COVID-19 story by Michelle Herbrand, 2020

Michelle Herbrand describes what work with Madison Public Library looks like at the time of Safer at Home social distancing measures. Michelle shares updates about her family, what her social life looks like right now, and the process of planning for curbside pickup at the library.

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  • Identifier: covid19-050
    Narrator Name: Michelle Herbrand
    Interviewer Name: Danny Atwater
    Date of interview: 5/1/2020

    [00:00:37] - Talk about your Covid-19 Safer at Home story
    [00:07:25] - Has your family been concerned for you?
    [00:10:20] - What have your grad-school friends’ work experiences been like?
    [00:13:06] - Can you go into more detail about work groups, or curbside pickup?
    [00:22:29] - Is there anything else you want to talk about?
    [00:23:28] - Thank you for sharing your story.


    Interviewer: My name is Danny Atwater and I am a library assistant for Madison Public Library. This interview is being conducted as part of the Madison Living History Project: Stories from a Distance series. Today’s date is Friday, May 1, 2020, and this interview is being conducted via the video conferencing software Zoom. So, now to our storyteller. Please tell us your first and last name and what your connection to Madison is.

    Michelle Herbrand: Hi, I’m Michelle Herbrand. I work for the Madison Public Library. I’m a clerk at the Sequoya neighborhood library, and I live on the west side.

    Interviewer: Thank you, Michelle. What have the past few weeks looked like for you, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Safer at Home order?

    Michelle Herbrand: You know, I feel like every week has been different. I know a lot of people joke about how March felt like it lasted two months, if not a whole year, and I really agree with that. When the Safer at Home order first started, that first week, I don’t think I really worked at all; it was just, it was kind of shocking, and I got really obsessed with, What is this virus; what is it doing throughout the country, throughout the world? I had CNN on all day; I was just obsessed with being informed. I wanted to know up to date: How many people are sick? How many people are dying? How many people need respirators, and how many people are recovering? But after that first week, when it started to sink in that, okay, this is going to be going on for a long time, you need to start building a routine, and start working again.

    So for the rest of March, it was really just a struggle to find a routine that worked for me. I thought at first that trying to sleep as much as I wanted to would be a good way to stay mentally healthy, but then I was sleeping till ten, ten thirty in the morning, and then that just kind of ruined my whole day. So the past couple weeks have been really good in terms of getting my routine set. I have my alarm set for the morning; I know exactly what I’m going to be eating and drinking in the morning, and then I know exactly what I’ll be working on. I think part of the reason, in March, that I struggled so much with building a routine was that, at Madison Public Library, no one really knew what was going on and what we should be doing, as well. So the first couple of weeks, it was like, Well, here’s a bunch of professional development stuff that you can do, so basically just watching videos all day, and I didn’t like that (laughs) at all. So once Madison Public Library started to figure out what the quarantine would look like for the library, and what they needed of their staff, I think that’s when I really started to do better. I started working on different groups to improve staff engagement and connection during this time, and then I also started working on groups to help plan for providing services to our patrons through circulation, and how would that help.

    On a personal side, I guess, it’s been not that different? I feel like I’m more social now than I was before. Working at the library is such a social job. I work circulation, as a clerk, and so my day is just talking to patrons and to fellow staff all day, and I love it. I can talk about the weather (laughs) all day if I have to. And I don’t mind having the same conversation about the weather all the time! And I love just hearing tidbits about people’s days. So once I got cut off from that, I started reaching out to my friends and family more than I have in the past couple years, a lot. I graduated from grad school, it’ll be two years in May, and after grad school, a lot of my friends moved to their jobs around the country. We kind of kept in contact, sending Snapchats, Instagram stories, and texting every now and then, but since this quarantine, I have been meeting regularly with my friends a couple times a week, that I didn’t before. And same with some friends from college. In terms of that, that’s been good. But it’s exhausting. The reason I like working in the public library is that I don’t have to be super social when I’m not working, because I get the satisfaction from being social at work, so then I could come home and just relax. But now, I’m working all day, and hanging out in meetings and Zooms isn’t social; it’s just getting stuff done. And then, after that, when the workday is done, now I have to change to hanging out again on either Zoom or Google Hangouts, but it’s for a social thing. So I’m exhausted. (laughs) I’m so tired. All the time. There’s only one night a week, usually, that I get to myself, and then I just don’t know what to do with myself, because my whole day is scheduled at this point.

