Tina Marie Maes describes what library work in cataloging and technical services has looked like during the social distance measures put in place in Madison in spring 2020. Tina discusses tentative plans for what the workplace in the Central Library will look like as the Safer at Home order is phased out.
COVID-19 story by Tina Marie Maes, 2020
Narrator Name: Tina Marie Maes
Interviewer Name: Danny Atwater
Date of interview: 5/9/2020
[00:00:00] - Talk about your Covid-19 Safer at Home story
[00:00:51] - How are you at present?
[00:01:28] - What have the past few weeks been like?
[00:03:45] - Tell us about work Zoom meetings.
[00:06:20] - How do you think work will be different when you can go back?
[00:09:51] - How are your family and friends?
[00:12:54] - Are there some things that worry you right now?
[00:14:44] - What positive changes do you hope for when this is over?
[00:15:56] - Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
[00:18:16] - Thanks for sharing your story.
[START OF RECORDING]
Interviewer: My name is Danny Atwater, and I am a library assistant for Madison Public Library. This interview is being recorded as part of the Madison Living History Project Stories from a Distance series. Today’s date is Saturday, May 9, 2020, and this interview is being conducted via the video conferencing software Zoom. I’ll have our storyteller introduce themselves; please tell us your first and last name and what your connection to Madison is.
Tina Marie Maes: Hi, my name is Tina Marie Maes. I have been living in Madison for twenty years. I went to undergrad here, and then I went to grad school, and then I decided to never leave. I currently work at the City of Madison and have been doing so for about the last ten years. Currently, I’m the lead cataloging librarian at the City of Madison technical services; so we deal with getting materials out to people.
Interviewer: We’ll definitely get into your job a bit, but right now I’d like you to describe where you are right now and how you’re feeling in the moment.
Tina Marie Maes: Currently I’m sitting in my living room, slash office, slash the place I sit most of the day, talking to you on my laptop—on the city’s laptop, actually—and I’m staring out at Warner Park, because that’s right outside my door. Physically I’m great; there’s just been a low-level anxiety for the last, I don’t know how many weeks. But mostly I’m doing pretty good; I’m hopeful for the future and, you know, getting through it all.
Interviewer: What have the past few weeks looked like for you in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Safer at Home order from the governor?
Tina Marie Maes: I have to think about what my life was like beforehand before I actually go into now. So beforehand, the week before, I was going to meetings, going into work every day, busing in to work and then sitting in meetings and getting stuff out to people, and I had meetings outside of that, and I’d gone to Wicked the week before, and it was awesome, full house and everything, and then the next week happened. Actually I started staying home, like, a week before the Safer at Home rules were in place because I have underlying conditions; I have asthma and I had part of my lung removed when I was ten. Whole different story. I started staying home, and I thought, It’s fine; I’ve worked from home before, it’ll just be like work but from home, I’ve done this before. And then it kept continuing. You have to stay at home; you have to stay at home, and it just—it’s been a giant change, and part of me just doesn’t understand what it was like when I went into work every week and when I saw people because I haven’t done that in—two months? Don’t ask me; I’m not good at that. So it’s just—it’s been a giant change. The entire department has actually been working from home, and we’ve been working on trying to do completely different things; most of my department has to deal with items in hand one way or another. Our catalogers can actually catalog from a distance because we’ve been doing it via an Excel report which is totally against cataloging rules, but we do what we can, and we’ve been doing that for decades and we have a pretty good system in place. But for everyone else, they usually are sitting there linking materials and receiving them and just touching things in hand and dealing with getting them out, and they haven’t been able to do that for two months, so it’s been—that’s been a big change and all of the zoom meetings have been a big change.
Interviewer: Tell us more about some of those Zoom meetings as part of work.
Tina Marie Maes: Well, there’s been all sorts of meetings. We do a weekly TS meeting that kind of gets all the department together so people can ask questions; We also—I’ve also had meetings on—I also work with the entire system and we talk about how things go for the system and how cataloging goes. A lot of my life is about cataloging and also the discovery interface, so the LINKcat version of our system as well, so we talk about how things are looking there. And the other meetings that I’ve been doing are—I mean I’ve just been doing related meetings.
