On Missing the Desk
This week, the consortium our library is a part of hosted the opening colloquium session for our annual conference. The topic was renewal and focused on how librarians have been burning the candle at both ends during the pandemic. We're burned out, frustrated, and emotionally spent.
One of the exercises asked us about ambiguous loss. Ambiguous loss is grief that occurs when a situation has a low likelihood of closure. It can happen when a loved one has dementia, loss of pregnancy, family estrangement, or ghosting by friends. Ambiguous loss can also crop up in the workplace.
This discussion made me think about the start of the pandemic. When we were all asked to work from home, I tried to make the best of it. I focused on long term projects I now I had focused time for. I kept up with my colleagues via chat. I took our baby being home with us for 16+ weeks as a sort of second maternity leave.
What I soon came to realize was that I missed working directly with students. We continued to provide support through online classes, chat, and email, but we no longer had a reference desk. We worked from a distance and fewer students used our services.
I had to run to the office to rescue some work material and, when I saw our empty reference desk for the first time in nearly 6 months, I almost cried. I had no idea how much I missed that desk.
Usually, the reference desk is the hot seat. You never know what you're going to be asked or what attitudes you're going to encounter. It's a total crapshoot what kind of day you are going to have. There is a constant low-level of stress and adrenaline that comes from being in that seat several shifts a week.
And it wasn't until I saw the desk that I realized I missed it immensely.
Our student population is one that directly benefits from in-person point-of-need service. It is far easier to provide research and tech support in person. You can't help someone navigate Zoom for the first time through Zoom.
When I worked the desk, I relished seeing the lightbulb moments, the smiles and head nods of understanding. I missed connecting people to the information they wanted. I missed chatting with our regulars.
It was over a year before we offered in person reference again. On my first shift, I nearly attacked our first students with my, "How can I help you?" I was so happy to be back on the desk. It felt like a part of me had been made whole.
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