Dispatches from a Distance: Work/Work Balance

by Marcella Huggard

This post is part of Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts o provide a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. Now that so many of us are returning to full- or part-time on-site work, we’d like to extend this series to include reflections on reopening, returning to work, and other anxieties facing the profession due to COVID-19. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas you’d like to share with other readers of the Electronic Records Section blog. Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.


My special collections and archives library has started the reopening process, in preparation for the fall semester.  We’re not open to the public yet but expect we will be in a limited fashion for the fall, and in the meantime us staff in processing and conservation are coming into the building regularly to get back to working with the collections.

Transitioning to working strictly from home was one set of processes—physical, emotional, and mental. Transitioning to a hybrid situation is another set of processes. My staff are working approximately 50% in the office, 50% at home.  This means getting back to processing projects they haven’t really looked at since March, and it means continuing data cleanup projects they started in March, or starting new data cleanup projects from home. It means possibly inconsistent schedules depending on when the building is open (for some, this is good—variety is the spice of life!—for others, routine is essential and this is a disruption). It means adjusting to long stretches wearing a mask and getting sweaty extra quickly when schlepping boxes or archival supplies around. It means still not seeing some co-workers in person as we continue to work split shifts to lower the numbers of people in our building.

I’m taking our university administration’s direction to work from home as much as possible seriously, and I find that a lot of my regular work can be done remotely. Reviewing finding aids? Check. Ongoing data cleanup projects? Check. Research involving materials I’ve already retrieved from other archives and from electronically available resources? Check. Meetings with colleagues to plan projects and determine what we’ll do this fall?  Check. Professional reading, conferences, and workshops? Check. Data entry for processing projects? Check. This means extra disruption, though—“I’ll be able to get a full 4-hour shift in processing collections tomorrow afternoon,” I think happily to myself, until somebody schedules a meeting smack in the middle of what would have been that shift, and I’m adjusting yet again.

The guiding principles for this pandemic has been adaptability and flexibility, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Call for Submissions: Dispatches from a Distance, Returning & Reopening

Earlier this year, many of us were asked to work from home and distance ourselves from colleagues and friends due to the global spread of COVID-19. Some of us are still in this position of working remotely, some of us have returned to our places of work, and some of us are now somewhere in-between or mixing multiple modes of work.

As some small step in lessening the isolation between us, BloggERS! began publishing a series called “Dispatches from a Distance” to provide a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. Now that so many of us are returning to full- or part-time on-site work, we’d like to extend this series to include reflections on reopening, returning to work, and other anxieties facing the profession due to COVID-19. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas you’d like to share with other readers of the Electronic Records Section blog.

Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here. Posts should adhere to the SAA code of ethics for archivists.

We look forward to hearing from all of you!

–The BloggERS! Editorial Subcommittee

Dispatches from a Distance: New Avenues for Empathy

This is the eighth of our Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts intended as a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas which, on any other day, you might have discussed with your deskmate or a co-worker during lunch. These don’t have to be directly in response to the Covid-19 outbreak (although they can be). Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.


Jamie Patrick-Burns

I have been working from home since mid-March, when the State Archives of North Carolina transitioned to remote work. While I certainly miss the in-person contact, conversations with my office-mate or colleagues just down the hall, I’m finding new routes to connect. In fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how teleworking has made me feel more connected to the State Archive’s users. As Digital Archivist, I don’t usually have a lot of direct contact with the general public. I do engage with the public through social media, documentation, and periodic shifts at the reference desk, but my customer service is largely geared toward my coworkers in the archives and in state agencies. However, I’ve been thinking about our patrons in a new way due to two different experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

First, working remotely has given me a new perspective and more empathy for our patrons as they navigate our online presence. Small shifts in my own context, such as the room I’m occupying or the computer and browser I’m using, are enough to throw me off my well-worn paths of virtual travel. I find myself Googling just a little bit more or searching for information online that I may have previously found in hard copy or an internal document. I’m revisiting a bit of what things feel like for the uninitiated, a perspective I haven’t had since I joined the State Archives of North Carolina in 2017. I’m thinking about our social media content as ever more central to our engagement. I’ve been getting more emails from members of the public who come across my email address, which means more people are indeed turning to our online presence while we’re closed to in-person visitors. I hope that this empathy for remote users carries through to my patron and staff interactions.

