We all keep writing about the pandemic, with no concrete answers and some advice. There are so many unknowns about what life is going to look like in even just a month. Most people have lost lost something – loved ones, work, internships, the expected celebrations for completing our degrees, routines, and smaller everyday interactions with people that accumulate to mean a lot. I know I am not being as productive as I feel I should be during my final quarter. I am worried about finding employment, as many of us are. There are so many things we have individually lost, and it is further depressing to see how terribly the U.S. is handling this crisis. Even among all the things I have to grieve, I am privileged to be relatively okay during this pandemic. But, still, it is not easy.
There is so much advice online on how to remain positive, how to stay productive, and how to cope. But there is little on how to acknowledge and navigate a wide range of unpleasant emotions. It is hardly anyone’s fault they are not as productive as they could be and are generally not in a good headspace. We need space to feel bad, which is okay and necessary during an average year; but it is especially vital now. We will not be going back to the good parts of normal anytime soon, and that too needs to be mourned. Even under the best-case scenarios, where people can work from home and are safe there, this crisis is hard. Reading about the deaths, the missteps from our government, and the burden on healthcare workers, let alone experiencing them first hand, is difficult.
What does any of this have to do with libraries? There are many roles libraries can and are fulfilling during this crisis – they are still loaning digital books, some are creating guides to help people look critically at information about COVID-19, communicating about the spread of damage of misinformation. But, what can they do in regards to acknowledging how hard this crisis is, and why that matters? Public libraries especially strive to be places that promote and facilitate civil discourse and life-long learning. They are also places for the community, and even virtually there is space to start conversations about how we are being impacted by COVID-19. Book clubs could pick fiction or nonfiction titles dealing with issues that have come up because of this pandemic. Libraries can start discussions on social media on how people are faring during this crisis and why that matters. Even just doing something small to show it is okay to talk about how hard things are could be helpful.
This experience is a minor trauma for many of us, and for others it is a major trauma. Eventually the country will be able to safely reopen, and things will begin to look like normal. But, what parts of normal do we even want to return to? As much as this virus has laid bare that everyone’s health impacts the health of others, that we need one other in person and face to face, and that our systems do not prioritize human flourishing; there are some things I have appreciated about staying home – time to cook, to notice when the flowers on my block bloom and when they whither, and not feeling like I am constantly rushing to the next class or assignment. I want to take these with me into whatever life is going to look like afterwards. But, I also am not proud to be American when people are losing health care during a pandemic, people are going hungry and unable to pay rent. I want people to be able to be away from work for two months and not starve or risk eviction. What do we want to bring back to “normal life”? What things do we want to see change, and how do we make these happen?
Clearly, much of this work cannot be done by individuals alone, or even libraries alone. There are things that need to change on a systemic level, and there are attitudes and beliefs that also need to change. What has been hard for you during this pandemic? What do you look forward to returning to? Shifts have to start somewhere, and everyone can do something, so what could that look like? How might libraries contribute to the kind of world we want to see, in both individual and systemic ways?
Hanna Roseen is in her second and final year as a residential MLIS student at the University of Washington with an interest in public, academic, and school librarianship, and archives. This is her last post for the blog 😦