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Dean’s Update: What’s a Win These Days?

July 8, 2020

Are we perhaps facing “adjustment fatigue” and wondering if stability will ever exist? Might we feel better to recognize even short-term wins—over repeatedly trying to understand what we don’t know, to practice “pivoting” in our strategies to tackle challenges, or just to reach successful results from our efforts to adjust to fast-pace changes?

More than two weeks ago, we passed the 100-day marker of “sheltering in place” and working remotely, the first of many adjustments to the way we work at Drexel Libraries and live in the Philadelphia region during the COVID-19 pandemic. That transition now seems a relatively easy one to make for many of us fortunate not to be in the front lines of being healthcare heroes and providing other essential services.

We share many of the same personal adjustments beyond that first requirement. Wear a mask. Debate whether to go out for groceries or disinfect a home delivery package before opening it. Give up eating inside a restaurant. Think what precautions to take to protect from the virus transmission or whose advice to trust. Teach a child about social studies using an app. Visit grandchildren through a computer screen or a parent through a window. Not hug a friend who lost a loved one.    

As managers and leaders, we adjust to the very approach to making adjustments. Planning is no longer a systematic linear process with projected objectives and aspirational, measurable goals to guide “progress.” Being able to “turn on a dime,” or if necessary, to “go back to red” in operations or service deliverables, calls for more than contingency planning. You might not know what environmental factors triggered the change or how long it will last or what next might be different. Do you plan for worse case scenarios and take joy if something changes for the better, or do you lead with optimism that this too will pass and a return to a “normal” state is surely inevitable? Planning nowadays requires adjustments in mindset to the very notion of a process to shape the future.

Most of us are good at adjusting our behaviors and thinking, at least short term. One coping mechanism comes with a worry if it is OK to feel adjusted to our new habits and lifestyle. Just as the plea to “please don’t use another Zoom breakout session” is termed “Zoom fatigue,” it may be that we are experiencing loss of enthusiasm for adjusting. A definition of fatigue includes “a lessening in one's response to or enthusiasm for something, typically as a result of overexposure to it.”  

Antidotes to this new reality may include reducing exposure to change—not a likely possibility anytime soon. Another strategy to shake our fatigue may be to simply identify successful results of adjusting.  

This issue of In Circulation offers a few examples of antidotal “wins” experienced this past month at the Drexel University Libraries. Read this month's featured interview and experience the delight that the Libraries’ first Communications co-op student shares in working, learning and making an important professional difference—Tiffany recognizes the win she has in the midst of suddenly losing her many options for a co-op placement and of disruptions in committing to six months of experiential rather than classroom learning.

Archives staff are among our patient but fatigued employees who have adjusted to lack of access to the physical resources central to their planned work and then to delays in obtaining new software to design digital presentation of surrogates to these primary sources. Read the win of connecting with the Drexel community and alumni on the Day of Giving that resulted from this staff’s efforts to share a piece of the Archives collection—a streamed digital video of a fun skit about the University’s founder and family. 

This issue includes summaries of a staff effort to share personal inspirations to celebrate Juneteenth and initiatives to create opportunities to record evidence of current campus activities for future reference and use. Both are wins for staff to see others recognize their efforts during times when many feel overwhelmed.

I have no claim to understanding fatigue. However, lately the term repeatedly comes to my attention as I observe a group of dedicated and experienced people become physically and mentally tired when adjusting to ways they work to extend their commitments to helping others address their challenges and inquiries. Celebrating wins help us feel successful and purposeful in continuing the stable commitment of the Libraries to facilitate and build connections with human experiences and recorded knowledge.

Take a moment to step away from your own treadmill of adjustments and reflect on the victories you have made to respond to the disruptions of the pandemic. The generated joy and satisfaction from feeling accomplishment may be an old fashion motivator, but for many it may restore energy to offset our adjustment fatigue.

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries