A second day of remote working in the books. Today was a mix of (1) trying to get back to that ever-growing to-do list of routine work and (2) continuing to sort out COVID-19 contingency plans. Today’s contingency plan focus: student workers. With the library closed, our student workers are out of work (they can’t exactly work the Circulation Desk), which feels unjust and, for some, unaffordable. I’ve been in several meetings about this over the last couple of weeks, looking for solutions, and surveying colleagues at other law libraries about their approach to this issue. Like many, this week our University took the position of saying students will be paid, but ideally by assigning them to alternative tasks.
A few challenges present themselves with this solution: First, you have to find enough tasks to cover all student workers, for the duration of the closure. Second, you have to supervise them on those tasks, and in some instances, train them. Third, for the students, these new jobs are not what they originally signed up for; it disrupts their schedule, and may actually create more work than they had originally (esp. if their previous job was working the Circulation Desk, where they could often study during shifts). But, as emphasized yesterday, these closure contingencies are all about adaptability, so adapt we do.
At first, the idea of coming up with a huge number of projects seemed overwhelming and impossible (talk to me in two weeks – I might feel that again as the projects start to dry up!); but as it turns out, the more I think of projects, the more projects come to mind. It’s hard to know how long each will take, but I feel confident that, at least to start out, I’ve got assignments for everyone. And you know, I’m actually sort of excited about it! I decided this year I was going to get back into writing, so I have a list of article ideas I’m sitting on, and suddenly I have a pool of potential research assistants. Several other librarians have come up with projects as well, as have other departments. We all have projects waiting in the wings, and times like these are a great opportunity to heat them up. Could this closure actually be more productive for us in the end? Probably not in reality, but it is certainly allowing us to expand our list of active projects, which is not something I’d anticipated.
Yesterday’s work was sponsored by Outlook, Slack, and Zoom. Today a new sponsor entered the ring: Trello. I’m a fan of Trello boards for organizing my own work. (Full disclosure: I got a little “board-happy” when I first started using it, and it actually became a little overwhelming, so I backed off and simplified to using boards to make lists of agenda items for the growing number of meetings I report to and brainstorming for potential presentation proposals and articles.) To manage our student workers’ assignments during this closure, I’m stepping up my Trello game to use it for project management. I have checklists for each student, showing what project I have assigned to them (so far), and who’s supervising it. This helps me keep track both of the projects and the students they’re assigned to. Simple, but effective, and definitely putting my mind at ease, which is not an easy feat these days!
These are challenging times, but the funny thing about challenging times is that they often bring about creative solutions. I’m determined to stay positive throughout this, so I focus on these moments of creativity, the lessons we can learn, the improvements that will come out of this experience, and the many ways we can come together (just not physically!) as a community to be there for each other.
I admire the way my University has handled things so far. Indiana University was quick to act, and has shown great care in ensuring they meet the needs of the faculty, staff, and students. The decisions they’ve had to make – like closing the dorms, deciding whether staff should work remotely, determining what university functions are essential, thrusting us all into remote teaching – are not easy decisions, and were not made lightly. True, the policies continue to be adjusted, tweaked, and updated on a near-daily basis as the numbers of COVID-19 cases in Indiana continue to grow exponentially, but as frustrating as it can feel having to readjust our plans every time the policies change, I’m glad they continue to change – it shows me that the University realizes the importance of being flexible, not rigid, and continuing to make safety our number one priority. I appreciate the level of transparency I have felt throughout this process. The number of statements from campus and university leaders help keep us informed, which is so much preferable to feeling like you’re constantly in the dark. In turn, that’s my goal with my constituents as well: transparency. Lay it out there, let them know what I know, and also what I don’t know, but what I’m going to find out! I have emailed my staff on an almost daily basis since this all began (go ahead, ask them!). I’ve tried to keep students in my class informed from day one as well. We are all affected by these closures in different ways, and I think more communication is better than scant. Are they getting tired of my emails? Maybe. But no one’s said that yet. So keep it up, IU, and so will I.
Before I close for the night, I have to do a little more bragging. This time, I have to thank my colleagues. The librarians and staff I work with have been incredible through this process, very supportive, flexible, and accepting of the adjustment to working remotely. The senior staff have been cooperative, coordinating, and quick to lend a hand or offer solution. Our Dean has been equally or perhaps even more transparent than the University in communication with the law school community. And the students? Wow. I can’t imagine this happening to me when I was in law school, and how I would have handled it, but the students have been amazing. They’re asking great questions, and showing a real investment in their education and their community, and I couldn’t be prouder. The student workers in the library who have responded to me so far today, rather than bemoaning the situation, have shown an enthusiasm for taking on alternative work assignments. I know I’m biased, but every year I feel like Maurer has the best of everything – amazing staff, amazing faculty, and amazing students. Now is no exception.
The funny thing about enthusiasm? It’s contagious. And a much better thing to catch than coronavirus. Stay healthy.