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Monday 13 June 2011

Working in a library that rocks

I've been meaning to write something like this for a month or two, and being sent home after another 5.5mag aftershock (an hour before a 6.0) seems like a good occasion to finally get around to it...

[DISCLAIMER: This is about my personal experience: everyone's experiences are different. Also I take no responsibility for facts: reality changes on a daily/hourly/minute-ly basis and I can't always even keep up-to-date with the current situation let alone remember the past.]

After September, it was I think almost a week before we staff were allowed back to work to start tidying up, and I was chomping at the bit to get there and be able to do something instead of being stuck at home.

After February, it was... longer. Even when we could get back to campus, the libraries themselves were closed, and we only had a half dozen desks between us. So we had only the very occasional shift there -- and that suited me just fine. Granted work had clean water while at home I was still traipsing to the Red Cross water tanker and boiling everything. But my old 30-minute bus-trip to work was now 90 minutes or so, driving over broken roads, past broken buildings, around the perimeter of the broken city. By the time I'd got to work I'd already be on the verge of tears.

So for some weeks I worked mostly from home, through the power of the internet. Our virtual reference service proved wonderful for communicating with students, and for communicating among ourselves. We could do a lot to get our e-services and e-resources operating at a distance. And I could be home to answer the door for visitors from the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Australian police, EQC inspectors, etc. Not to mention tradespeople - I needed a chimney taken down and I'd been in the middle of getting the house painted. Water came back on but sewerage remained dodgy; I took delivery of a chemical toilet.

At work we got our smallest branch open; then another branch. Not my own branch, but we could actually work in a library. It was still nothing like normal. All the tutorials I'd normally teach in first semester were cancelled (many of the classes they taught into had been cancelled due to lack of facilities.) At some point around here I took two weeks' leave -- leave which I'd needed even before the quake.... Two weeks later I came back to work much rested and refreshed: it was a full two hours before I burst into tears.

But things settled down. Most importantly for me, my manager gave me projects to do: day-to-day business is one thing, but moving beyond survival mode I need something I can get a sense of accomplishment from, so this helped tremendously. One day I was able to visit my office to retrieve some files, and found my umbrella there from February. (My potted mandarin seedling, alas, was past its best-by.) When our temporary office space caused my RSI/OOS to rear its head again, my new manager got me a semi-permanent desk to work at. We got part of Central Library open so I even got some regular desk shifts where I could interact with real students again, face-to-face. My buses got more reliable, so getting to and from work was now only 60 minutes, and I bought an e-reader to keep myself occupied on the way.

There are still (as of the morning of the 13th June) two and a half branches closed out of the five. One and the half are/were in the process of working towards reopening. The other one -- my one -- there's no timeframe for. (The building itself is safe, it's the neighbouring buildings that there's concerns about. In the meantime we can at least make daily retrievals of requested books.) An aggregate of rumours was leading me to the impression that it would be a long time, perhaps on the order of the rest of this year or so. <-Note all the qualifications and vagueness here: this is nothing more than a concept I've put into my head so that I've got one less thing to feel constantly uncertain about. Uncertainty is tiring; an unpleasant certainty is far less stressful. So I've taken to thinking of myself as a librarian in earthquake exile.

The team whose library I'm working in are wonderful, and have been fantastic. But I miss my team, who've been broken up and scattered around. Having desk shifts again is also great. But I miss having desk shifts in my branch, serving the students and staff in my subject areas. I'm constantly thinking how tough it is for them to be without their branch, especially for those who 'lost' their branch just a year before that in a merger with ours, and especially after we were shut so off-and-on for renovations and after the September quake. I'm almost used to the new routine; but it's hard; and even without these latest quakes it was going to change again in a couple of weeks or a couple of months.

The shaking itself doesn't scare me. (I must admit I've always been fortunate in which buildings I've been in -- some sound a lot scarier.) Evacuating a library leaves me just a bit shaky afterwards. Wading through liquefaction to get home is an absurdity that makes me laugh, and seeing families gathered, on a sunny winter day, on porches and lawns and at mailboxes watching the traffic crawl by -- really it's a beautiful thing.

But the days, weeks, months ahead -- the day-to-day of a world turned upside down -- that is challenging; and rewarding; and all in a day's work; and a long hard trudge.