Second, the concern and empathy shown by the entire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources through the project Your Story is North Carolina’s Story has been very meaningful to me. The initiative to collect personal materials documenting the COVID-19 pandemic for North Carolinians has required collaboration, creativity, and hard work in our division and I’m inspired by how my colleagues have risen to the challenge. While my role of facilitating the transfer of digital records is only one piece of the puzzle, I am proud to be part of this project. I hope the public feels the deep care, empathy, and human connection that I also feel from this initiative. 

Even as I’m more physically distant from my professional connections than ever before, I’m feeling connected to my colleagues and our patrons in new ways. Whatever and whenever re-emergence from this difficult time looks like, I know I have gained some new perspectives and modes of caring that I plan to carry with me. 

Dispatches from a Distance: My Mom, Project Archivist

This is the seventh of our Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts intended as a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas which, on any other day, you might have discussed with your deskmate or a co-worker during lunch. These don’t have to be directly in response to the Covid-19 outbreak (although they can be). Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.


Katrina Wood

As a part-time government employee, I was left wondering if I could continue historical research and archives inventory tasks once a stay-at-home order was a reality. When that came to pass in North Carolina, I joined the ranks of cultural heritage specialists who were sheltering in place to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile in Georgia, my Mom slowly altered her public and other activities. She told me that she had to go out to buy a television since one of her aging devices had lost picture by late March. Then she limited herself to going to the plant nursery and the grocery store. My mother is indeed among the vulnerable population, but she hasn’t spent a moment longing for the life she’s had to put aside. Instead, she continued to clean out the attic.

Both of my parents had long careers in academia, and like me, they felt the need to keep several years’ worth of papers, binders, notes, and memorabilia. I’m marveling at my Mom’s archivist tendencies—she set up a sorting station in the garage and has inspired my Dad to work through decades of his own papers. I’ve received texts with pictures that harken back to memories made before I was born. The most intriguing attic project in my view is the collection of Time magazines, however. 

Gwen Wood has pared down the ‘attic archives’ in stages, seeming to have begun with my school papers. I’m not sure I could speak to a processing schedule, but she has since employed a neighborhood teen to help comb through the magazines. Tokumo normally assists Gwen with yard work and like me, he is of a quiet sort. I asked if I could write about their (still ongoing) experience since one of the issues they’ve set aside is an issue from April 25, 1983—a somber Senator Claude Pepper graces the cover.

I worked on a collection at the Claude Pepper Library and Museum at Florida State University and will likely reach out to Special Collections to see if they would like the issue. Further connections to existing collections might reveal themselves, yet I’m all too aware of the scenario in which donors are overconfident that their back issues will fulfill each prong of an archive’s collection policy. The Time issues appear to begin in 1968 and neither Gwen nor Tokumo are sure when the collection ends. I heard about this sorting in early April, about the time that my Mom switched to solo yard work and attic archives with Tokumo when he wasn’t going to school online. 

Included above is a photo of the space, cheerfully adorned with a string of lights and series of boxes and cartons. And I’m aware that this archive may too be shuttered as we all enter into the scorching summer months. Until then, my parents’ attic issues of Time and Newsweek will see their first finding aids and the light of day after a prolonged retirement.

Dispatches from a Distance: Transitioning Remotely

This is the sixth of our Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts intended as a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas which, on any other day, you might have discussed with your deskmate or a co-worker during lunch. These don’t have to be directly in response to the Covid-19 outbreak (although they can be). Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.


Renae Rapp

This is hard to write about because my journey starts remotely. I ended two jobs and started a new job from home. I didn’t have to transition to working from home and I wasn’t furloughed (thankfully). I don’t know what “normal” is because I haven’t experienced it yet. 

