What a crazy year, amirite? I got a headstart with general insanity by giving birth a month early in December of last year, followed by several days in the NICU with my tiny, fierce son. After this nerve-wracking ordeal, we spent the next 10 weeks getting to know each other.
Here’s Lucien, aka Louie, doing his first shelfie at 7 weeks:
The days blurred, every hour the witching—my first taste of 2020 time being meaningless. As my FMLA wound down, I returned to work on a reduced schedule, trying to catch up during my 4-6 hour workdays while routinely on 4-6 hours of fractured sleep.
Before my absence, as hiring manager I’d just selected a candidate to join our team—I hadn’t even made her the offer yet. The hiring committee proceeded on my behalf and the team trained her without me, which was necessary but also a bummer. In theory I like hiring but the laundry list of logistics, requirements and paperwork tends to suck out all of the fun. Onboarding, on the other hand, I genuinely love. Ya know. Spending the first 10 weeks getting to know each other.
Also in my absence, a completely new hiring process kicked off without me in search of another librarian who would become my direct report. I admit I was not thrilled about this but recognized the necessity of pushing forward. Our open positions tend to face undue delays—I didn’t want my leave to present another obstacle or let my ego stand in the way.
And then the pandemic struck. The Austin Public Library shut down to the public March 16. A week later, we were sent to work from home. With a four-month-old baby, it was challenging to say the least. Given his erratic work schedule at the Dell Medical School, my husband Arthur is the primary caregiver. After my return to work, naps had been a struggle. And then I was back! …Sort of. In those early days we floundered
a bit a lot until we figured out Louie’s sleep, both a semblance of doing it through the night and, critical for workday focus and continuity, his learning to fall asleep without nursing.
(Aside: Sleep training is a uniquely American phenomenon embraced by desperate working parents who lack the family-friendly generous leave policies of other developed nations. In that sense, it’s gross. But I will fight anyone who claims I damaged my kid. We are all so much happier and healthier with solid (brain-building for him and restorative for us) SLEEP OH PRECIOUS SLEEP!)
Before then—and sure, occasionally after—I’ve felt forced to choose between being a crappy mom or a crappy employee, and often experience both regardless of effort and intention. But by and large our family has found its rhythm, and I’m thankful that Arthur can stay home with our son and that we don’t have the nightmare of simultaneous distance learning with school-aged children.
So! What have I been up to?
Despite us no longer providing in-person service at the library, our frontline work never ceased. Answering customer emails, chats and texts from home was seamless. It took more technical legwork to resume fielding calls. We started by accepting voicemails and returning calls with work-issued iPhones previously assigned to each floor at Central, primarily used for their panic button app. Later we transitioned to live calls using VOIP on work-supplied laptops, of which there was a shortage. Eventually our full team received laptops; I helped facilitate this roll-out, creating documentation, tracking technical issues and providing troubleshooting for staff before handing them off to IT when necessary.
I also trained the new librarian from home. Fortunately she joined us from an APL branch; she knew the organization and ten million library bits about accounts, policies, the catalog, and so forth, and wasn’t subject to the barrage of New City Employee training. Onboarding remotely certainly had a different feel, but it worked—I shuffled priorities to meet the pressing needs, carved out a new language of caveats and pulled it off. The rest of the fun stuff—the insider building tours, tech orientations, customer anecdotes and more, it’s all waiting for us when we get back. (…Right? We are going back someday… right?)
My largest undertaking during the pandemic has been creating videos for the newly created APL+ . I helped build this enterprise from the ground up—read all about it in the APL+ post.
As one of the last librarians to receive a laptop—I’d been using my personal home setup instead—only recently have I started answering calls again. I’d done plenty of troubleshooting and issuance of assurances through email and chat, but it’s different over the phone—sensing the anxiety in a caller’s voice and hearing it thaw to optimism, the deep satisfaction of real-time problem-solving, then the thrill of shared triumph and rush of effusive gratitude.
People rely on the library for so much: entertainment, information, transformation, escape—a remedy for isolation, a third place (and for those without a home or steady work, it may be the first and only). We’ve been doing curbside service for awhile, now, and are finally exploring live virtual programming. But it pains me to know how much we aren’t doing and the continued uncertainty of our altered reality.
I’m grateful for my family’s health, for my union for advocating for our livelihoods and safety, for the City of Austin for keeping us on and its commitment to flattening the curve. I am amazingly blessed to spend more time with my beautiful boy, behind closed doors down the hall but able to swoop in when he’s having a rough time. At 11 months already (11 months!!) he’s been in the throes of separation anxiety. I can’t tell you how much it kills me to walk away from his heartbroken mamamas.
But at least it’s to return to meaningful work.