COVID-19

A COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter Reflection

I remember around three months ago I was crying into my partners shoulder over COVID-19. It was this scary unknown force closing down life as we knew it. I feared not only for my life, but for the lives of those closest to me, including my partner and his family, my parents, and my fellow librarians. There was also this continuous ache in my heart for those who lost loved ones to COVID-19 and the families they left behind. I cried not only out of fear and grief, but out of anger that our country mishandled the response to this pandemic at every step. The anxiety and despair drowned me for a couple weeks, making all of my work feel meaningless, but eventually, I was able to get my head above water again. We settled into the new COVID-19 “normal” which involved putting our grocery order in five days ahead of time, never leaving the house (except for grocery pick-up), and awkward zoom meetings. Working at home during a pandemic is hard. Working at home during a pandemic and taking on the role of Latin American Studies Librarian is harder. Nevertheless, I persisted, trying my best to keep my head above water.

Then the news about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery began to circulate, followed by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Black Lives Matter protests erupted around the country and police brutality continued to be an everyday occurrence on my social media feed. Then we heard about Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, Elijah McClain, Oluwatoyin Salau, and I felt like I was drowning again. The familiar feelings of despair, grief and anger consumed me. I spent a whole week or two bouncing between feeling stuck and taking action. I signed petitions, I shared resources, I donated, and I tried to spend some time thinking about how to enact meaningful change. But when we talk about changing systems, it can feel really hopeless. Can I really make a difference? I don’t know. But I will continue to try.

As a brief note, I want to acknowledge the privilege that I have as a non-black person of color. I have the choice to participate in these dialogues, to donate, to protest, etc. I even have the choice of stepping away when it all gets too much (which I admit, I have done in the past). But Black people don’t have that option. They can’t just pause because they are tired. This is their everyday reality. The least I can do is stick out the discomfort and use the privilege I do have to benefit others.

With that said, here are some of the internal conflicts that I’ve been working through

  • What are the privileges that I have as a non-black person of color
  • Am I even a person of color? (for those who don’t know, I am Puerto Rican)
  • How am I supposed to disrupt when I am so non-confrontational?
  • Where is my place in the broader antiracism conversations?
  • Is it possible to change the system from within, or does it need to be replaced with something new?

In talking about systems, our organization has made an effort to foster dialogues around equity, diversity, inclusion and antiracism, which I think is a start. I have a healthy dose of skepticism, especially as I learn more about how entrenched in whiteness our organizations are. For long-term change, I will continue to educate myself and reflect on my own experiences and biases. This is something that should be on-going and should happen regardless. The more difficult role will be to continue to voice my concerns and stand up when I see something problematic, try my best to be part of key conversations and decision making, and to ensure that we are still talking about these topics three, six, and nine months from now.

To end, I wanted to share a resource that helped me get through the overwhelming social change landscape:

The above graphic (and the corresponding framework found here) helped me understand that there were many different roles when working toward social justice. The work I do might look a little bit different than your work, and that isn’t inherently bad.

And in case you forgot, Black Lives Matter.

Transitioning to “Acting Latin American Studies Librarian”

Since May 6th, 2020, I have been the Acting Latin American Studies Librarian while our current Latin American studies Librarian (who is also my supervisor) is out on maternity leave. I will be in this role until she comes back around October. I knew the day would come where this transition would happen, but it didn’t quite hit me until she was gone. In this blog post, I will share some information about how we prepped for this transition and my initial reflections on this transition so far.

Preparation

In terms of prepping me for this transition, my supervisor was very proactive. Probably more proactive than most. We had multiple meetings where she laid out the following:

  • the kinds of questions I will receive and how to respond
  • any of her reoccurring obligations (service voting/collection development/budget approvals)
  • timeline for specific actions
  • important contacts if I needed help

Because we are currently working from home, she also wanted to make sure that I had enough self-led projects for the next couple of months. We also discussed the institutional knowledge of her position, sharing how she communicates as a liaison, and the service expectations that our constituents might expect. To really solidify the transition, she also wanted to ensure that I stayed connected with colleagues and mentors, and has charged me with “flipping” my meetings with my temporary supervisor and mentors. I also want to make it very clear that this kind of preparation was always part of our working relationship. I wanted to see what it was like to be a Latin American Studies Librarian and my supervisor has always been transparent with her workflow. Now I get to really apply everything I have observed and been taught.

Reflections

A shift in mentality

I’m only about a week into being the Acting Latin American Studies Librarian, and one of the first things I noticed was this shift in my mentality about my place in the organization and my willingness to contribute. As a resident, it’s easy to pay half-attention to certain meetings or to disregard portions of what’s being told to you because you are usually an exception to the rules for permanent staff/faculty. As May 6th came and went, I realized that I was was now inspired to pay closer attention to policies and taking more detailed notes in meetings especially since COVID-19 has caused everything to be very fluid.

Weirdly enough, I feel like the transition to Acting Latin American Studies Librarian came at a really great time. I was falling into a bit of a slump in terms of working from home and just my overall mental health. It was hard to find meaning in my work when it felt like everything was pointless. Now I feel like I have a stronger sense of purpose when it comes to my work and I am extremely motivated to continue to grow.

New responsibilities and connections

Almost immediately after the May 6th, it started to feel there were a lot more “little things” to take care of. Prior to this time, administrative tasks were exclusively done by my supervisor and requests from faculty would be filtered through my supervisor if she needed some help or wanted me to get a certain experience. Now, it’s just me doing the administrative stuff and fielding questions and requests. And this isn’t bad by any means, just something new to adjust to. One of the highlights of this adjustment is that it has forced me to become comfortable with asking other colleagues questions. For example, I had an e-book licensing question. Usually, I would ask my supervisor, then she would work her magic and come back to me with an answer. Now I realize that her “magic” was just her asking people who are most likely to know the answers to her questions. This transition has been eye opening in terms of surfacing the invisible labor of my supervisor and allowing me to practice my problem-solving skills.

As a result of being the direct contact and having to reach out to colleagues more, I have been in contact with people I normally would not be in contact with (at least, not directly). Again, this has led me to feel like I am taken seriously and that I am part of this institution.

Putting theory into practice

So far, it has been easy to remember the guidance that my supervisor has demonstrated in our time together. For example, whenever I am faced with a liaison email of some sort, I am always thinking about the following tips that my supervisor has told me (if applicable):

  • start with an appropriate greeting first then respond to whatever they said.
  • If initiating the email, the first line after greeting should succinctly state why it is you are reaching out to them
  • state my commitment to helping them to the best of my abilities
  • make it as easy as possible for them to access whatever it is that they are requesting (meaning links directly in the email)
  • never share speculative information as fact. Its better to admit that you are unsure rather than trying to glue together an answer
  • If you can’t get them what they need, always try to provide some other options or point them in the direction of someone who can
  • It takes 2 seconds to respond with a “thanks for sharing” or some other indication that you received an email that doesn’t specifically ask for a response

Tips and guidance on email etiquette might seem very niche, but working from home has increased my amount of email correspondences. Being able to communicate well in this virtual environment is of the utmost importance if I want to do my job well. Having this guidance has also helped my anxiety around these activities. Additionally, it is nice to send well wishes during this time as we are all in very different situations. It is important to be kind and compassionate during this time.

So there is my update and reflection on being the Acting Latin American Studies Librarian! I am curious to see what I have to say next month as I continue to adjust to this transition.