The Coronvirus Gives You Permission to Text Your Ex* Out of the Blue (*Ex-coworkers!)

Normally you might think to yourself, will once bosom coworker, Erpa Snurpa, whom I worked with all those years ago think it’s strange if I call her out of the blue? Or, if I email that nice woman I worked with on that AALL committee 5 years ao, will she be glad to hear from me or just feel obligated to respond? Well, these are not normal times, just do it!! We are all experiencing a once in a lifetime (hopefully!) disruption to our lives, including our work lives. Just like you, many people you once knew are trapped inside much of the day, worrying about the coronavirus, wondering if they might be one of the many people who will eventually succumb to its ravages.

It is certainly not unusual for us as individuals to periodically reflect on our mortality, think about the old days, and remember the many people who have played a role in our lives. When faced with these moods, we are sometimes tempted to reach out to old friends, acquaintances, and maybe even enemies. But often we hold back, fearing that our outreach might be perceived as strange or even intrusive, or reason that they have probably forgotten about us long ago…

However, we have never faced a situation where everybody simultaneously begins to reflect on their own mortality. That would be unusual by itself, but it is even crazier than that! Many of the newly philosophical also suddenly have so much new leisure time to ponder our new philosophizing, our anxieties, and our lives. We have unlimited quarantined hours to struggle through Erikson’s last stage of human development, in which we battle despair, moving from the lifelong anxiety-filled question of “am I okay?” to the reflective “was I okay?”

If the coronavirus gives us permission to text and DM our exes to hash out whether our existence was justified**, it certainly gives us free reign to reconnect with old coworkers, one-time committee co-members, and conference acquaintances, and to strengthen our law-librarian networks! And, of course, the Internet gives us so many communication options to choose from! The Internet is awash in coronavirus testimonials about using the wonders of the Internet to connect with family and friends and advice on using it to battle loneliness and isolation.

So watch out, legions of my old coworkers and librarian friends! Sarah will be in touch soon***…

**Please detail any awkward encounters of this sort in the comments!

***Please consider reassuring her that her life was “okay.”

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The New Normal

I’ve seen a lot of productive conversations going on in legal education on various platforms about how to handle course work and grading for Spring 2020. Thankfully the discussion about how to handle this semester has been mostly thoughtful and caring, both on social media and in meetings. Law schools are realizing that a student’s performance in a class this semester is unlikely to reflect their hard work or understanding of the material but will reflect their health and home environment. Many students are also talking about how they know that their relative safety and security will give them an edge on their classmates and don’t think it’s fair to capitalize on that. I hope that when this current crisis passes that we won’t stop talking about these issues.

Now that we’ve moved to all online delivery of our courses, our students are learning in wildly different environments. We’re all trying to grapple with the best way to handle huge differences in students’ personal situations. Access to good computers, speed of home internet connections, financial precarity, pre-existing health conditions, interrupted childcare, mental health, and safe households are all challenges they face. Some of our students are home with their supportive families, with a good computer and high-speed internet and some of them are now trapped with their abusers around the clock. Some of them have financial support so they don’t have to worry about paying for groceries and making rent, and some of them just lost their already tiny income because of virus-related closures. These challenges are enough on their own but don’t touch on the elephant in the room: some of our students are going to get sick or are sick already.

It’s right that many schools have recognized the inherent unfairness these conditions present and have adjusted their grading methods for this semester, but these inequalities won’t go away once the threat of this pandemic has passed. Covid-19 has only magnified the inequities among our students. There’s still going to be sick students and healthy students. The problem is that outside of this crisis we tend to assume students have these basic needs met. Every semester will see several students in crisis, and those are the ones we are aware of. Many we never find out about.

I also think it’s worth noting that aside from all the other challenges, taking classes online is a big change that many students and faculty hate…but we’ll find that some are going to thrive in this new format. We cannot forget that online learning will privilege some students, but in person learning isn’t an equal playing field either. Many changes that are happening now that some of us find overwhelming are accommodations that others have been wanting. I hope this crisis is just the beginning of a larger discussion about law school, grades, and what we’re truly measuring when we assess students.

