Reading in the time of Coronavirus

Reading in the time of Coronavirus

Currently I am 20 books behind schedule!

The last few years I have participated in Goodreads annual reading challenge, where you set a goal of number of books to read and Goodreads tracks your progress throughout the year, letting you know if you’re behind or ahead of schedule. It’s a great way to track what you read each year, and let’s be honest, an opportunity to show off to your friends what a prolific and profound reader you are. I’m joking but also I’m not.

A good average for me has been somewhere around 75, some years it’s been higher, others lower, so I set it there for 2020. I was doing okay until I finished “The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which I finished on March 2nd. Then suddenly, nothing. I didn’t read anything for over a month and a half, when I finished The Year of Magical Thinking, a book about grief by Joan Didion. If I recall the only thing I could handle reading about was someone who was sadder than I was. I know I was not (am not) alone in these feelings, and I know that the ramifications of this global virus are being experienced in devastating ways that I have been mostly spared from. Still, like everyone else, I watched a future I was so sure of crumble in front of my eyes and it has affected me in ways not previously imagined.

Reading is my passion, I believe in always having a book lying around so I am never caught without something to read, I believe that books can change your life (The Art of Racing in the Rain, which is narrated by a dog, gave me my personal life mantra “You go where your eyes go”), and they allow me to connect with others, as there is nothing I enjoy more than discussing a good story. This period of not being able to read, or at least not being interested in reading, has surprised and saddened me, but I’ve given myself grace about it. Slowly books have come back in my life and I’ve been able to hold my attention for more than a few minutes. I don’t think I’ll make it to 75 this year, but when I look back on my 2020 reading challenge, I can be proud of what I did accomplish, no matter what the number is. I’m reminded of a quote from another book that changed me The Book of Joy:

“Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.” – Achbishop Desmond Tutu

I’m curious, have you experienced a reading slump during the pandemic?

Hope: A Library

Hope: A Library

We librarians often like to talk about the library as a place. A place for people to gather regardless of belief or opinion or whether you have pocket change; a place for people to learn. All are welcome.

When sharing this concept of the library as a place with friends, family, colleagues from other departments in past and generally get the same response. A friendly smile and nod of the head, essentially a mild agreement, a sort of “what a nice thought, now let’s move on.”

I manage my local community library, which means I have the privilege of seeing my actual neighbors everyday at work. I hear about what they are doing, what they are looking for, what their families are up to. I also serve strangers who are passing through, people whose printer broke that day, parents who didn’t use the library in their 20s but are now bringing their kids for story-time.

Of course all of this ended 4 weeks ago, since then we have been closed to the public, still offering online services, virtual reference, Facebook Live story-times, and curbside pick-up. I have to admit this has not been easy, and I realized recently that I’ve been grieving what has been lost during this pandemic. I’ve had to deliver bad news to people I care about, I’ve felt scared and tired and frustrated. I have kept going, because really what other choice is there?

And yet, I’ve found hope, specifically through my work. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told “Thank you for doing this”, but I would guess it’s more than 100 times. A group of local women bought staff cookies from the neighborhood coffee shop. Another patron was nearly in tears thanking me for teaching her over the phone how to access the library’s eBook collection. People are finding comfort and a sense of normalcy from the library services we are providing. We have seen this before, during a particularly bad hurricane 9 years ago most of the community lost power, some lost water. There were shelters, but instead people flocked to the library as a place to shelter, to re-charge, to gather. Now we are in another storm, and although we can’t physically be the place for people to be, we are finding that we are still a key source of emotional support for the people we serve. Through the hardest moments I am reminded of this quote from Lewis Carroll:

One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.

This crisis will end, no telling how or when but it will eventually end and we will find ourselves on the other side of this. When it does, my hope is that the community will understand that we are better together, and that the library is a key component of what unites us. I see now even more than before that the library as a place is the core of what we do. The library represents the very best of a community can do when we work together, it is a place that provides knowledge, peace, and now, hope.