Last September we drove to Lowell, Mass. for a New Japan Pro Wrestling show. With the pandemic, I fear it will be a long time before there’s another.
The W. W. Hartwell house (1870), Plattsburgh, NY
Rural colleges like mine recruit from NYC via social contract. We provide a good education in a fresh environment; students’ tuition and taxes keep the region thriving. Then a pandemic breaks out and we send them back to the epicenter but keep their money. It’s unconscionable.
It’s surprising how little there is to write about from this weekend. I ran both mornings, a long run on Saturday and an easier one today, and saw almost nobody else either time. I’d expect that going around the old Air Force base as I did Saturday, but today, when I went out a little later and around some local trails, it was more surprising.
Inside, it’s just a round of reading (William Gibson, Agency), video games (Mario Kart, Animal Crossing) and YouTube (Bon Appétit, David Harvey’s lecture series on the Grundrisse). I’m reading along with the latter but have fallen about two weeks behind; I’d like to catch up before the end of the course.
Tomorrow spring break ends and classes return, and I have no idea what will happen.
William Gibson, Agency, ch. 12:
“The drivers for the jackpot are still in place, but with less torque at that particular point.” He took a seat at the table. “They’re still a bit in advance of the pandemics, at least.”
Even our most prescient near-future SF author can’t keep up.
It’s become clear that we will all be socially distancing for some time to come. Since my immune system isn’t yet back to full strength I’ve been staying in the house for the past week. As of Sunday New York is instituting a ban on all public gatherings, no matter how many people, and closing all non-essential businesses.
So…I bought a Nintendo Switch yesterday. I’d been thinking about it for the past couple of years. With Animal Crossing: New Horizons being released today, the time seemed right. I’m a slow adopter on video games. I’ve never had an Animal Crossing title the same year it was released. So I’m excited to discover how the game unfolds at the same time as everyone else.
The library finally shut its doors entirely as of Thursday afternoon. The college has asked students not to return to the dorms — previously we’d expected about 700 to come back. Virtual classes start up on Monday. The library can’t support the students and faculty because the bureaucracy has blocked the implementation of the chat/reference software we purchased until they review the contract. Our IT team has been very good about setting things up so we can roll it out on short notice. But we don’t know when that will be.
Of course the coronavirus crisis is more than eight days old, but the day it began to change my life was last Wednesday, when the college announced the rest of the semester would be taught online. This week we — the library and IT — are continuing to set up support for the faculty and students, on very short notice. I’m awfully impressed by the amount the IT side has been able to get done, like setting up a virtual computer lab with 200 seats. And they, and our student workers, are all working in the building under what can’t be pleasant conditions. Tomorrow the VPs will decide if we can close the library; our leadership is pleading with them to do so.
An odd day, even by the current standard. A flurry of emails received from different levels of college administration all morning until just before 10 AM, then — nothing. The clerks and secretaries’ union got them permission to go home, which is good. But as long as the library stays open that means someone will have to supervise the student workers, and I’ve seen no evidence the library will close.
Meanwhile, I’m working from home, setting up our systems to accommodate reference chat and virtual appointments. Morning runs, afternoon walks with Peanut, and a beer precisely at 5PM to mark the end of the day.
Back to work today, from the comfy chair in my home office. We began putting together the systems we’ll need to give students online access to reference services when they return from break. I like the system we’re using (LibAnswers, from Springshare). There are collaborative tools embedded that will allow the librarians to work together on reference questions in a way we rarely do. The real question is will students have reason to ask questions of us, and even if so will they actually ask those questions? The first depends on how the teaching faculty teach over the next two months, and as for the second the best we can do is figure out how to make it easy to engage with us, and to follow up quickly on questions.
But to take or teach a virtual class requires the right hardware and software, and many people need that set up by our IT side. Faculty have been instructed to move courses online and don’t have the equipment or knowledge to do so. They’re actually coming to the building more now than at any time during the semester because they need in-person help. Schools in the area have shut down and other colleges have sent their students back home. So there are more people than ever looking for a public space to work in, and we are the only one left. Plus we are going to have an estimated 700 students returning after spring break, some presumably from places with community transmission of Covid-19. So, when we are supposed to be spreading out and away from each other, the college and library will become more densely populated. I do not think that the system or the college will look good when this is over.
This morning I went to the library to grab the things I’ll need at home over the next few weeks. The library was closed — it always is on Sunday mornings, and with spring break this week it won’t open until Monday. It was quiet and dark and I took the chance to crank Deafheaven while I was packing up my things.
The county has closed all the schools, the local public library is shutting its doors, and the city-owned gym is going offline. That leaves our academic library as the only large public space that will still be open for at least twenty miles in any direction. I’m worried about my colleagues, and especially the staff and students who will be working at the service desks. The state needs to end this pretense of keeping the SUNY colleges open through the pandemic.
I worked from home today, so if there was any excitement on campus I missed it. But I doubt there was. Almost no email came across the wire. I suspect everyone is just holding their breath, waiting for a week and a half from now when spring break ends and the shift to online instruction begins.
It looks like I’ll have more days working from home. I talked to the nurse today, who thought that since my blood counts are still bouncing back post-chemotherapy I should stay away from the library and from crowds. And the dean had told me I could work from home when the crisis was starting. I think it will be good for my mental health as well. When I was at the library this week I mostly just felt helpless.
The college is open today, and classes are in session, but it seems strange: why can’t we cancel classes for two days before spring break, before we move them all online? Keep offices open to support students, sure, but I can’t imagine holding classes did any good.
Our library is staying open through spring break, and will stay open after break ends, though likely on reduced hours. At most colleges that are moving instruction online, the library is staying open. There are two schools of thought on this. One is that the library provides essential services and has a duty to the community to maintain those services. The other is that by staying open the library becomes another potential site of community transmission. Nor should librarians and other employees have to place themselves in danger.
The former is the traditional view. But more and more, librarians are shifting to the latter position, in defense of both public and personal health.
Update: Timothy Burke has an excellent Twitter thread detailing the logic behind “close the libraries,” but from the teaching faculty perspective.
Today the governor announced that all SUNYs would be moving to online instruction for the rest of the semester. This wasn’t unexpected, but we’re underfunded and shortstaffed and there’s no way we could be prepared.
The college isn’t closing. Students with nowhere else to go will stay in the dorms. Some lab classes and internships and experiential learning setups will keep going. And the library and computer labs are going to stay open. Faculty and commuter students are happy about the last, because we’re in a digital desert. Broadband is scarce, and cell networks erratic, once you drive a couple of miles out of the city. Ellen’s museum, fifteen miles north, gets 5 Mbps download speeds — and that’s on a good day.
I hope our faculty recognize this, and don’t try to replace in-class meetings with synchronous video sessions students won’t have the bandwidth to watch even if their hardware is good. But we’ve signed a contract with Zoom, and IT is pushing that service pretty hard. From the library side, most of our services have an online component anyway — an email account for reference service, online appointment booking, subject and citation guides, and of course our discovery system and databases. We’re adding a chat service, something we’d ditched a few years back due to lack of use. And we can use Zoom or Google Hangouts for meetings with students. Most of our classroom instruction is finished by this point of the semester so that’s good.
Ellen and I had planned a long weekend vacation in Québec City starting this Friday. That’s off now — even if we felt comfortable traveling, I need to stay here to help get the new library systems up and running quickly, and to make sure everyone is trained to use them.