Library collections (books, databases, special collections, archives, and more) must be meaningful to and reflective of the diverse voices of our communities. To fulfill the UConn Library’s mission to steward the world of information, our collections must be inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible.
As a direct response to the socio-political climate in the United States, UConn Library staff have formed a working group to investigate how their work in collections could better reflect and realize the values of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA). Under the aegis of the UConn Library’s values and strategic framework, the working group is collaborating to ensure that the Library’s policies and practices foster IDEA in the collections we build and steward. With representation across campuses and library units, the IDEA in Collections Working Group will craft guiding principles to help shape future collecting activities, access to and discovery of library collections, collections-related policies and practices, and engagement with Library collections stakeholders, including faculty, students, researchers, and donors.
On Friday, March 13, 2020, Jason started his first day, attending the required Human Resources orientation. At the same time, the staff were preparing for what we thought would be a two-week timeframe to work from home. He never had a chance to log on to his computer or even sit at his new desk. Edward, recently hired as our Business & Entrepreneurial Librarian, was set to move in March from his home in Singapore, only to “commute” for ten months until he could move to the United States.
Throughout the roughly 15 months of working from home, the Library has had the fortunate opportunity to hire ten new full-time staff members and we wondered, what was it like to start a new job in the middle of a pandemic? Even though their individual experiences are as unique as the two examples above, they collectively share an experience like no other. We sat down with several of them to talk about their challenges, successes, and hopes for joining the Library in person soon.
Geographically Distant – Together on Screen! Staff came from far and wide, and close by too. Some have relocated, and some are still waiting to move. Where are they from? We have representation from almost all of New England – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, as well as New York, California, Georgia, and the prize for farthest – Singapore. And yes, that means that in some cases, time zones have to be considered when scheduling a meeting!
What is it About the UConn Library? Without the ability to experience the environment and have only online interactions, what was it about the UConn Library that helped them decide to make the move? Even in a challenging online environment, they felt connected with the organization on collective goals and aspirations, and with individuals in the meetings. We also have a secret weapon for our search committees – Ellen Silbermann. A Georgia native and full of Southern charm, Ellen is a one-woman welcoming committee, putting applicants at ease from start to finish.
Space, the Final Frontier… Roughly half of our newly hired staff have never stepped foot into the building they will be working in or seen their work space. Some have never been on campus. So what are they wondering about? Do I have a nice chair? Should I bring my space heater? Is there a dress code? How far exactly is the Dairy Bar? What does the campus environment at a land grant institution feel like? How remote and bucolic is remote and bucolic?
Take Me Home, Country Road. What will they miss from home? Coffee within arms reach. Lunchtime walks with four-legged and furry co-workers. Impromptu playing of the mandolin during a quick meeting break. The warm snuggie and a wood stove. A new, special order, purple home office chair.
We Can’t Wait For…. Did we mention the Dairy Bar already? New and exciting lunch options. New office mates (more than the four-legged furry ones and family members we have now). A welcome party!!
Not All Bad. Online orientation does have some advantages. For example, having an online meeting for the first time instead of in person removes a lot of the stress. Decreased anxiety means increased number of connections which means a win for us all. A new initiative this past semester, Coffee Connections, also helped break the ice. It was designed for in-person meet-and-greets over coffee, but translated well via video. Online orientation also erased the physical divide, breaking down the barriers that we often face with staff in multiple campus locations. Online, we are all in the same space.
The UConn Library is looking forward to reopening this fall and with that the return of our staff. It seems like after working at home for so long, we are all going to feel first day jitters!
Thanks to the staff who chatted with us – from top left to bottom right:
Merlita Taitague is the Acquisitions & Electronic Resources Support Assistant for the Acquisitions & Discovery unit. She is at work behind the scenes coordinating the purchase of materials and managing our streaming video collection. Merlita is a UConn alumna (B.A., College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), recently celebrating 25 years of service during which she has been a member of our IT team, responsible for supporting donor development and stewardship, and as executive assistant for our former Vice Provost Brinley Franklin. If you ask any staff member they would tell you that no matter the work role, Merlita is most respected for her willingness to step into any project and do whatever it takes to make it successful. Take a minute to get to know Merlita.
What do you love most about working in a library? I’ve had the privilege of assisting many interesting library users over the years. One of my favorites was an artist who named a shade of colored pencil after me. Another was a world-renowned geographer and former world chess champion. After a long discourse about the virtues of fountain pens (he had one for every year from 1892 to 1959, including his favorite, made from the underbelly of a crocodile that lived in an African lake the name of which I can’t remember), he proceeded to treat me to a lecture on the history of chess-playing computers. Then there was the grad student who was so grateful for my help that he brought me and a colleague beef patties from my favorite Jamaican bakery.
In the midst of the pandemic, what do you do to take your mind off the crazy things happening in the world right now? I do yoga, or I walk my dog on the beach.
What is a positive that has come from this pandemic? Michael Bevacqua, a Chamorro Studies scholar, has volunteered countless hours of his free time teaching Chamorro language classes to people on Guam. For years, he held these informal sessions in person, meeting on Saturdays in a coffee shop. Because of the pandemic, he was obliged to move his classes online. There are so many mainland Chamorros—including myself—who don’t know the language. (And very few on Guam know it well; I read somewhere that at the current rate of decline, the Chamorro language will be extinct in 50 years.) So of course, once word got out about his online classes, interest spread literally worldwide. His current beginner class has several hundred people in it!
What’s your go-to productivity trick? Talking to myself. It helps me focus.
What’s one professional skill you’re currently working on? Trying to figure out how to increase the digital accessibility of our collections.
Tell us a fun fact about you. My first job was as a carnival barker.
What is on your reading list? “Language Matters” by Sharon Clampitt-Dunlap (shoutout to my former colleague Marisol Ramos for purchasing this book for our collection), “Where Are All the Librarians of Color?” and whatever leisure reading books friends exchange with me. Right now, I have a James Patterson, a Vince Flynn, and two Steve Berrys sitting on my shelf.
Everyone loves UConn for their own reasons. What is yours? The breadth of expertise available to me in the form of colleagues and students across the University. No matter my question, I have an expert whose brain I can pick.
If you could only have three apps on your smartphone, which would you pick? Google Maps, a calendar app, and Weather Channel.
What’s your most hated household chore? Dusting . . . or laundry . . . or mopping . . . or maybe vacuuming.
What’s your most used emoji? The heart emoji for my kids, the smiley face for everyone else.