Last week I was sitting in a faculty meeting, getting ready to leave to proctor evening study hall, when suddenly a group of students came running into the building exclaiming, “There’s a gas leak in the library!” Needless to say, my feet were running as I phoned our security office. The sirens were blaring, lights flashing and of course we were not allowed into the building to see what, in fact, was happening. So I went home, study hall cancelled for the night. Soon after I got a text asking me to return, to help save the materials in the Archives (housed in the library).
What I found when I got there was a broken pipe flooding the ground floor, creating a sodden carpet and destroying several outer boxes of archives materials. Thanks to the quick thinking and work of our maintenance people and a few faculty members, we were able to get everything off the floor and rebox most of the items.
However, before all that, when we didn’t know what was happening, I had a few flashback moments to 2007, and the Hackley School fire. Could I really do another complete reconstruction? Could I really do a partial one?
And I realized that despite the presentations I’ve given on disaster recovery, I wasn’t paying attention to one of the most important pieces of advice I gave others: take care of yourself. In the midst of the crisis moment and during the recovery/repair phase, self-care is critical. Not just when lightning strikes (or a pipe bursts), but when ever there is a huge change in your professional circumstances. Most – many? all? – of us want to be seen as professional, as having the proverbial stiff upper lip and just getting on with the job, no matter what’s going on outside. And that’s all well and good, because being that oasis of calm, of dispassionate information, of normalcy can be invaluable to your community. When September 11th was ongoing, I was lucky enough to have outside sources of information who let me know what, exactly, was happening (one was a major in the Canadian Army, getting realtime accurate information, the other was outside NYC and able to get through when local information sources were failing). It helped the school know what not to believe. And that’s the same attitude I took post-fire, to not show panic or despair, but to get on with it.
That was at work. But at home I took care to do things that comforted me. And slowly, given the pressures of work and new jobs and moving and life, I’ve gotten away from that.
This is important because I suspect I’m not alone. The “always on” nature of life now, barely imaginable in 2007, doesn’t lend itself to down time away from whatever the situation is. We’re pressured to do more with our time, to be more available professionally and personally, and not to seek things that might take us away from that to a place where we can find peace and time to do serious self-care.
At the upcoming NEAISL conference, and at this summer’s ALA and other conferences, meetings, leadership summits, etc. I hope we pay more attention to this. Yes, it’s important to learn about new tools and to share tips and techniques, but it’s critical to learn to take the time for ourselves.