    In terms of my family, too, it’s been a little hard—my mom’s a nurse, she works for a small clinic up in La Crosse County, and she’s in the high-risk category; she just turned 60 this year, so I do think about her a lot. I mean, I talk to my mom every Sunday. Luckily, La Crosse doesn’t have that many cases; they’re at 27—I’m still kind of obsessive, so I know exactly how much stuff is going on there. (laughs) So her and my dad are doing good. My dad is somewhat working from home; he works for an army contractor at Fort McCoy in La Crosse, so they’re ok. My sister got laid off, kind of furloughed, I guess. She’s up in the Twin Cities; she lives in Roseville, which is in between Saint Paul and Minneapolis. She worked for Outback Steakhouse as a bartender, so I don’t think she’s really working that much, and so her normal job is a seasonal summer job, and I don’t know if that’s going to be happening too, so she’s who I worry about the most. My sister and I are very close; we’re like, the same personalities, just four years apart. So yeah, I think about her a lot. I follow her on Twitter, and she just complains all the time about being stuck inside and how she hates everything, so I worry about her so much. And my brother has kind of lost it because of this. He lives south of Rochester, Minnesota, in a place called Stewartville. He supervises quality control for a couple farms, so he’s testing whey and cheese and dairy products for mold and all that stuff, so he’s in a small, beautifully clean lab with only one other person, and he’s still freaking out about this virus, and stuff, so I just don’t really talk to him. (laughs) Yeah. (laughs)

    Interviewer: Has your family mentioned any concern for you, given that you live in a larger city, around more populated areas, and the fact that you’ll be going back to work in a physical capacity soon?

    Michelle Herbrand: My mother is curious about it, I guess I would say. I have been pretty good with the quarantining stuff; I go grocery shopping like maybe once every two weeks, and I also go outside to walk or play tennis, but that’s the only time I go outside. So once my family understood that I was respecting the social distancing stuff, I don’t think they really worried too much. I don’t know if it helped that Milwaukee just kind of went crazy with the COVID-19, so everything looked so much better compared to that. So I don’t know if they’re worried. And also, since my mom’s a nurse, she’s a pragmatist; I think she knows that I’ll be okay, and I mean, it helps I’m under 30 still, barely, so I am in a very low-risk category for the disease. I wish my family—my sister gets it, and we talk regularly about the mental struggles of staying at home all the time, and I live by myself; I don’t have any pets, so I really am truly by myself. I don’t think my parents really care about that too much. My parents are classic conservatives, so you know, it’s, pick yourself up by your bootstraps; you know, like, if you have mental problems, that’s your own business; that’s no one else’s. I remember when I was in grad school I was telling my mother about all the stuff I was stressed out about, because grad school is stressful, and my mother’s helpful advice was, “Don’t be stressed.” That’s all she said, so that gives you an idea of my mother and what she’s like.

    Like I said, I haven’t talked to my brother too much; I don’t know if he’s concerned at all or not. To give you a hint on what my brother is like, I had knee surgery in February, which was so lucky, because they cut off doing elective surgeries a month after I had my knee surgery, so I feel so, so grateful that I could—I’ve had this knee problem for six years, so I felt so, so grateful that I could get my knee fixed. My brother never called or texted me after I had my surgery to ask how I was, and my mom told me that I should reach out to my brother because she was so sure he was worried about me. (laughs) No, that’s not what I’m going to do. I had surgery, I was put under! Yeah, so that’s my family. (laughs)

    Interviewer: You mentioned getting together with grad school friends via Zoom. What have their experiences been like in their places of employment?

    Michelle Herbrand: Hmm. Yes. So my closest friend from grad school is Zoe; she lives out in L.A. She works for USC; she’s a metadata librarian, is what she is, so—a digital metadata librarian, I guess I should say. So the collections that they’re digitizing, mostly photographs and also I know there are pamphlets and stuff, and they’re all usually L.A.-based, so all the things that get digitized, she’s describing them and cataloging them for them, so she’s been able to work from home. She complains about Zoom meetings a lot, too. She has twice daily checkups with her team, like with her boss, just to make sure that things are going okay with work and stuff. I’m really grateful that I don’t have that situation, because I have probably on average two Zoom meetings a day for work. Oh, and I should also mention, I’m only sixty percent, too, so that flexibility has been great. I usually work about five hours a day. But what I love about my friend Zoe is she is also a social creature, so she does dance, so she has two dance classes each day that she does via Zoom. It’s so amazing, and then she has a yoga that she’s doing via Zoom, and then we hang out and we’re watching a show together on Netflix, La casa de papel—very, very good; would recommend. (laughs)