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Here’s What’s Going on in My Neck of the Woods

Things have been unusual lately at Emory Law Library since the hit of the coronavirus to say the least, but we have been stepping up to the plate.  Everyone in the Law Library is now working remotely and we’ve been sharing pictures of our newly set up home offices all week.  The reference librarians are continuing to do faculty research, teach classes now online and meet with students to help them with their research via Zoom. 

Every day all members of the Emory Law staff are randomly assigned a “chat buddy” to have a casual Zoom chat with, to help us all stay connected during this time.  I’ve met some new people this way and gotten some good tips on Netflix shows to watch etc.  The people I’ve chatted with have ranged from a little worried, to very worried.  All are glad we are working at home until the infection dies down and everyone I’ve talked to is pleasantly surprised at how efficiently they can work on and complete tasks and projects with no interruptions.  Despite all the craziness of the situation, the ability to focus seems to have increased in a home office setting.

One of the main perks I’ve noticed especially is I now no longer have a commute.  I’ve decided to use this extra time and am getting up and walking an hour before work and occasionally, I will walk an hour after I get off.  Originally, I started doing this to increase my immunity, but now I am enjoying having more energy and feeling stronger.  I also wanted a role model to keep me motivated and I found one close to home.  My cousin is the cancer survivor and fitness model, Natalie DeFoor Chapman.  She is also over 40 and a mother of two tweens.  She decided to get fit after beating cancer and I’ve been watching her coronavirus necessitated improvised at-home workouts on Instagram.  They are inspiring and the swift kick I needed to get moving.  Natalie was knocked down, but boy did she ever get back up.  So should we all.

A lot of people are talking about coping mechanisms for handling the social isolation we are all dealing with, but what if instead of just coping, we all started thriving.  I plan to use this time to hit the reset button on several areas of my life that have needed more attention and a brand-new start.  I also plan to get my house the cleanest it has ever been.  We are all socially isolated, but we also have been given more of one of life’s most valued gifts… time.  Why not use it and make the most of this temporary situation?  I am.   

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My New Co-workers are so Childish!

Well we’ve all experienced quite a change in the last two weeks.  Many of us have either started or been working remotely, trying to work on projects in a new work space, get ready for classes, and just generally staying on top of things.  Last week, I began to work from home and while the transition was generally easy, I have to say that many of my new coworkers are whiny, unreasonable, and don’t respect personal space.  While this does sound like a nightmare regularly, many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.  But I guess that’s what happens when you work with a five and three year old!

Working from home has been relatively easy this last week: I have my workstation set up, I have relative solitude, and all of my files are on the cloud so it is easy to continue my ongoing projects.  Likewise my institution has been expanding online teaching options for years, so our online teaching infrastructure is very solid.  However, it is not without problems: my wireless network is for personal, not work use, and the expanded need for broadband has made certain tasks very difficult.  For instance, Blackboard collaborate has not only been a problem for me but for my students.  Luckily we have a number of fallbacks available including VidGrid, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom if needed.  I have been making due and we’ll see how the students like these new experiences.

Unfortunately it is impossible and impractical to pretend that work continues as usual.  These disruptions would be difficult in the most neutral of environments; they are certainly made more difficult by being around my children, who while relatively respectful of my need to work, are still children and don’t fully understand why I’m in front of my computer all the time (in fact, as I write this, my youngest son keeps yelling at me to watch how Humpty Dumpty falls and to watch out for the hot lava).  While it is enjoyable to be around my kids so much, at certain times I need to just tell them to leave me alone!

Yet even when the leave me alone it is impossible to ignore them completely.  My wife works at home by taking care of our children regularly, and she has tried to maintain “normal operations” while I’m around.  Just like my work schedule is interrupted so is hers, and there is really nothing that either of us can do about it.  It is entirely counterintuitive to ignore my children fighting or crying, even if I were so inclined to and even though my wife has kindly asked me to (no joke).  My parental instincts kick in so that I go out to see what is going on and help resolve the situation with as little tears as possible (I won’t say whether it is the children’s’ or mine…) but which causes interference with my routine, my wife’s routine, and my children’s’ routine.

