Risa de Rege is a library technician at the Kelly Library. She has a B.A. in history, art, and medieval studies from the University of Toronto, and is currently a master’s degree candidate at the Faculty of Information.
The Ups and Downs of a Paradigm Shift
The past year, and the unwelcome pandemic that came with it, has brought a lot of change to my life. Usually I’m a person who is happy with things the way they are, but every now and then the paradigm shifts, so here I am. Since January I’ve started a new job here at St. Mike’s, seen my hobbies completely change for the foreseeable future, and enrolled in a graduate program. Nothing is normal, and every day I feel the stress of a global disaster. But maybe the British were on to something with “keep calm and carry on.”
I’m no stranger to libraries. I worked at Victoria College for several years at the circulation desk, and in 2018 joined USMC as a processing clerk in the technical services department. A few years ago I decided to make a career out of this experience, and recently finished my library technician diploma. In January I had the pleasure of joining Kelly’s access and information team full-time—only for us to shut down about 10 weeks later. After a few months working solely from home (probably the longest I’ve gone without visiting campus since high school), I was back on-site to help with shifting in anticipation of an ongoing construction project. I then helped with curbside pickup and, more recently, re-opening for study space. Not exactly how I imagined my career really taking off, but sometimes that’s just how it is.
Working from home offers more flexibility and no more time lost to commuting. I have a bit more time to myself, but nothing to do with it. Outside of work and school I spend most of my time singing opera, a hobby which for obvious reasons will not be coming back anytime soon. A trip to perform in England this summer was postponed to a healthier year, and I have many friends whose shows, if not whole seasons, were cancelled. I have been singing virtually, though. While unfortunately my local opera society has not ventured online, I’ve rejoined the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, which is producing a virtual concert season, and I continue to sing with a community choir which has adapted marvellously. This all-ages, all-abilities group generally sings music written specifically for it by local composers. While singing together live on Zoom is basically impossible due to a host of technical issues, our current composer-in-residence is creating music specifically with this situation in mind. It’s been fun to explore music this way, but it’s not the same. It’s really articulated to me that I sing not only for love of the art form but for love of the people I sing with.
One true advantage of COVID is that working from home means I can foster kittens. I’ve fostered adult cats for years and now have my own, a tabby named Autumn who I picked up the day after Kelly closed. But now, being home most of the time means I’m here to keep an eye on things (I love cats, but I don’t trust them). I started taking in kittens in July, and I’m on my second pair now: two brothers who have a mild neurological condition that affects their balance and motor skills. Among all the stress of a global pandemic, a million dead, a looming election, an environmental crisis, etc., it is extremely grounding to take care of two sweet, vulnerable babies and know that I am giving them a second chance at a happy life. Sometimes all the good we can do is small, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a difference.
Another thing I’ve started during COVID is my master’s degree at the Faculty of Information. While I’m grateful that the Faculty committed to an entirely virtual semester early on, an entire graduate program quickly moving online is not without its difficulties. But I was eager enough to start that I didn’t want to delay another year just on the off chance that in-person courses might return in the fall of 2021, and I don’t regret it. It’s nice not to have to worry about commuting any farther than across my bedroom to my computer desk. And while online classes are still pretty structured, there’s a bit more flexibility to go at my own pace. I did my library technician diploma completely online, through Mohawk College, and it was an entirely different experience that I found very positive. Classes designed to be delivered online are very different from classes designed to be in-person that get thrown into Zoom. Everyone in academics has described this year as a “learning opportunity.” What we learn from it remains to be seen.
The biggest downside is that communication is much harder and mostly relies on the strength of one’s internet. With professors still encouraging group discussions as a major part of classes, I’ve found that a lot of my time is spent trying to hear someone over background noise or a bad connection. Due to either bandwidth or shyness, few people have their cameras on so it’s been very difficult for me to feel like I’m getting to know anyone. If there’s one thing COVID has taught me, it’s how much I rely on casual social interactions: chatting before class starts; stopping by a former workplace to catch up; and the subtle body language and facial expressions that contribute so much to conversation. In some ways staying behind a computer is good for social anxiety; in other ways it’s far worse.
Still, things have been okay. I want to do a thesis and I’ve been able to start refining my ideas and doing some preliminary research this term. I’m interested in fringe beliefs, like conspiracy theories, the paranormal, or pseudoscience, and why people believe in these things. While I’m pursuing this mainly out of personal interest, it’s not hard to justify why understanding science resistance is pretty important in the current state of things. If we ever want to go back to learning in-person, we need to get more people on board with the latest epidemiology.
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