Post contributed by Spring 20202 Archives Graduate Assistants Miranda Siler (Library and Information Science and History of Art and Design '21) and Nikki Lopez (Library and Information Science '21).
Nikki Lopez and Miranda Siler, Spring 2020 Archives Graduate Assistants
Hello, Nikki and Miranda here, the Graduate Assistants at the Pratt Institute Archives. Nikki is a second-semester Library and Information Science Student from Texas. Miranda is in her second semester of the dual-degree Library and Information Science and History of Art and Design masters program. As Graduate Assistants, as students, and as people, our daily lives have been significantly impacted by COVID-19. Here we talk about how we are navigating these changes at school and work, as well as the challenges we face living in New York.
What does your work from home workspace look like?
Miranda: My workplace is still a work in progress. During Spring Break and Study Week, I was mostly working from the common space in my apartment, either on the couch or sharing the kitchen table with a big puzzle. I don’t have a desk in my room so this seemed to make the most sense. I’ve realized that this wasn’t really the best option after all; I didn’t want my roommate to feel like they couldn’t come into the common space while I was on a call, and I also found the music coming from their room to be great, but distracting. Last week I set up a little TV tray that we have in my room, which has worked as a makeshift desk. It isn’t perfect, but I think it is my best option for the time being. I usually avoid working from home at all, much-preferring libraries or cafes, so this has been quite an adjustment.
Nikki: Before the pandemic, when I had to study at home I would go to the library near my apartment. I’ve always been the type of person to separate my work from my personal life because I like to minimize stress. For the most part, going to the library seemed to work. I enjoyed the soft noise background of people working around me but since I’ve been in quarantine that is not the case anymore. The day before working remotely I cleaned my desk and its surrounding area. I normally used my desk to put random stuff on it or as a makeshift vanity, but now it's restored to its main purpose. I’ve been making sure to keep it organized so that I don’t get distracted.
Left: Nikki's workspace; Right: Miranda's workspace
How are professors transitioning? How are you coping?
Miranda: Each of my professors has done something different. One professor has transitioned the class to be completely asynchronous and all of our discussion is happening via blog posts and comments. Another one is doing a combination of synchronous and asynchronous; they are recording lectures for us to watch on our own time, and then we are meeting for an hour to two hours each week to check-in and answer questions. My other two classes are more or less business as usual, we are still meeting for our full class time each week, although our assignments have been altered slightly. I think that the last method has worked out the best for me. Although Zoom calls are not perfect, it feels like less of a learning curve with regards to my expectations for the class. For example, I’m still spending about the same amount of time per week on those classes, whereas in my asynchronous and mixed classes I am having a hard time estimating how much time they will take.
Nikki: I feel lucky to have professors that are supportive of students during this pandemic. For all three of my classes, the coursework has changed dramatically to accommodate most students. For example, in my Reference and Instruction class, the professor eliminated all the practice modules so that we can spend our time working on the final assignment. It has been hard to focus during lectures (since all my classes are at night) but I have managed well. I do miss seeing my classmates during class though. I can't wait to see them in person next semester.
How do you stay focused and manage your time?
Miranda: I have been using a specific planner called the SELF Journal off-and-on for a while now which guides the timing of my day, gives me space to reflect, and also allows me to set goals for myself. In general, I have been trying to accomplish three specific things each day, although admittedly some days are more successful than others. While I am working to find ways to be more focused, I am also trying to be kind to myself and not judge my productivity or lack thereof. I have been reading a book called “How to Do Nothing” which has helped inform my attitude about this.
Nikki: I’m still trying to figure out how to keep a healthy mindset during this time. Before the crisis, I used to start my day at 7 am and it’s crazy to think about how this was not too long ago. To stay focused while I work I like to play soft LoFi hip hop music in the background. It also helps to calm my nerves. I use a planner to keep track of my assignments and work goals. If I am working on something that will take a lot of time, I stop what I am doing and have stretch breaks. I have annoying back pain and sitting at a desk for too long triggers it. I’ve set a goal for myself to fall into a healthy morning routine and incorporate exercising somehow.
What GA work have you been doing?
Miranda: In addition to this blog, I have also been working on another blog related to a donation that the archive received from the Pratt Fashion Department. I started this project before the school was shut down, and luckily had the foresight to scan some images on my last day in the archive. I am also working on a LibGuide (or subject guide) about artists’ books. The library has a great collection of artists’ books within their special collections and there is already a guide about that. The guide I am working on is more about artists’ books generally, their history, how to make them, etc.
Nikki: As a GA I have been working on a LibGuide about primary source research. It's been interesting to work on this project since I am currently learning about LibGuides in my Reference and Instruction class. For this LibGuide, I defined what primary source research is and researched a list of repositories around New York City that can help students with archival collections. Also, I collected a list of digital collections that are available to view online for free. I hope this LibGuide helps students incorporate archives in their research and feel encouraged to view collections in person.
What is it like being in New York and away from family?
Miranda: It was never really a question for me whether I would stay in Brooklyn or not, and thankfully my parents have been very understanding of that. I’ve been in my apartment for over two years at this point, so it really feels most like home to me. I would consider my roommate to be my chosen family, and my boyfriend lives within walking distance so we have still been visiting each other occasionally (with both of our roommates’ blessings), although this is happening less frequently now than at the beginning of quarantine. Also, going to my parents would require a plane ride to St. Louis, which is just not smart at the moment. That said, I do talk to them and other family and friends regularly, so I am still feeling pretty social despite social distancing. The thing I am most anxious about is going grocery shopping, although I just signed up for a produce delivery service which should mitigate the number of trips I have to take. Overall, it has been heartening to see the lack of people on the street or in the park, but also the ways that life goes on, like finding new flowers in the tree beds along my block or chalk drawings on the sidewalk.
Nikki: When I moved to NYC in August, it was my first time moving out of my hometown, Austin, Texas. Since this whole situation happened it’s been hard to not think about how far away I am from my family. I find myself looking at plane tickets home most nights wondering if the risk is worth going home. However, I know that staying here is the safest thing to do. My parents are at high risk of contracting the virus and going home would cause more harm than good. A few weeks ago, I had a fever for a few days straight and having no physical support was an adjustment I was not ready to make but I powered through. Living in New York has made me comfortable in my independence and I’m not afraid of what is to come next. Once traveling becomes a safe option again, I’m taking a long vacation back home and petting my dogs for a few days straight.