Working from home, parenting from home and studying from home: A balancing act during a pandemic

Like many of my fellow graduate assistants and colleagues the last few weeks have been a whirlwind. I went from having a very standard schedule most days between work for myself and school for my five year old daughter.

  1. Wake up and get daughter ready for school. Eat breakfast and head out the door.
  2. Drop daughter off at Montessori school and drive .002 miles to my office in the Drake building.
  3. Work for 5-7 hours and then go pick up my daughter.
  4. Spend a few hours cooking dinner, going for a walk and spending time together as a family.
  5. Daughter in bed and time for me to work on schoolwork. Sleep. Repeat.

We had a great routine that along with the rest of the world was completely upended by the situation surrounding COVID-19. I have quickly tried to establish some work-from-home boundaries but setting up a small table in my bedroom.

Small makeshift work area. At least it has great light!

Nowadays its a mess of attempting homeschooling, juggling work and trying to stay on top of my courses. While also keeping an eye on the ever changing status of the world around us. To accomplish these tasks my daughter has become my companion during zoom calls and I try to time my more important work for her nap/rest hour later in the day. We also try and take a few quick walks around the block so I can squeeze in a discussion post for class while she eats a snack. Despite all the upheaval I am finally almost at the end of my project working to ingest all the documents from the OSIRIS-REx Science Implementation Plan into the campus repository. No matter how difficult it seems these days to juggle my roles as a graduate assistant, student and mom I am so thankful to be able to do my job from the safety of my home.

Its important during this unknown and scary times to try and look at the bright side and enjoy the time we have with our families. Most importantly though, STAY INSIDE!

A photo of Elizabeth and her daughter, Everly.

Archives and WFH?

The pandemic has upended people’s lives and jobs, not only nationally, but globally. As a result, the University of Arizona has embraced the approach being used by other schools in moving activities online and towards remote work. Gratefully, the university’s Special Collections department has allowed its graduate assistants and other students to work from home. This work has been exemplified by research tasks conducted online, thereby maintaining “social distancing” protocols. However, the acronym of WFH (Work From Home) is far from TGIF or YOLO.

I have been wallowing at home trying to get online research done, both for work and for school. Although two of my classes were already virtual, the third was one of the few face to face (F2F) courses left in this principally online library program. Another pandemic victim. For my online work project, I was tasked to explore “born digital” policies utilized by other institutions. It has been difficult to navigate mostly password protected webpages discussing their practices though.

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My workstation now…

Throughout this online researching, I have pondered the future of archives as society moves away from physical records towards being completely digital. I considered how researchers will use these resources. So, I examined a recent trend in archival utilization – data science. Digital collections are being analyzed through data visualization. The Library of Congress’ website even has a blog discussing its considerable capabilities.

Digital Collections and Data Science
https://blogs.loc.gov/thesignal/2016/09/digital-collections-and-data-science/

Data visualization of archives can be done while “sheltering in place,” so it seems to be the next path for me to take.

Exploring digital collections from home

With the closure of the University of Arizona campus due to the COVID-19 outbreak, graduate assistants will be working from home for the next several weeks to come. During this time, the nature of our work is going to change. We’re going from physically processing materials and collections to working on research, digital collections, and exhibit preparation. Our meetings are going to be conducted on Zoom, through email, and occasionally on Slack and other services.

As I was preparing to work from home, I realized that there are going to be some perks:

  • I can wear my pajamas to work
  • I can have work helpers (see photo below!)
  • I can drink as much coffee at home as I’d like without judgement.

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Michelle takes a much needed mental health break with the #ThreeLittlePiglets (left to right: Hopper, Scooter, and Skipper) while three of her 16 farm dogs (left to right: Mars, Frigga, and Yeti) anxiously await ‘getting back to work’.

I stress to everyone out there, take a few moments each day to relax. There’s a lot of stress going around — so remember to find your zen. If your zen includes looking at digital archive resources then I highly suggest you spend a moment with Special Collection’s digital resources and collections.

Though we’re closed, you can still view some of our online exhibits. We also have several digital collections where you can continue to browse items in our holdings.

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If you browse one collection per day, you’ll have plenty of things to learn about each day. Virtual museum tours are also becoming quite popular — so feel free to look around at other collections out there as well! Graduate students will continue to update our blogs so that you can follow what we’re up to. But remember, find a moment of zen each day. We cannot wait to see you when we open our doors again.

Boxtopia

This blog post is going to be about boxes. This isn’t a metaphor for a larger problem in archives, just a rant about boxes. In most job posting for archival jobs, and maybe in other jobs types as well, there is usually a qualification that says the candidate must be able to lift around 25 to 40 pounds. This may be something that you can look off if you are able, but with archival processing this is a qualification you will exercise daily. Because most archival institutions deal mainly with paper collections, boxes are a daily aspect of life. Paper goes into folder, which in turn go into boxes. The current project that I am working on is an addition to the Bernard L. Fontana papers (MS 434). Other than being a collection that boasts emails signed with a bunny, it is a source of a multitude of boxes.

With five students processing in the same space, everyone’s collections can be mixed up. So let’s play a game. Guess which boxes are mine.

The addition for the Fontana papers is 25 linear feet. One linear feet usually equals one box, so 25 linear feet means 25 boxes to move. In my original survey of the addition, I anticipated that I would only keep 15 of the 25 boxes. But after processing about half of the addition, I will be lucky to get rid of 5 of them. Another aspect that needs to come up is that we usually do not keep the original boxes that incoming collection come in. In the name of preservation, manuscript collection are transferred into acid free boxes that are archival grade. Since most boxes do not follow these requirements, they are left wanting after their contents have been transferred. So with old boxes being aside and new archival boxes being created to replace them, it can start to feel like the plot of I, Robot. But on the bright spot, there are enough boxes around to build myself a fort for an afternoon nap.

Round 2: Guess which boxes are mine.

One issue with additions to collections is that it can be difficult to keep the collection together. The original Fontana papers numbers 52.5 linear feet. With the addition, it may reach 72.5 linear feet. The problem arises because the 20 linear feet of newly processed collection typically is added to the end of the physically collection, which can be difficult when other collections already take up that space. The original processor of the collection had the idea of leaving space of a possible addition, which is smart, but didn’t have the foresight to leave space for 20 boxes. Since I don’t want to be part of that shifting project, because boxes are heavy, I hope the archival fairy will do me a solid.

Just Roll with It

One of the most maddening situations I have experienced while being an archivist apprentice has been project time management. It seems as if there is never enough time to get a project done. Just when you think you see the oasis, it turns out to be a mirage. Case in point has been the Reeder papers (MS 710) collection which has confounded me since last fall.

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It has been a laborious process with complications. Before the end of the fall semester, I found out that the photo negative preservers needed for this collection had to be ordered since the ones here were the wrong size. These were delivered after the holiday break. However, now the task remains to house all the negatives in individual sleeves.

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Another small glitch was that there were born digital (i.e. computer disks) materials as well. These had to be sent to a lab in-house for processing. Fortunately, out of 32 disks there was only one that was unreadable. Nonetheless, these have their own method of housing, which I am still learning.

BD Materials Blog 4

I am now trying to finalize the finding aid to be posted online which will help researchers find resources. At times, I have had to actually re-folder some materials. This comes from after more than a semester actually learning some archival processing and learning how to simplify things. Furthermore, the detailed work of constructing an online finding aid in ArchivesSpace and in a Word document adds to the time challenge.

ArchivesSpace Blog 4

As I mentioned before, being an archivist apprentice here at the UA Special Collections is truly a multi-tasking job. Although maddening at times, the best thing is stay calm and roll with it.

New Mission: The Front Desk

Last semester, I was training to serve at the front desk of Special Collections. When new patrons enter Special Collections they come to the front desk where a friendly face will greet them and start them on their archival journey. This semester, the training wheels have been removed and I’m officially on my own (with help nearby just in case!) at the helm.

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At the front desk, I have begun serving patrons in multiple ways. Perhaps one of the most exciting things is asking a patron what they’d like to view in our collection — I’m very curious about their selections and often we’ve had great conversations about personal interests, family genealogy, and general research — and then helping them access our materials. Forms are filled out. Tables are assigned. Materials are paged. Apart from the general curiosity, getting to scan the book barcodes has become one of the highlights of my day!

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I’ve been able to practice checking books in/out to customers (although our books never leave the library, we keep detailed records of which books, manuscript collections, etc., are being accessed by our patrons). The red flashing light and the beeps just thrills me. I’ve also found books without barcodes, meaning I get to assign a barcode to the book in question. If you’ve never tried to align a barcode perfectly straight and felt that kind of pressure, you don’t yet know the thrill!

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Managing patron materials is exciting, but not the only thing I’m doing at the desk. I’m also collecting statistical data on how many people an hour are viewing exhibits in our lobby, how many people are entering the reading room, how many people are using materials, and….wait for it… answering questions over the phone!

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The ring-ring of a phone terrifies me. Perhaps I’m from a generation that prefers to text rather than talk, or email if there is a longer question to be asked, but the ringing telephone brings many surprises! I’ve had “fake” calls about our Honda’s car warranty (we’re still trying to find the Honda in question!). I’ve had quick questions asking for phone numbers. Then, I’ve had research questions where I do my best to help a customer find the information they need — navigating through the website while chatting, giving them the number to an archivist, helping determine if their relative’s materials are in one of our collections — the questions always vary, and despite the initial fear, have always been great.

So the next time you come to Special Collections you just might be meeting me! Be prepared for me to be quite curious about what you’re researching.

Conference Time

In the last two weeks I have slept in my own bed four times and stayed at three separate hotels. One of those hotels was for a concert that I went to, but the other two were for conferences that I had attended. As a Diversity Scholar with the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), I was afforded the opportunity to attend a leadership symposium in Philadelphia where the American Library Association (ALA) were holding their mid-winter meeting. The other conference I had the opportunity to attend was the Arizona Archives Summit, an annual meeting of archivists around the state of Arizona.

At the end of the ARL’s leadership symposium, we were asked choose a word that could describe our takeaway from the event. Some used words like empowered or seen to express how they felt as a result of the symposium. The word that I decided to add to the mix of emotions was enlightened. I choose this word to represent my feelings because in engaging with those in my cohort for the program and listening to their stories throughout the workshops I was shown a level of diversity that expands far beyond that of just race. A truer definition of diversity was represented in this group that each brought along their own struggles and journeys in their respective Library Science programs. One reason to hold the symposium during ALA’s mid-winter meeting was so diverse professionals who were already in the field could come and speak to us and share what experiences they had. After the symposium I felt enlightened to a wider group of diversity that was fighting for a spot just like me.

The second conference that I attended was the Arizona Archives Summit. This is a yearly meeting organized by the Arizona Archives Alliance (AzAA). The summit was a two-day workshop event where archivists around the state could listen to the presentations and network with each other. Panels included naming practices that could be found in community based archives and exploring how to describing Native American records in culturally appropriate ways. What I took away most from this conference was how archives and archivists around the state are curating their collections and their methods of description to properly encapsulate the cultures they are engaging with. While I am happy to be sleeping in my own bed, one thing that I will miss is interacting with different perspectives and practices.