At the beginning of March, I accepted an offer to be the librarian/archivist at a small academic library. After years of grad school and hundreds of job rejections, I finally got an offer. And it came right as Governor Cuomo put New York on “pause,”which left my transition from two part-time library jobs to one academic library/archives done completely remotely. 

I had said goodbye to my old colleagues through emails, and texts, and said hello to new ones through Zoom chats. As awkward and disappointing as it was to do normal life events remotely (including my 30th birthday), I am incredibly fortunate to be able to transition so smoothly. The library director at my new job got me set up with a laptop and a couple of small collections I could work on at home. 

This first impression of the library director was encouraging. They gave me the tools and support to feel connected while distant, be productive with limited resources, and be professional while wearing sweatpants. What made these actions impressive was that they were done during a pandemic. It would have been easy for the library to ask me to move my start date or even revoke the offer,but this simple act of doing the right thing gave me the impression that I was important and the archives are important. 

The last time I stepped foot into the library was during my interview three months ago.  Honestly, I don’t remember much except the overwhelming nerves that come with any interview and the rush of adrenaline afterward. While the library director has discussed the layout of the library a few times, I still don’t know where important places are like the archives, my office, the bathroom, or the library on campus.  

Not only am I transitioning remotely from part-time jobs to a full-time position, but I’m also transitioning from graduate student/paraprofessional to professional. That transition is already packed with overwhelming emotions, but compressed with “working from home” it is even more difficult. The imposter syndrome hit me hard last week and along with another unreal emotion of temporariness. It’s difficult to explain and honestly, I’m not sure I can explain it. 

Working from home doesn’t make working feel productive at all, and starting a new job from home feels like swimming in open waters where each task pulls you up and down like a wave. While everyone else cannot wait to be back in the office, I cannot wait to be in the office. I cannot wait for this awkward mindset of temporariness to be gone. And I cannot wait to master those waves.

Dispatches from a Distance: The Process of Reinvention

This is the fifth of our Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts intended as a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas which, on any other day, you might have discussed with your deskmate or a co-worker during lunch. These don’t have to be directly in response to the Covid-19 outbreak (although they can be). Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.


Nicole Becwar

In my position as a librarian and an archivist, I never lack tasks or projects. What I love about my job is that, if I am tired of working on one project, I can always switch to another. This semester I also worked most evenings and weekends, contending with an overload of service commitments. I was hanging on until the end of March when my commitments would scale back.

In March, just as my university was making preparations to move all classes online, I got sick. I was out for over a week, and I emerged to a very different world. Conferences started cancelling, including several presentations I was preparing for. University service work came to a halt, and I began to work entirely from home.

Two things happened. First, all of my normal tasks and routines ended. Then my supervisor, knowing the difficulty I had fitting professional writing into my work life, told me to focus on writing. As a project-oriented introvert whose professional writing goals were neglected, this was a gift. Yet I didn’t anticipate that having this opportunity would be one of the most difficult tasks I have ever attempted to accomplish. Even though I am managing concerns about the virus and the economy fairly well, I have developed a sense of futility about my work and place in the universe, and I have now learned how skilled I am at avoiding writing. Trying to write makes me feel as though I am trying to swim through mud. I am not sure if that is due to my fear of writing, due to the psychological task of trying to write during a pandemic, or both. 

Moving forward and being productive is a process of reinvention for me. Here are some things that are helping. 

Creating a new daily routine. Routines are grounding, yet my “old” routine is useless. Questions I now have: should I change before beginning work? Is it okay to wake up, make coffee, and go straight to the computer? Does this help me feel like I’m in work mode? Creating a new pre-work and work schedule focuses my intent. 

Setting goals: my norm is trying to creatively fit deadlines into limited time slots, like a puzzle. I am finding that without looming deadlines, I’ve lost the sense of urgency, and I need to set goals. One of the ways that I avoid writing is to continue researching, so I have had to set daily goals about what constitutes real progress. 

Staying connected. Remaining connected, particularly meetings with coworkers and committees have been important to my sanity. Some meetings are entirely devoted to checking in. Some are routine meetings that provide a sense of normalcy and stability. 