    The other one I’ve been talking to is Sarah. Sarah is down in New Orleans. She works for—I can’t remember what university; it’s a small university down in New Orleans, and she is the academic adviser librarian, or something like that, so she helps freshmen learn how to use the library, and learn how to access all of the resources that they have at the library and stuff, so her experience, she is doing fine working from home as well, because most of the stuff she does is building tutorials using Jing, and stuff like that, so she can work. And then my friends out in Seattle, those I met in undergrad, and my friend Kelsey is nine months pregnant right now. I do worry about her a little bit; there’s a chance her husband might not be able to be in the delivery room with her when she has her kid, which would just be heartbreaking, but then you hear stories—out in New York, a guy knew he had COVID-19 and he went to the hospital to watch his wife give birth, and so it’s just like, Well, that’s why you can’t do that (laughs); that’s why they won’t be able to do it.

    Interviewer: You talked a little bit about what work looks like for you right now; do you want to go into a little bit more detail about some of the work groups, or what’s about to happen with curbside pickup?

    Michelle Herbrand: Yeah, I can just run through my week real quick. So Monday, I wake up, and then—okay. (laughs) So the three big work groups I’m on right now, Monday would be mostly preparing for the town hall, which is an offshoot of the engagement team. So when this quarantine first happened, no one really knew how to use Zoom, really. Like, I didn’t even really know it was a thing. I knew about Skype, and I knew about Google Hangouts; and I guess there’s Microsoft Teams, is another one. Everyone was trying to learn how to use it and no one really knew proper etiquette for Zoom, so we were hosting, it was like the second week of quarantine—engagement team was hosting a meeting for anyone who wanted to come, and Carrie, who is the co-lead of engagement team, was super nervous that it would be people talking all over each other, or there would be a lot of silences, and it wouldn’t be a very productive meeting. So she asked me to help out and help field questions, and call on people to answer, like there’s a Raise Hand feature, and stuff like that.

    So the meeting went super well, and it turns out the director of the library was there, and he really liked how the meeting went—it was super smooth, we transitioned from topic to topic flawlessly, and all that—so he asked Carrie and myself to help lead these, what he thought would be called town halls, where we could get all of the staff together, and by “all staff,” there’s about 280 people that work for Madison Public Library, so it’s a lot of people that could hopefully all get together and could facilitate discussions, disseminate information in a very productive manner, so obviously, when the director asks you to do something, you say, How high?

    We just finished week four of that, so on Monday, it was making sure the agenda was set, because Carrie and I both agree, the second the town halls don’t look like everything is being organized correctly, people are going to stop coming, so I think this week we had about 180 people that came to the meeting, and that’s because, like you said, curbside pickup is going to be ramping up; the new Governor’s order went into effect on Friday, like a week ago, so with the new order, the libraries are allowed to offer curbside pickup to patrons. Yeah, so the town hall was a lot about that, which I think went well. I had to moderate the discussion forum, which I don’t remember at all (laughs); it was so fast! There were like probably, it felt like 30 questions that I read out for Margie, who is the circ services supervisor for MPL. But I think it went well.

    Oh, so, the other thing I am a part of as the engagement team, I had the idea for Netflix parties—so Netflix Party is an extension that you can have on your Google Chrome browser, and it allows you to watch a Netflix show or movie at the same time as whoever else has the link, and then it also gives you a chat option. So I had the idea, and of course then it means it’s my problem to make this work, so (laughs) every Monday I send out a survey to anyone who’s interested; there’s about 40 people in the group, and it’s just a quick survey of, What movie do you want to watch? Do you have any suggestions for next week? And (laughs) most of the suggestions are for movies that are not on Netflix! People don’t understand that Netflix Party means it has to be on Netflix.

    So this week, my survey was very short. I usually try to have a nice paragraph of entertaining nonsense, and then give people good movie options, but I didn’t give people options this week. So my first question was, “This week we’re going to watch Naked Gun; is that okay?” and the only option was yes. And then it was a mandatory question, like, I didn’t want people to get out of it, so you had to answer yes.

