Making up for lost time

The time between Christmas and New Year’s traditionally goes a bit wonky. Routines and schedules are discarded, it’s totally fine to wear your pyjamas all day, people start to forget what day it is. Hang on, is it not March 2020 any more?

Everyone seems pretty miserable at the end of this year. Covid prevalence is high and consumer confidence is low. Governments the world over have largely stopped prioritising the people’s welfare above the drivers of capitalist greed. We were always already on our own, but now it’s official. Staying apart didn’t much keep us together, did it? I have a lot of experience being miserable (and worse), so you’d think I’d be helping myself to an extra serve of gloom.

Except… I am happy instead. It’s been a large year, and a dream come true.

In June I uprooted my entire life and moved to regional Victoria, taking on the role of metadata team leader within an academic library. I went up two or three pay grades in one hit (depending on how you count them) and had to very quickly learn how to manage a team, remotely, during assorted lockdowns, doing work that ideally would have been automated several years ago. I’m not a natural manager, and this was very hard work. I was technically ‘of no fixed address’ for several weeks, living in a student residence with overactive smoke alarms, before moving into a delightful little cottage that I’m slowly filling with houseplants.

My six-month stint as a systems librarian has turned out to be incredibly useful in my current metadata role. To an extent systems work and metadata work are two sides of the same coin; systems shape how (meta)data is recorded, but metadata shapes how systems are used. Interestingly, a lot of the work done by the metadata team here was done by the systems team (ie. by me) at my old job (batch MARC uploads, Serials Solutions updates, global updates etc). I think this is partly because Sierra has much more robust capabilities in this area than Voyager, and partly because my team are trusted (and paid) to not break the database.

I inherited quite a lot of ‘this is how we do things, they’re different to how everyone else does things, we’re special’ processes. I don’t doubt these workflows were genuinely innovative about fifteen years ago. My section’s ingrained philosophies of data quality are really quite fascinating. I just don’t agree with them, or feel that these manual workarounds are necessary. Delightfully, my fellow team leader agrees, and the two of us have been working on a large project to overhaul our metadata sources and structures. It turns out she and I have highly complementary skillsets: I write the talks and she does the talking. We’ve been getting rave reviews from our director and the University Librarian. I can’t tell you what an incredible thrill it is to get that kind of positive feedback and institutional support from senior management. I want everyone to experience this.

My position had been vacant for eighteen months before I joined, thanks to an ill-timed departure, a subsequent pandemic hiring freeze and multiple attempts at recruitment. The team had been largely running on autopilot, and I think some of the wider library had forgotten what a metadata team leader is, or should be. It’s been interesting getting a sense of what other people think my job is. I look forward to re-envisioning metadata work, implementing some long-overdue structural change before taking a closer look at how we can radically improve our corpus, while working closely with other areas to make our data work for them.

Because my paid library work now takes up 120% of my brain, my unpaid library work has taken a backseat. I only wrote a handful of blog posts, as GLAM Blog Club wound up due to lack of interest, and my attention was very much elsewhere. I think the biggest-impact post was probably ‘Libraries are for everyone! Except if you’re autistic’, which I wrote in February after a run-in with some awful library directors (one of whom I used to work for). If they think managing neurodiverse library workers is hard, they should try being one! Being an autistic team leader is even harder! I came across the anonymous blog Managing Whilst Autistic on my travels, which I’m hoping will uncover more advice on how to harness my strengths.

I also didn’t do any talks this year! Woohoo! Unless you count the impromptu talk to the entire library about ditching Dewey, oops. I think the bolded line on my About page stating ‘Please don’t ask me to do talks’ might have had something to do with it. It was great not being stressed about upcoming public speaking. Written pieces are more my thing. I also finished up on the VALA Committee after two years of contributing practically nothing (in my defence, I was very unwell for almost all of that time) and continued as Information Officer for ACORD, the ALIA Community on Resource Description.

I continued my streak of not finishing a single book this year (whatever! I’ve been busy) but I did start several excellent books, including The Flip by Jeffrey J. Kripal (seriously, read this book) and Anchored by Deb Dana. I also positively inhaled the ABC series Back to Nature, ostensibly about the great Australian outdoors, but really about the deep and continuing history of this continent, guided by First Nations land-carers.

So many of us have experienced close personal loss this year. I keep forgetting that this technically includes me: my estranged father died suddenly at the end of July, aged fifty-nine, apparently from a heart attack. I felt many complex things upon learning of his death, but sadness was not one of them. I felt angry, happy, resentful, bitter. Mostly I felt deeply liberated. I’m glad he’s dead. People don’t really know how to respond to that.

This year has been a lot but it’s also been the happiest year of my life. I am doing so much better here, closer to friends, in a healthier and more secure environment, with a more helpful therapist, hundreds of kilometres away from everything that sought to destroy me. I am acutely aware that most people have not been nearly as fortunate as I have. I feel like it’s becoming almost impolite to talk about how well I am now, in the face of so much misery and suffering and institutional indifference. Hundreds of people at MPOW lost their jobs this year. Everyone in Victoria has spent months in lockdown. We are all traumatised. We are all over it.

And yet… I have learned to focus on what I can control. I can enjoy my job, and my houseplants, and the sunshine. I can be a hermit in paradise. I can actively choose not to mask my autistic traits (it turns out). I don’t have to contort myself into something I think other people will like and fail miserably. I don’t have to read the news every day (it’s always the same news, but it’s also the wrong news, distracting us from the real crises).

My goals for the last few years have been along the lines of ‘try not to die’ and ‘go outside more’. I’m comfortable ticking those things off my list now, but I’m not yet sure what my new goals will be. Perhaps maintaining what I already have can be a goal in itself. It’s okay to make up for lost time.