You may recall that this time last week, I was up to my eyeballs in self-pity over my trip cancellation and the general state of the world. The balance has shifted somewhat over the intervening days, back and forth like the plates I used to ferry across a busy restaurant during my waitressing days. Turns out my travel insurance was absolutely useless, but with a partial refund of the policy and a printed product disclosure statement to use as toilet paper, things could, I suppose, be worse. I’m reminding myself regularly that I have spent time in hospital in a third world country with a pretty nasty virus, and on balance working from home is considerable step up.
Yes, working from home. I arrived at work on Monday morning, cancelled my annual leave, and began clomping and stomping my foul mood around the library with the view of getting a few hours’ worth of scowls out of my system before fronting up to the public. Turns out I could’ve scowled all I liked for all the difference it would make to the public, since minutes later staff were told we were closed until further notice. The unpleasant expression fell right off my face and was replaced with shocked bemusement. My mum had asked me only days before if I thought the library would close, to which I responded, “Mmm I don’t think so, not unless a confirmed case wanders through. They’ll probably close the branches first and try to keep us running.” Shows what I knew. Things got very real very quickly as I realised how much bigger was this beast than my foiled travel arrangements.
I think it was absolutely the right call. It seems like the rest of the world is shutting up shop, and our closure a week or so earlier than our hands would’ve been forced can presumably have done very limited harm, and instead kept us out of harm’s way. I still went in to Library HQ the next day before being told I’d henceforth be working from home, which gave me enough time to stock up on a few weeks’ worth of books and DVDs, and collect what I thought might be useful in my home office. When I say “home office” I mean dining table, which once belonged to my grandma and is still covered in the detritus of abandoned travel plans. It’s right next to my main bookshelf, which helps me feel like I still have one foot (or at least a toe) in the library, but otherwise bears little resemblance to my usual workspace.
At 8:30am on WFH day 1, I donned my lanyard and sat down at my laptop, thinking how this already differed from my usual school day. Obviously the lanyard was unnecessary. The public would not be sauntering through my apartment wondering who to ask for readers’ advisory or help with printing. Nor would I spend the next half hour tidying up the library and making sure a few shelves of books were in correct DDC order, which is the standard order of the half hour before opening. I won’t bore you with the details of my entire day, suffice to say only that I’m not used to sitting at a desk for so long, and certainly not in a room by myself. I’m quite sure I don’t like it.
I’ve since taken to a brisk walk before sitting down for the day, again during my lunch hour, and once more when the clock strikes 5. On WFH day 3, I phoned a friend at 5:06pm, and she declared what a diligent employee I was to wait until I’d officially clocked off before making personal calls. The way I see it, much as I’d prefer to be running around the library, I’m incredibly fortunate to have a job that will still pay me to do what I can remotely, so the very least I can do is be where I’m expected to be when I’m supposed to be there. A week earlier I had assumed we would be like the band on the Titanic, staffing an emptying library as the public ran for cover. Not because our bosses are unsympathetic or uncaring of our welfare, but because libraries have never been more important for keeping us all connected and informed. Turns out that teachers are the ones playing the violins, but that’s a conversation for another forum. I’ve no doubt that every teacher in the country would dearly love to switch places with me. I’ve caught a very lucky break, and I know it. That’s to say nothing of the other professions who are effectively jobless right now, like my younger brother the Qantas international pilot. My home library is quite the place to be.
All of that said, I never thought I’d miss my usual work environment this much. I know I was hanging out for my holiday, indeed it was what kept me going through all the arguments about overdue book fees, tech mishaps at events, extra desk shifts, general disgruntlement from impolite library members, and all my other regular complaints. I miss them though. I miss the ones who come straight to me for book recommendations, the ones who say a simple “thank you” when I help them with their printing, the ones who go about their business with no personal interaction from me. I miss my colleagues; the way they roll their eyes but chuckle appreciatively at my bad puns. Even if I’m at my desk and we’ve all got our heads down doing our own things, or I’m doing my best to fly under the radar and do my job without being asked any questions. Even if I’m hoping to avoid as many people as possible for the duration of the day, it’s still nice to feel like I’m part of something bigger.
Of course I’m still part of that bigger something, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last week (other than that I seem to really love touching my face) it’s that we’re all in this together. All my colleagues are doing the best they can with what they’ve got from where they are. With the exceptions of toilet paper hoarders, Bondi beachgoers, and Australian border security allowing planeloads of passengers to disembark and go on their merry way without so much as a temperature check, I think we all are. With no real precedent on which to base our next move, it’s hard to know how to best get on with things. But if the library’s group chat is anything to by, we’ve got each other’s backs.
Never has it been more important for us to remember…
We’re all part of something bigger, and we’re all part of it together.