent individual emails to each of the instructors we’ve worked with over the past two years and heard from a lot more people. In terms of keeping in touch with students, we’re mostly at the mercy of faculty. I sent faculty and other student support units a boilerplate email to send to students describing some of our most important services that are available. Last January, I convinced my colleagues to pilot offering bookable research help appointments face-to-face and via web conferencing for Spring. When colleges and universities started closing, I felt so grateful that we’d already done the legwork getting that service up and running. My colleagues and I are embedded in an absolute ton of classes this term, so that’s the main way we communicate with students beyond when they seek help from us.

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

I’ve been most surprised by my own lack of mental bandwidth. Since March, I have really struggled with staying focused and tracking on things. My attention span is fractured, my memory is fuzzy, and I feel constantly worried that I’m missing something. I’m usually a really organized person who thrives when I have a clear to-do list with deadlines. Only very recently have I even had the wherewithal to go back to using my to-do list app. If someone like me who has a ton of experience teaching online has been thrown off this much, I can only imagine what it’s like for most of our faculty who have never taught online before (and, in many cases, never wanted to). I’m only just now beginning to feel like myself again.