I hope I don’t come off sounding like I’m complaining: I am incredibly happy that I have a job where I can work from home at almost 80% effectiveness, especially considering the state of many other career situations.  Similarly, being around my wife and children during this time has been quite calming and reduced my stress tremendously.  But with all of those good qualities it is important to admit that the situation in relation to my work is at best a constant distraction and at worst an outright inconvenience: it would be much easier to be in my office right now.  I hope to be back there soon, but until then I will work with my “coworkers” as best as I can.  I hope that everyone reading this is safe and healthy, and that things return to “as normal as possible” very soon.  Take care!

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The value of networks

This might not have been the best time for a topic on networks, given that we’re in a state of “social distancing”, but I have found that one of my most valuable resources is my network.  Or, maybe it’s networks, rather than a single one.  I have networks for many aspects of my life – both for work, for social, for my horses, as a parent, and the list goes on.   And, as many of our institutions have instituted a “work from home” policy for the next few weeks, networks are more important than ever.

Networking isn’t just attending receptions, meetings, or other gatherings.  It’s about being part of something.  Yes, attending professional meetings and the associated receptions is a great way to network in person.  You attend, chat with people you don’t know, give out your business card, and receive other business cards in exchange.  Then you enter all that information into an electronic system – because, let’s face it, few of us have a Rolodex or business card file anymore [full confession, I still have a Rolodex in my office, but it hasn’t been updated in years].   Today, networking is online – think LinkedIn, Facebook, AALL My Communities, or your local chapter email listserv.

I wouldn’t be as effective at my job if I didn’t have a great network.  Or networks, plural.  There’s our internal network of researchers (as well as attorneys and staff).  I also have several email listserv networks.  One of the things that I tell our new hires and summer associates is that they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for anything.  That includes books or other materials that we don’t have in-house.  I rely on my library networks to help locate materials.  These networks have made me look AWESOME to our attorneys and staff.  There is rarely an item that we can’t get from somewhere, another firm, a law school library, or other institution.   And it’s quid pro quo – I am happy to respond to requests from outside our firm if I can help.  As a service-oriented profession, we help our patrons, and our colleagues.

I try to encourage new librarians to join their local chapter and attend meetings.  The local group can be the most effective network, and it’s certainly the one with the fastest response time.  The larger listservs mean more chances to find obscure material because it’s a wider network.  The more-focused My Communities mean that you can get assistance from those institutions and librarians who are in similar positions/institutions/etc.  Take advantage of as many networks as you can.  You may never need one/all, but they are there when you need something.

Conferences provide an excellent opportunity to put a face to a name on an email.  In addition to the anonymity of a national/international listerv, I have, and I’m sure many other have, a more personal network of go-to librarians.  Conferences provide a chance to catch up with friends, direct contacts, and make new contacts.   It’s also a chance to thank people who have helped me out through the years, even if it’s just a chance to say “thank you” in person.  You never know if that person you met last month might just happen to have that one elusive resource that you need.   Social distancing doesn’t mean you’re cut off, take advantage of your networks.

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Telecommuting 101

Today is my first day as a telecommuter. I am an extrovert and have habitually chosen jobs that require me to interact not only with coworkers, but also the public, on a consistent basis. I say require, but these interactions are often my favorite part of my job. I’m the worker whose feedback usually consists of rebukes to be “less social” with my coworkers, the kid in class that you couldn’t sit next to anyone because I would talk to whomever was sat next to me. Oh, what’s that? You’re moving my best friend across the room in favor of the shyest, quietest kid? Ha, jokes on you teach, I just made a new best friend. I love people, I love being around them and I love talking to them. So, the coming weeks will be especially challenging to me, and I’m sure many others. Tackling this new role of telecommuter successfully has required me to consider two separate prongs and devise strategies for each: developing meaningful work product and maintaining good mental health.

For many librarians, our positions are predicated on interactions with our patrons. Reference and instruction account for a large part of my duties in the library. We can continue to provide vital services to our patrons, even remotely. For example, my university has moved to online instruction. This is a brave new world for many faculty, who sometimes struggle with technologies that we as librarians have already mastered. They’ve been given a very short period of time to develop a skill set with which some have no experience. Although IT at many institutions will lead the charge in training, we can continue to be the “in between” neutral place in the law school community where people can turn to when they have questions that they are too embarrassed to ask anyone else. Only now these questions will be coming through virtually rather than face to face.

