Starting Remotely

After a week of dreading the news of how my interview went, I got to celebrate my success in finally landing a job. It was the first week of March. My start date was set for April 6th and I put in my notice at both part time jobs. Everyone was excited for me and I was waiting for HR to send me a contract to sign. By then COVID-19 hit New York City with it’s first case.  

In just a few weeks panic began to set in. As more cases emerged the stronger people felt panic. My usual Sunday grocery shopping for a week’s worth of lunches became Sunday grocery shopping trip to last us through a month long quarantine. While California and Washington were hit first, it didn’t seem real until it hit our home state of New York. We only live a 45 minute train ride from the heart of Manhattan. To say it was too close to home is an understatement. It was home and we were about to witness how strong (or weak) our governor and mayors are in response to a pandemic.

My partner and I are extremely lucky to be working in the SUNY system. While classes were put online and most buildings on campus were closed, we are working remotely and staying inside. Which is more than most people have even in New York State. However, I am in the middle of transitioning into a new position. And that luck feels like it is running short.

The Situation

The academic library I work at part time is in the SUNY system. Meaning all classes are online, Spring Break has been extended for a second week, and all students are being asked (more like strongly suggested) to move out of their dorms by March 20th. The buildings and essential offices are still open so far. Including the library. We have about seven branches on one campus all except one is closed to the public and students. 

Last week the library has also significantly reduced the staffing and hours of the only opened branch as well. The branch is open from 9 am- 5 pm Monday through Friday. It is only staffed by two people with a five hour shift each (one person from 9am- 1pm and the other from 1pm- 5pm). The library chose to keep the largest branch open and removed over 80 % of seating. They also rearranged the tables to allow for one person per table rather than the usual group.

As of March 19th, the library expects to revert to normal hours & all branches open at the end of the extended Spring Break (March 29th). All staff have been asked to work remotely and track hours. We’ve been given small administrative tasks like reviewing policies and procedures, updating FAQ pages, and taking notes on webinars. 

However, with the closing of dorms and all classes being moved online, I doubt there will be any normality until next semester. I hope for my health and my co-workers health, that the library remains with limited hours and one branch open.

The public library I work at part time has also closed for a week. This morning (3/20/2020) the director announced the library will be closed until April 1. I highly doubt they will be open by April and the library director probably thinks the same. The library is slowly implementing remote tasks for full time and part time staff. I’ve seen other libraries provide curbside service or virtual programs. However, in New York with so many people living in just one city, I doubt any libraries will be open in any copasticy.

While I agree that public libraries should be closed and SUNY students shouldn’t be on campus as efforts to reduce large crowds, it is also a serious liability issue. It is so hard for libraries to close their doors to the people who love and support them. But as a public and academic library employee, it is terrifying working in a public space meant for large crowds. 

It’s not just a liability issue for patrons and students, it’s also a liability issue for employees. Not just their physical health but also their well being. I cannot tell you how terrifying it is to have a patron ask me a reference question and all I can think of is “this reference desk does not keep you at least 6 feet away from me” “please cover your mouth when you cough in my direction” “I wonder when I’ll catch the corona virus”. 

The New Gig

For the past couple of weeks, I haven’t been able to think about my new position nor be the least excited. All of my social media and news feeds have been consumed with COVID-19. Phone calls with friends and family have been filled with updates on how our states are holding up. Every conversation I have with co-workers ends with “stay safe”. It wasn’t until this week did my mind question my start date. 

I already gave my two part time gigs notice. The paperwork had been signed and I started to say my goodbyes. After the extended Spring Break and limited hours were implemented, I started to wonder how this will affect my start date.

The new job is also a SUNY school. Like others, all classes are online, all events have been cancelled, and students asked to leave the dorms. I assumed like other SUNY schools, the administration building and the library would still be open. Someone once told me, never assume. So I didn’t. 

I emailed the director asking how things were going. About a week later (of me not assuming anything), I finally heard back. Yes, the library building is still open, however they asked all employees to work remotely. The director asked me if I had given my notice. That simple question made my mind swim with panic. Did I just lose this opportunity because a fucking virus is causing all of New York to shut down? I answered, “yes” but thought “please, don’t give me bad news”. 

The HR department was holding off my contract in case I had not given my notice. The director didn’t want me to be jobless during the overall shut down, so they called to confirm. They confirmed my start date and we talked about things to do remotely. We agreed to meet at the library on my start date to get me set up with whatever things I needed to work remotely. Turns out my luck didn’t run out at all.

It’s crazy seeing how life events continue during what feels like an apocalypse. I have friends who are still about to give birth, weddings are still happening, mail is being delivered, and some people are starting new jobs. A friend of mine has just accepted a new position in a new state. All I can hope for them is a quick start date and a quicker on boarding process.

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