Oh! Backing up. One of the cool things that our department has been working on is actually something that’s been bugging me for years, but we’ve finally been able to do it. When we started—a million years ago there weren’t DVDs! And then there were DVDs (laughs), and then we started cataloging them, and when we first started putting them in the system, they were just in, like, everything was in nonfiction, or they all had Dewey numbers. And then ten years ago or so we pulled them out of the nonfiction, and we put them in a TV collection, but when we did that, for reasons that I don’t actually know, we only put a call number that was three letters long, so if you had something called Dollhouse, the call number would be D-o-l, season 1, disc whatever. Which is fine if every TV show has a different title. They don’t. And so things like CSI, CSI New York, CSI Las Veg— there’s like, the regular CSI, CSI New York, CSI Miami, which were all under CSI. Nobody knew what they were looking at. And then there’s a bunch of Star Trek, and then there’s reboots of Twin Peaks and Outer Limits, and it’s just like, nobody knows what they’re doing, they always have to look at the barcode, which is fine for a small collection but we have several long shelves of DVDs. It’s a big collection. So we’ve been actually able to go into all the items that we own from all the nine locations around Madison and update those with a full title, which has been great. I think it’ll be helpful for pick-list staff and for patrons, so I’ve been really happy about that part of it.
Interviewer: When you’re able to get back into work, how do you think work might be different compared to how it has been?
Tina Marie Maes: I have been literally working on that project right now because the first thing we want to do is to keep social distancing. We want to make sure that people have enough space around them that the likelihood of them getting sick is very small. And everyone will have their masks and all that. So we have two shared rooms for the two different parts of TS, because that’s how the new library—we were in the Central library; I should also point that out, and there are two different parts of TS. Since we have a shared office, there’s no separate cubicles, and we have people pretty close together, so in the beginning, when we are relaxing the safer at home, we’re trying to figure out a way to actually get people in there where they can be safe in their space, but also away from other people enough that there won’t be any transmission of this disease, or hopefully any others, and make sure that the work gets done, and make sure that the work gets done in the order it’s supposed to get done. Like, you can’t have somebody who’s doing materials prep if the item hasn’t been cataloged; there’s a process that we have developed, which has been great until we get to this point where not everyone can be in the office and there’s a process that needs to happen. So I think at first we’ll have to figure that out, if everyone’s going in at the same time, and if everyone’s not, what are they doing, when are they going in, how late are they going in, how early are they going in; some people in our department enjoy going in at five thirty in the morning. That is not me. I’d rather be there till 9 o’clock p.m. because I am a night owl. So there might be some schedule shifts like that, and even after the safer at home ends, I think we’ll still probably do some more schedule relaxing—not relaxing, but it’ll just be a different look for when people are in and where they are in the building.
I don’t have a lot to do with the public side of this, but I think it’ll also extend to what the public side looks like. Yeah, it’ll be very interesting. I’m hoping it’ll all work out really well, but I have no idea, because it’s going to be a very big shift, because we’re even thinking, when people have questions, because people will always have questions; nothing is ever perfect the first time, and someone’s going to be like, “Hey, this is missing something,” “I don’t understand this note,” whatever; usually you’d go over to somebody’s desk and say, “Hey, I have a question.” Now, we don’t really want to do that, because we do want to maintain that social distance, and even if everyone’s wearing a mask, the virus is the virus and it will do what it will, and it wants to infect people. So we’re trying to figure out how do we actually make that happen. I’m really happy now that we actually have a lot of technology around us, in that we do have phones and computers and chat and all that, but not every person in our department has city issued or their own—not everyone even has a smartphone, so if there’s a question which requires a picture, if you don’t have a smartphone you can’t take a picture. So we’re trying to figure out the logistics of that.
Interviewer: How have things been going for family and friends during this time?
Tina Marie Maes: Most of my family—I have a lot of family who live up north, and thankfully, there have not been a lot of cases; Madison and Milwaukee have had far more cases than they have had up north. However, they all are essential employees, so they’ve been going to work. Part of me felt very jealous about that, but then part of me was just really nervous because they’re going into work, they’re having to talk to other people, they’ve got other people who are in their spaces and they can’t control the same social distancing and the same contacts as they can, so I’m nervous that they’re going to get sick, and I even have—one of my family members just wants to get the virus and get it over with, and I don’t know how to explain to that person that, like, you could die! Other people could die, and it could come back; you don’t really want to get this; this isn’t like the lottery, you’re not going to win money, you’re going to maybe be very sick, maybe be slightly sick, maybe give it to other people. But I think it’s just it’s a really different—I’m realizing how very different the culture is around Madison versus up north, where they haven’t had a lot of cases, and so it’s just, they’re more used to a different way of life and I think it’s harder to change that, especially when you have a lot of people who are in a service industry, in a health care industry, in an essential store, and they have to go to work and drive and everything.
