The home office – reinvigorated

I’ve been working from home since Tuesday 17th March.  I’d been feeling twitchy for a few days prior to this, and increasingly uncomfortable about travelling on packed commuter trains. On the Monday I left the office taking home a variety of papers and documents that I knew would be useful for working from home, I was hoping at some point that week I could request to do so. By the Monday evening however the University had emailed all staff telling us that if it was possible for us to work from home then we should start doing so. I haven’t been back to the office since, and although there are a couple of things I would have taken home if I’d known I wasn’t returning, I don’t actually need them.

In some ways I found the transition to home working fairly simple.  Both my husband and myself have separate ‘studies’; I have a desk and a PC, and I have worked from home on the odd occasion when I had problems getting to work, such as earlier in the year when the torrential rain flooded our local station and the railway line. I know many of my colleagues weren’t so lucky and witnessed a variety of struggles as people without IT equipment, desks, space, tried to find new ways of working.  Meanwhile I was good to go straight from that Tuesday morning, and very grateful I was.

My initial thoughts that I would have plenty of time to catch up with those tasks that always get pushed to the bottom of the pile, such as updating the manual, were however a little foolish! I’m a cataloguer who normally spends a lot of her time working with physical books, and when I am lucky (once a week or so) with rare/antiquarian books.  Obviously I have none of these physical items at home to catalogue, but suddenly the priority became e-resources.  With the doors to physical library spaces closed all our users now need to access their resources online.  I’ve previously tended to let some of my other colleagues concentrate on e-books, as they’ve tended to let me focus on rare books, but now the e-resources are key. 

We also had a reclassification project that had been looming and we weren’t sure when we were going to fit it in, as the stock needed to be moved during the summer months. We had already been planning on working from spreadsheets as much as we could, so this was also ideal to do from home.  So my first few weeks focused on the cataloguing of e-books and the reclassification of Japanese books from Dewey to Library of Congress. Once again thankful that we already had online subscriptions to both LC and DDC schedules.

My husband happens to be the Acquisitions Librarian (Assistant AL actually, but there isn’t an AL…) for the same institution and he ended up twice as busy as before.  So much so that he needed some assistance, and who was the closest and easiest person to train? So my role has now changed to encompass the activation of e-books and importing of vendor MARC records.  Talking about these tasks the other day we both perceive a blurring of lines over responsibility – are these acquisitions tasks or cataloguing tasks? I am sure in a smaller institution they would be a normal part of the cataloguer’s role anyway. 

So the tasks I have been doing from home are slightly different to what I would have been doing in the office, but not so different.  My job is still recognisably that of a cataloguer. I do find however that a lot of my tasks are now list based which can become a bit repetitive – lists of e-book records to check and upgrade, lists of records added by the NHS Wales librarians to check and upgrade, lists of records to reclassify and I do miss being able to hold physical items in my hand.  As I completed my section of the reclassification list I also miss classifying items – from the simple books I didn’t even need to check the schedules for, to the complicated ones that really exercised one’s mind and had you pondering and deliberating for ages.

Overall though I have been immensely grateful that I have a job I can do from home, and a supportive employer!  Since lockdown I think we have activated and catalogued nearly 2,000 individual e-books, alongside hundreds of thousands contained within packages that another colleague deals with. As our University is working on how best to open up the campus again in September it currently looks highly likely that as a ‘back-office’ person I will probably continue working from home for the next year, but who knows what the future will bring. 

Since being at home I’ve tidied my desk and study a bit more (I usually have several writing projects on the go as well, with lots of books and papers everywhere), and in the last week decided I should treat myself and make working on Alma a whole lot easier (especially if it is going to be long term).  So I now have two monitors – hurrah! We all do back in the office, so I am delighted to once again have two versions of the metadata editor side by side! This also necessitated a new shelf to house the stuff that sat where the new monitor now goes, and my desk is looking rather open and spacious and inviting again.