The Stories From A Distance project wraps up this month! It's been a year since the project began with the goal of gathering stories during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and beyond. For a full year, the Living History Project has been documenting this unique and unprecedented time in Madison’s history, which will add to the collective history about the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 80 Madisonians shared their story as part of this effort, and library workers were no different. See below to hear from library workers in their own words about how their jobs shifted when the library closed its doors on March 17, 2020.
Martín Alvarado (April 2020), Community Engagement Librarian, Central Library
"I was probably one of the last people to leave the Central Library on the last day of operations before the library closed and I think, now that I have time to reflect, I remember just how concerned we were when we saw the first cases coming along and we all started mentally preparing that something was going to change. But it was just really disconcerting how quickly it happened because it seemed like it was something very distanced, and all of a sudden once it happened things moved really quickly."
Mary Fahndrich and Neeyati Shah (March 2020), Community Engagement Librarians, Central Library
“It’s hard to believe it’s only been two weeks. It’s crazy how the timeline right now is just completely messed up. We didn’t have a lot of time to plan for this closure...we saw it coming, but we didn’t know for sure and when we found out that we were closing, we went from we were open and a bustling library to then we were closed within 24 hours.” - Mary Fahndrich
"I’m only just getting my bearings even though it has been a full two weeks...I do feel lucky to have such creative and thoughtful colleagues. We’re meeting online pretty much daily to problem-solve and come up with resources that we can offer to the public. We don’t want to leave anyone hanging. I know we’ve all been thinking a lot about some of our regular library patrons and just hoping they’re okay and that they know that nothing short of a pandemic would close our doors to them." - Neeyati Shah
Jennifer Libert (April 2020), Youth Services Library Assistant, Central Library
"I was asked if I would be willing to go work at the city clerk’s office to help the city clerks processing the absentee by mail ballots to send out to people who requested them. I go to the city clerk’s office on a Thursday, and this was all brand new to them also, they were - before COVID - predicting that they would issue about 8,000 vote by mail ballots, but as I was getting there...they were just getting thousands of requests for the absentee ballots. They were saying that their backlog email was around 20,000 emails that day and they were pretty much expecting that - 20,000ish - for the foreseeable future.”
Christa Parmentier (May 2020), Library Assistant, Goodman South Madison Library
"We just were so disbelieving of what was happening and how it was going to affect us personally. And I was holding onto this vision of normal then it was *poof* it was gone and we were in our homes and gosh it seems like so long ago now."
Carlee Latimer (March 2020), Bubbler Program Assistant, Central Library:
“I’ve been working from home every day, doing a lot of zoom calls and video conferences with staff at the library. I have definitely kind of gone from working really closely with a tight-knit team to kind of busting that open and working with all sorts of different people at the library that I normally don’t interface with, so that’s been really interesting. Being assigned to different working groups focused on different issues that have arisen because of the pandemic. It’s felt really good to work for an agency that’s been really supportive and understanding within this chaos, so I feel really lucky in that sense."
Tina Marie Maes (May 2020), Technical Services Lead Cataloging Librarian
“The entire department has actually been working from home and we’ve been working on trying to do completely different things. Most of my department has to deal with items in hand one way or another. Our catalogers can’t actually catalog from a distance…”
David Spies (May 2020), Library Page, Pinney Library:
“Having worked for Pinney Library we were gearing up for our big Grand Opening and we’d been closed for over a year and everybody was excited. We actually did open on March 12...Everybody was so excited to have Pinney open, as we were, ya know it’s a beautiful space and has lots of great features that will facilitate community in the library. But we only had three days in there, because we were there and then after 3 days everything shut down and it became Safer at Home.”
Phoenix Carter (April 2020), Security Monitor, Central Library:
“I think a lot of people being more aware of hygiene practices and being more overly obsessive about it was something that really opened my eyes to how serious it was getting. We had hand sanitizer stations on every floor of the library and we had signs everywhere saying wash your hands and how to properly wash your hands, so that kind of opened my eyes to how serious it was really getting and how much we needed to prepare for what was coming.”
Erica Hainz (April 2020), Security Monitor, Central Library:
“I was so thankful that I didn’t have to come in, but I was really worried about our patrons just because of how many people were at the library that Monday before. Like, where are those people going to go?...Like, I was almost on the side of I wish the library could stay open, as much as I was glad that myself and my coworkers didn’t need to put ourselves on the front lines like that anymore, I really did worry what would happen to all the patrons.”
David Hunt (March 2020), Security Monitor, Central Library:
“I would think, there’s kind of two worries. It’s obviously the worry of how bad can this really get? That is I think in everyone’s mind. Then I have this other worry about reintegration when things get better. What will that really look like? Like how is everything gonna go back to normal if we stay out for another month or two? Because things have changed so drastically for being away from the routine for so long.”
Amy Schmidt (April 2020), Library Assistant, Monroe Street Library:
“I’m not able to work at all. I’m kept quite busy with cleaning up and taking care of them and doing daily things. I also don’t have the mental part of it - I’m really not able to focus much more except for what needs to be done in the here and now. I do miss it and I feel like I’m being left behind - everyone else is doing interesting things. I wish I could be working, but I’m doing important work for my parents and for my family.”