The other thing is that my dad had carpal tunnel surgery, like, February? And it’s—so thankfully he had the surgery, he was doing okay, but then he got tendinitis after that, and so he’s been trying to talk to his doctor about doing physical therapy, but he couldn’t go in because the hospitals were like no we’re not letting anyone in, so it’s weird when you have to actually go to a doctor to do anything and you can’t go in, so, yeah, it’s just been very, very different between all of them. So the other thing is, I have friends in Madison who work in the health care department, and who work in other jobs that they can’t stop. A lot of them have been able to work from home, but one of them sets up telephone networks, so she’s been inundated because there’s work happening all across the country, and then she can’t really stop, but she’s trying to work from home; and then I have two friends who work in the hospitals, and they’re going in every day—or every day they work—and wearing masks, and, you know, I worry about them because it’s a worrying situation.
Interviewer: Are there some things that worry you right now?
Tina Marie Maes: I try not to worry about the people who are going to get sick. I mean, that is always the worry that I have, but I also am worrying about the economy, which is not a thing I’ve ever done. I worry about businesses not being around or people—they don’t have jobs, and so they don’t have money for food or for rent, and then I worry that it’s going to change us fundamentally as how we interact with each other. When this first started I started doing daily walks around Warner Park, and it was great to be outside, but I also have noticed that every day, people are, like, you can see fear in their eyes and they definitely are doing the walking away from each other, but I also don’t want it to be like a “I’m scared of other people,” and I think that it’s just going to—it has already changed the way we interact with each other, and it’s sometimes even worse for people who are not in communities that are in power, so there’s been hate crimes against people who are Asian because this is supposedly an Asian virus, although it doesn’t mean that those people actually came from that community recently anyway, like, they grew up—they look like a South Korean because their family was, but they’ve been in the United States for twenty years, or thirty years, or forty years, or their entire life, so it’s just (sighs), I worry about just what can it do in a small way; it’s changing everything, but also what it’s doing to us and showing off fears that I really wish weren’t there. Yeah.
Interviewer: At some point, this will be behind us, and when that happens, what good or what positive changes do you hope will come from it?
Tina Marie Maes: I know that the city of Madison we’ve been working on doing our professional development for our employees and thinking about bigger questions in ways that we never really had time to when our day-to-day is just getting materials in patrons’ hands. And getting information in their heads, too, with the Bubbler and all that, but I hope that we can actually go forward and continue those questions and those lofty goals of making equality and equity a thing that happens for all communities in Madison. And also, I just want it to show people that everyone is dealing with the same stuff that you are, no matter what they look like or what they’re—what they’re dealing with. I hope we can find a way to actually make this more of a positive experience. (sighs) That’s my hope. That’s my hope every day.
Interviewer: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that we didn’t mention in the interview?
Tina Marie Maes: Yeah. I’ve been working with a workgroup trying to develop a policy for employees in the city of Madison who are gender nonconforming, gender fluid, transgender, anything in that umbrella, to make sure that they have rights and that they have the same rights and privileges as people who aren’t. And even before I joined the group—I actually joined the group because I’d been questioning and trying to figure out who I really was and what gender I really felt was mine, and this is, we’ve been continuing to work on that, which is great because a lot of the city’s jobs and goals have kind of stopped in the meantime, but it’s also like, I have entirely too much time to think, and it’s made me realize that I really need to figure out what I am and be proud of it and get to a point—and so I saw somebody recently who was like, “I just really want a haircut!” And part of me was like, “Is your hair worth more than other people’s lives?” But the other part of me was like, yes, I’d really like a haircut because I want to be able to present myself in a way that makes more sense for me, and that’s kind of affirming and kind of scary, but also, I want to do the thing that makes my gender expression better. I’ve been dealing with this question for about, I don’t know, at least ten years if not more, and this is a hard time to actually try and figure out what gender means and how to present oneself when you can’t do anything and when you also don’t have support from other people who can say, “Hey, you’re doing fine; this is my struggle, this is your struggle”—especially—especially if you’re just starting out in the journey. So that’s been an interesting thing. I’m really happy with what the city is doing to make sure that that policy goes forward and it becomes a real policy, but yeah. It’s not an easy journey to take alone.
Interviewer: I want to thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us today.
Tina Marie Maes: Yeah, I hope, I hope people can find it—I just want people to understand that it’s hard, but it’s also maybe clarifying, and I hope people can find hope out of it. So that’s my goal.
Interviewer: Thank you.
[END OF RECORDING]