Reflections on Labor Day 2020

After months of masks, sheltering and social distancing, Labor Day this year just feels weird. In society’s mind, this is the unofficial end-of-summer and start of school year. Folks plan one more road trip, or close up camp, or just bask in the glory of the warm days and try to extend that summer feeling for a little longer.

Historically, Labor Day is a way to acknowledge workers. Born out of the labor movement of the 1800’s, though, who really started it is a tad murky. It was a means to celebrate the workers, basically the blue-collar, union, and trade workers who kept the economy going and contributed so much to the daily economics of America.

Fast forward to 2020. Food workers, retail clerks, everyone in the health care industry, postal workers, and, yes, teachers and librarians are what has kept our current economy going. Yet, when you look at this list, for the most part these are some of the most underpaid workers as well. Each time anyone leaves their home and goes into their workplace and deals with other members of the public, there are risks; and many are facing job loss if they can’t figure out child care or elder care at a time where many facilities are not open.

Look at any listserv or library board on ALA and its affiliates to see how many librarians are wrestling with these issues. Are they going to open, if so for how long? What are the current protocols for quarantining materials, and is anyone really offering physical course reserves?

My workplace will begin to welcome half of the student population back to campus next week. My own library will not be open; but many of us will be working part time in the main library as greeters (please wear your mask at all times) and rovers (same message, though walking through the stacks). The sheer amount of work to plan protection for our staff and our patrons has taken many months, and has caused much anxiety. Many of us fall right into the category of most vulnerable, and yet, we are returning.

And so, on this Labor Day, I hope for a few things: that, as we progress into Fall and Winter, people will remain vigilant and shelter as much as they can; and that we all show patience and kindness to each other; but especially to those who are laboring on your behalf, to make sure you can get your groceries, your flu shot, your mail, your takeout, and your library books. To quote one of my favorite novels, “SOWISA-strap on when it seems appropriate.” (Stephen King)In this case, mask up, be kind to yourself and those around you, and remember to take care of yourself as well as you have always taken care of those patrons you serve.

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