Speaking of face to face, we’ve moved all our reference hours to IM/chat. This change will necessitate new ways to perform reference interviews and recommend strategies to best meet patron needs. I expect an increase in pro se patrons with questions regarding court closures and video court calls. COVID-19 is beginning to affect our court systems and we can expect it to continue to in the coming months. Librarians will be needed to distill and dispense basic information regarding resources and adjustments to access to justice. As someone new to the state in which I am employed, this is an excellent opportunity for me to better familiarize myself better with this state’s system, resources, and history of handling similar disruptions.

However, what is there to do in the in between, when questions aren’t pouring in? Now is a great time to catch up on documentation, procedure manuals, and other back burner projects. Professional development is another important area to be explored. I’ve been trying to learn to code for years, but more pressing tasks have pushed that desire to the side. Now, I will have the time to develop this skill that will make me more valuable to my library. What about that tall to be read pile of industry journals and books? Now may also be a good time for strategic planning. I have several large-scale projects I’ve wanted to tackle but I lacked the time to sit down and plan. Now may be the perfect time to seriously consider pie in the sky projects.

However, finding the motivation to actually complete work at home can be daunting to many, like myself, that struggle with maintaining good mental health. This is true whether you are a longtime distance worker or a newbie like me. I found several lists of tips for telecommuting success by performing a simple Google search. There were many reoccurring themes, so I’ve chosen to focus on the three that helped me cope when I was housebound following the birth of my children.

  1. Get ready for work every day
  2. Divide up your day
  3. Get up and move

Try to recreate the experience of going to work as much as possible. Get up, get dressed. The restorative effects of a daily shower cannot be oversold. Have a routine, otherwise your days descend into endless hours of unstructured time. When in the office, I devote two hours of my mornings to reference and then two hours to the repository. I plan to do the same while at home.

Don’t forget to get up and move. Experts encourage us to get up from our desks and move around throughout the day, we can do the same thing at home. Take a little walk around the house, do some stretches, or tell a funny story around the water cooler to your new coworkers, you wouldn’t believe how interesting my four year old found my explanation of metadata standards over her frosted flakes this morning (not really of course, but it’s hard to find a good metadata audience anywhere if I’m honest).

Librarians are resourceful. We’ll get through this together. And if you need someone to talk to, move your virtual chair next to mine.

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Questions with Puron: March’s Featured RIPS Member

March’s Featured RIPS Member: Christy Sherbrook (Bradley, Arant, Boult & Cummings, LLP)

“Questions with Puron” is a social media series launched by the RIPS PR & Recruitment Committee to highlight the diverse views and professional strategies of the constituents of Research Instruction and Patron Services Special Interest Section (RIPS-SIS). Each month, our beloved penguin mascot will pose a series of questions to one of the many librarians who make up RIPS. This month, Puron talked with Christy Sherbrook, Research Services Coordinator at Bradley, Arant, Boult & Cummings, LLP.

Puron:    What does instruction look like for you?

Christy:   Instruction to me looks like bringing joy and laughter to the environment.  I like to teach using a very low pressure approach interwoven with humor, as my end users have plenty of burdens, deadlines, and stress from multiple directions.  If I can give them a smile and assurance that our Research Services will help them get the information/knowledge they need and that mistakes can be a regular part of growth, I believe that helps them trust the process a little bit better.

Puron:    What’s a recent photo you took that makes you smile?

Christy:   A recent photo I took that makes me smile is of my drummer daughter Veronica doing her interpretive Halloween-time tribute to Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics.

Puron:    What is your favorite movie?

Christy:   My favorite movie is Rocky or Rudy, as I love sports movies, and I love an underdog.

Puron:    Do you have any advice for new or aspiring law librarians?

Christy:   My advice to aspiring law librarians is to try and find a mentor or mentorship group early on in   your studies and/or your career.  I found both later in my career, and it makes all the difference. (Here’s looking at you, Lori Martin!) 


We hope you enjoyed getting to know Christy. If you would like to hear from more members, join the conversation on our Twitter RIPS-SIS (@RIPS_SIS) and Facebook. The PR & Recruitment Committee will also be reaching out to select members for participation in this series. If you would like to be featured, or want to recommend someone, please email the committee at puronrips@gmail.com.

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