I know that my current position is a privileged one—not all information professionals, let alone all individuals, are able to work from home and receive a paycheck. Yet, this is my process, and I am mucking through it.

Dispatches from a Distance: Disrupting Toxicity at the Workplace

This is the fourth of our Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts intended as a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas which, on any other day, you might have discussed with your deskmate or a co-worker during lunch. These don’t have to be directly in response to the Covid-19 outbreak (although they can be). Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.


Anonymous

Working from home has its challenges, as many of us have found lately. It is certainly a privilege now to be able to work from home and to remain employed. In some cases, however, this might be an opportunity to disrupt a cycle of toxicity in the work environment. In my case, workplace hostility has been extremely stressful and taken its toll on my mental health, which has in turn affected my physical health. I am looking forward to realigning my focus on what matters in life—myself and my loved ones.

I have not been fully present for family or friends as I would like to be, and I need to feel complete to be able to be there for them. Working from home, now, I am trying to focus on eating well and sleeping again. Last night I slept the entire night without medication. I woke up refreshed, made myself coffee, and felt good enough to start a new writing project. I have been so lost and absorbed with the toxic environment at work that I had been stuck in a loop, ruminating over and over on situations, thinking about the retaliation at my workplace and whether or not I should act on it. I was anxious about going back to work, about sobbing in the bathroom stall in a public restroom, or shedding more tears in front of my colleagues or my supervisor. I have continuously turned words over in my mind, telling myself that I was valid, that I have value to the profession, and that others will recognize my contributions even if they aren’t shared by my supervisors.

Sometimes, we hope that an academic community can save us. We hope that academia understands that we are all colleagues working towards a common goal. We hope that academic freedom and its ideals is a humanist approach, and those who work within its comforts will receive understanding and ethical treatment. I thought that academia would provide me with benefits that I never had, and it delivers health insurance and other benefits which can be hard to secure otherwise. It does not always guarantee respect, of course.  I did not realize that academia can be horribly competitive.  My experience has led me to consider finding employment outside of academia, although I am sure any economic sector can be similarly toxic. I have considered leaving the profession altogether, and I still consider it. 

Right now, I am hoping to find myself again. I have become completely self-absorbed in my situation, which is unfortunate, but it is a cycle that is very hard to break unless something breaks it for you. As I said, we are certainly privileged right now to be able to work at all, especially to work from home. The epidemic has been awful for the larger community, so I hope to do what I can to make myself complete so that I can engage with the larger world again and, hopefully, to be more effective in change that will benefit the larger community as well as myself.

Dispatches from a Distance: Flexing Priorities

This is the third of our Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts intended as a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas which, on any other day, you might have discussed with your deskmate or a co-worker during lunch. These don’t have to be directly in response to the Covid-19 outbreak (although they can be). Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.


by Sara Mouch

I would say that making the move from campus to working from home has shifted priorities for me as the University of Toledo Archivist at the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, but everything I do feels like top priority. We’re a large repository (upwards of 10,000 linear feet of collections) with a small shop (2 full-time archivists), so there is never a dearth of things to do, and I claim that all of those things are equally important. However, some of those priorities are currently impossible to address, such as prompt reference assistance, physical collections processing, and digitization projects. Those are priorities that, when on campus, are most present and pressing, distracting from all the others. I have no such distractions now, and the ability to focus on those other, all so important, but neglected priorities is liberating. I’m a troubleshooter by nature and I’m in a position right now to spend more time than usual untangling problems, such as finding aid errors and poor data management. Quality control takes center stage and, frankly, I love the tedious clean-up, the moments when I can afford perfection over progress, an impossibility in most areas of archives management. From my professional standpoint, this is the light amidst all the darkness.

