A Diary of a Lonely Librarian, Part 1

Chronicles of sadness and strangeness in the time of COVID-19

Monday, March 16: We have 700 seats in our library. They are all empty. People tend to think of librarians as introverts. Maybe. But we miss you all. We joined this profession because we love people. We love seeing you, talking with you, helping you find what you need. And we love having hundreds of people sharing this space with us—studying, collaborating, getting coffee, checking out books, stopping by our service desks, eating grilled cheese. It’s lonely here now. We’ll see you again soon, but, for now, know that your presence is missed.

Tuesday, March 23: Repotted the cactus today. . . it looks good. . . sigh. I brought my cactus home from work yesterday. We are mostly all telecommuting, with just a small skeleton staff here each day for any onsite needs to support classes or research. Bringing home my cactus felt very heavy to me. My son gave it to me a couple years ago for my birthday. I brought it in to work because we have a great set of windows in our technical services department that face the south and get sun all day. There were already a bunch of beautiful plants there that my colleagues have been tending to for many years. I thought my cactus would welcome the sun and the company of its more seasoned plant friends and the wonderful folks who work in technical services. It has. It has really grown in the last two years. As we shifted to telecommuting, I thought I should bring the cactus home. That felt really sad because I knew I was also temporarily saying goodbye to the people I have worked with for so many years. I’ve repotted the cactus and bring it outside each day to visit with the sun. When it’s not sunny, it sits next to my laptop computer on my dining room table and reminds me of the people at work.

Monday, March 30: Discovered that Clorox wipes activate the hot water function on our water cooler. I am part of the onsite skeleton crew today. It’s the first time I’ve been back in the library in about a week. It’s good to be here today, and also strange to walk into such an empty building on a Monday morning. I went to make my morning tea by getting hot water from our water cooler in the break room. The water cooler has a safety mechanism by which you can only get hot water if you press two buttons on opposite sides of the touch screen. I thought I should wipe down the water cooler with a Clorox wipe and discovered that somehow the moisture in the wipes activates both buttons so that the water cooler just starts dumping out hot water. Being scientifically minded, I reacted like Beaker from the Muppets. After calming down, I unplugged the water cooler, dried off the buttons and cleaned up the mess. Actually now thankful that the library was empty so that nobody saw.

Tuesday, March 31: Did it again. I’m back for one more day as part of the onsite crew. As I went to get my morning tea again, I thought surely yesterday’s experience with the hot water was a fluke. Why not just try wiping down the water cooler in the same way again? No fluke. More hot water dumped on the floor. Have now confirmed that Clorox wipes activate the hot water function. Also, the floor around the water cooler is really really clean now. Next time, I’ll unplug the water cooler before wiping it down.

Monday, April 6: Did a complete loop, walking, of the second floor, in 3:57. The second floor of our library is pretty big. It’s the size of a couple football fields put together. I’m back as part of the onsite skeleton crew today, and thought I should take the opportunity of an empty library to see how long it took me to walk a circuit (walking, not running, because it is a library!). Started at our massive globe that sits on the second floor, out past MyLab and the government documents, by the Law Review and VJIL offices, back by MyLab, took a right and took the overpass over the main reading room to the stacks/study desks on the opposite side, down to the Gambini study room and Legal Data Lab, past the Collaborative Classroom, skirted the carrels surround the KF stacks, and then back to the reference area and the globe. 3 minutes, 57 seconds. Time to sit down! I asked the library director if I could spray paint that course on the carpet so that other people could follow it when everyone returns. She said no.

Tuesday, April 7: Turned on the lights! I’m part of the skeleton crew for today and just happened to be the first one to arrive. This never happens because, under normal circumstances, several of my colleagues get here very early and get everything set up and ready for the day. Being first means you get to turn on all the lights in the library. I assumed that this meant flipping a huge switch on the wall like the one that Dr. Frankenstein used to reanimate the “monster.” No. It’s just a small button. Sigh.

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Ben Doherty

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