    So I built that on Monday, and then Tuesday was—I’m in a subcommittee on engagement team, which is Parent and Caregivers, which I am neither, so (laughs) of course I’m a perfect fit for the group. My thought process was, in engagement team, when this group was proposed, no one said anything, so I was like, well, I might as well just offer my services. And since I don’t have any children, or any pets or any elderly or disabled people that I live with, I have more free time and I’m much more flexible to help out, so I basically just offered myself as a grunt worker to do whatever needs to be done. So Tuesday, we had the meeting for that, and then we got the good news—I had helped with the lead of that group, Christa, to build a forum that would help parents and caregivers talk to each other on MPLnet, where all of our information is, so then once you log on you should be able to go to this forum now, and ask any questions, ask for support, offer meal-kit prep, and all that stuff, so that was really fun to build. So that’s what else happened.

    So on Wednesday, I worked at my other job. I work for a business called Holder Print Works, which is a small business on the west side. We digitize media for people, so we digitize photos, slides, film, video, reel-to-reel audio, cassettes, records—whatever you can think of, really. We’ve actually been doing fine since the quarantine, people are still dropping off stuff. I work Wednesdays, my boss works Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, so I don’t come in contact with him; I haven’t seen my boss in a long time, honestly.

    Yeah, so I was at my other job Wednesday, but then I still was in a couple meetings. I had my curbside-pickup meeting on Wednesday; we meet twice a week. That group is fun, because it started as a group by my supervisor, Marc Gartler; he wanted to have a group that would think of medium- and long-term circ services. So, obviously we’re going to be doing curbside, but the next step isn’t, the libraries are open and everything is fine—there's going to be a lot of in-between steps. Curbside pickup is really ramping up; we had a meeting about what next week would look like. So next week, people will be back in the library, getting things ready for curbside, which will start on the eleventh. After the circ meeting, I met with Emer, and we planned out more Sequoya-specific stuff. I started making a document with procedure stuff, and I helped—or, I didn’t help, I made them myself—the document for the pickup schedule for people, and finalizing all that.

    And then, I forgot that I’m on another committee, which is Zoomers, so that’s hosting programs for patrons, so we met on Wednesday to discuss what should be involved in training videos for hosting Zooming events, so if you’re hosting an event, what information do you need to know about Zoom to make sure that you have a good event; you know, how do you set up the right options? How do you do breakout sessions, and how do you mute people, and stuff like that. So I had that meeting on Wednesday too, and then Thursday, which was yesterday, I don’t even remember. Oh, we had the Sequoya staff meeting, which went pretty long, because we were talking about curbside a lot, and then I had to finish compiling the curbside pickup procedures list, and then email a bunch of people about it, and then I get the, when I came to work this morning at ten, I had five emails from Margie and Emer because the SCLS directors met yesterday and decided that there would be delivery, so now all of the procedures in that document are wrong and out of date, so, yeah, that’s been my week.

    And then we had another curbside pickup meeting today, which was more about the health and safety stuff, so going over procedures for like, how often do you need to switch your gloves, and the mask situation--do we have masks at each location? And are you allowed to take your mask off briefly? If you do take it off, do you have to get a new one, or can you reuse your mask? So it’s been a week. And then this afternoon is the engagement team, and then after that, I’m meeting with Carrie and Krissy to go over the town hall agenda for next Monday. So yeah.

    Interviewer: Michelle, thank you for going so in depth into—

    Michelle Herbrand: (laughs) I’m sure you regretted that question the minute you asked it.

    Interviewer: —into your work. Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about before we wrap up here?

    Michelle Herbrand: I guess I would just like to say that this situation is the worst. I never thought—I’m a lover of history, and I never thought that I would be in a situation that will be talked about for centuries to come. Like, it’s a worldwide thing that doesn’t happen very often, and I’m in it, you know? So it’s really weird. But it’s also weird that good stuff has happened. I’ve gotten closer to people that I was starting to lose contact with and at work, it’s going really well. I’m meeting with the director regularly, and he knows my name now, and the circ supervisor thinks I’m doing amazing work, so, I don’t know. It’s weird, I guess. That’s what I have to say. (laughs)

    Interviewer: Well, Michelle, thank you for taking the time today to share your story with us.

    Michelle Herbrand: Oh! Yeah. Thanks for listening to me. No one wants to hear me talk about (laughs) anything, so. (laughs) Thank you!