The limitations inherent in the inaccessibility of physical collections has, however, brought concerns to the forefront. Even the remotest possibility of installing an exhibit (as we do annually) for 2020 reduces to nonexistent without the ability to curate and prepare items for display. Our ability to serve researchers is only as good as those collections that are available, in part or in full, in our digital repository. The resulting suspension of archives orientation sessions due to the move to online classes means that we can’t put history in the hands of our students. These concerns, however temporary, loom and linger, even as I’m thrilled to have the luxury to learn the vagaries of ArchivesSpace.

But we readjust, and those limitations become opportunities. We can create online guides to collections earmarked for representation in our exhibit. Digitization needs become clearer and we can re-prioritize the scanning of collections destined for the digital repository, even if the actual scanning must wait. Finally, just as teaching faculty must adapt to reaching their students remotely, so too must the archivists who serve both. An online presentation regarding archival research may not have the same impact as interacting with tangible objects and records, but hopefully will convey that history exists in many formats, that archives are a great resource for research and connection, and archivists want to meet students where they are. 

That backlog, though….

Dispatches from a Distance: Dispatch from a Detroit foundation archivist

This is the second of our Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts intended as a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas which, on any other day, you might have discussed with your deskmate or a co-worker during lunch. These don’t have to be directly in response to the Covid-19 outbreak (although they can be). Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.


by Lori Eaton, MLIS, CA

The economic news swirling around the COVID-19 outbreak frequently references how people with the fewest financial resources will bear the brunt of the pandemic-driven recession. As an archivist and records manager working with foundations, I’ve been awed by how quickly the philanthropic community in Michigan has sprung into action. Foundations are distributing emergency funds, coordinating resources to help nonprofits support clients and staff (for an example, see the Council on Foundations COVID-19 Resource Hub, which provides resources for funders and grantees), and working with grantees who provide direct aid to those in our communities who need it most. 

On March 16, 2020, the Detroit-based foundation where I’ve been embedded for the last year made the decision to close the office and asked staff to work remotely. Thankfully, the foundation moved to cloud-based file storage almost a year ago and had recently enhanced teleconferencing capabilities. Grants are also managed through a cloud-based tool as are board of trustee resources. 

Together with learning and impact staff, I’ve been working to gather and organize a digital library of COVID-19 related resources and records generated by the foundation. We’re collecting files the foundation staff creates but also those of funding partners, grantees, nonprofit support organizations, and state and local government. I’ve taken on the task of naming and describing these files and applying a consistent vocabulary. 

In the near term, this resource library will help foundation staff keep track of the deluge of information flooding in through emails, Google docs, websites, and conference calls. In the future, it is our hope that this library will help tell the story of how both the foundation and the philanthropy community in Michigan rose to the challenge presented by this pandemic. 

Dispatches from a Distance: Losses and Gains

This is the first of our Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts intended as a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas which, on any other day, you might have discussed with your deskmate or a co-worker during lunch. These don’t have to be directly in response to the Covid-19 outbreak (although they can be). Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.


by Jordan Meyerl

Working from home has its challenges and its benefits, or as I’ve begun thinking of them, its losses and gains. As a graduate student who is graduating in May, the losses I am experiencing feel debilitating. While I have met the minimum requirements for my capstone, I had hoped to process more linear feet of material. While I can still engage in meaningful projects as part of my graduate assistantship with the University of Massachusetts Boston University Archives and Special Collection, the exhibit I so painstakingly helped curate has been delayed until next year. While I am grateful it has not been outright cancelled, the sense of disappointment and loss still hangs over me.

I am working to balance this feeling of loss with the gains I have made. I have gained more time to work on the written portion of my capstone. I have gained the opportunity to be a curator for A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19. In the same vein, I have gained the ability to work on more digital projects through my assistantship and foster skills that make me marketable. I have also gained the chance to spend more time with my partner and focus on me, something I haven’t been able to do in a while.

Since I started graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Boston, I have been career driven. I am deeply passionate about being an archivist, and I have worked hard to complete my coursework to the best of my ability while also establishing myself within the professional communities. I have been so focused on these that I have failed to care for myself. And while I am still career driven and am taking advantage of new opportunities that have cropped up as a result of COVID-19, my greatest gain is definitely the chance to focus on me.