(During Denver Public Library's unprecedented, indefinite closure due to COVID-19, WHG librarians, archivists, catalogers, and shelvers are faced with a monumental task: maintain library operations without the actual library. We're up to the task and wanted to share our work stories with our WHG customers in an ongoing series of blogs.
The third installment comes from Cataloging Assistant (and Digitization Technician) Michelle Schierburg, who describes her experience as WHG's only "essential" personnel and her once-weekly visits to a deserted Central Branch to maintain critical digital imaging equipment.)
March 13, the day the Denver Public Library announced that it would be closing its doors to customers and employees, was a strange and hectic day, to say the least. My colleague, Brian, describes it well in his recent blog post about working from home. Besides the few instances where the library opened for staff to gather more materials (at timed intervals), Central Branch has really only been frequented by employees deemed "essential", such as our security staff...and then there is me.
I was bestowed with an essential status, but on a very limited basis. During regular times, my workday includes a fair amount of time in our digitization lab. During the state-wide lockdown, I need access to the building to maintain our very expensive, and finicky, large-format printers.
Being in the lab during lockdown also allows me to digitize archival materials, such as maps, photographs and art, so more items can be put into our digital collections for customers. After I photograph the items, I am able to process the images and write metadata from home; most recently I finished the Evans Elementary School drawings.
As the only staff member with the essential status in the Western History and Genealogy Department, I have the unique perspective of not only working from home, but also working in a mostly empty building, in a city that is mandated to stay indoors. If I am lucky, I get to say “hi” to a security guard. But for the majority of the time, I am walking into empty, dark rooms, where everything is exactly as it was left on March 13.
At the time of writing this, I had just returned home from my third outing to the library. Downtown was empty, so empty that I thought it was Sunday morning. I had to remind myself that it was indeed Monday.
It’s amazing how much things had changed from the first outing to the building to the third. Notably, there were even fewer cars on the road; I had a cloth mask over my face (per the governor’s order); and hand-washing stations were strategically placed on either end of the Denver Art Museum’s Acoma plaza. The construction crew working on the DAM’s new edition was still active and the fence was still up, further separating what is essential from what is not.
Inside the library, I follow the same safety measures that I've been using since my first, post-lockdown outing. I wear a single glove on my right hand to open doors, while my left hand stays in my pocket. After all, mindlessly touching stair-railings is a risk I'd rather not take.
Once inside the building I take the staff stairs, not only for the exercise, but also to avoid the staff elevator’s tight quarters. I’m also conducting walk-throughs of our collection areas to make sure there is nothing out of the ordinary, such as water leaks (our worst nightmare!).
Once inside the digitization lab, I put on two sparkly, new latex gloves. I clean the printers and scan images with the gloves on. Before leaving, everything is cleaned with Clorox because you cannot be too safe right now. I keep the gloves on as I exit the building and call security to let them know I'm leaving. I retrace my steps back through the art museum plaza and toss the gloves in the garbage to prevent any cross-contamination before getting in my car. While it may not seem like a lot, it is mentally exhausting to think about every single thing that you touch before you touch it. This is the part that I cannot wait to be over.
Back at home, I work on the main tasks of my job and chip away at those projects that were not the main focus prior to the closure. We have a backlog of photo projects that are not fully completed, so my boss and I decided now is the time to move them off the back burner. Even though we are checking off items from our long list of projects, like the ones Laura mentioned in her blog post, what I really want is to be back in the library and have it full of people. Until then, I will settle for the makeshift office that I share with my dog and husband!