Working from home but staying connected

Submitted by Matthew Gengler on

Working in a museum every day, it can be all too easy to take for granted the incredible collection of art, steps away from our offices. Now as we work at a distance, Ingalls Library and Museum Archives staff reflect on what it means to remain connected, while physically separated, as Director of Ingalls Library Heather Saunders shares:  

“The CMA is with me from the beginning of my day. Most of my mugs are oversized and I prefer to drink my wake-up green tea in my smaller mug with Breuer-inspired stripes, so I don’t overdo my caffeine consumption. When I’m at the office, I have the best intentions of starting my day with professional development—for example, researching whatever my biggest challenge is at the moment through resources like Harvard Business Review; inevitably, there are countless time-sensitive distractions and this goal is usually sacrificed. At home, though, there is a different pace that allows me to achieve this goal. By the time the caffeine has kicked in, I can address projects that require deep concentration like writing a book review and peer reviewing an article. When the quiet gets to me on days without Teams meetings, I play the 100th anniversary video for the CMA on YouTube.”   

Breaks in the quiet can be just the thing to remind us of our shared mission, as Research and Scholarly Communications Librarian Beth Owens relays how a recent connection with a curator and student provided a positive highlight in her work from home day: 

“I received an email from a Case faculty member in the joint program, asking for help tracking down an electronic copy of a resource for a student. It was not to be found. After further query with both the student, and the professor, I suggested consulting one of our curators for recommendations of alternate resources. All three connected in a Zoom meeting in which I was privileged to be included. It was so exciting to listen to the sharing of thoughts, and ideas centered around an object in the CMA collection. For me, this is the epitome of the joint program.” 


Though we work from a distance, our projects continue, for example the library’s implementation of a new catalog has us all exploring new ways of collaborating. This can be especially difficult for those who are not only new to work from home, but also new to the museum, like Cataloging Librarian Chloe Bragg:  

“I had just arrived at the CMA in January, and only a few short weeks later I transitioned to working from home. My major project has been implementing a new Integrated Library System, which is difficult in the best of times but even more so during a pandemic. 

In my work at the museum, I spend most of my time cataloging print materials for the Ingalls Library’s collection. Being at home means being separated from these materials that I spend most of my time with. I have shifted my focus to cataloging open access digitized materials that have been published by the Cleveland Museum of Art. It’s been interesting getting to know the institution through these historic materials.” 

While some museum departments have recently pivoted from providing in-person programming to online videos and creative activities, archives staff have been creating digital content for remote users for quite some time. Working from home has given us the chance to focus on these initiatives, but we’ve also continued to organize and catalog analog historic collections.  As Archives Director Leslie Cade relates, “Hauling boxes from museum office to home office isn’t a stretch, as the constant shifting of boxes is a regular part of the job. But not every archival task can be done from home, and my boxes are now lined up, waiting for the day when I can return to the archives workroom and complete the sorting, photocopying, scanning, sleeving, and all the other tasks that remain.” 


Leslie continues, “I miss meandering through the galleries to discover new works on exhibit, and taking a refreshing turn around the lagoon to recharge my batteries during the day. I miss seeing the groups of young children getting their first taste of the wonders of the creative process and eagerly creating their own masterpieces to share with family. I listen to the curators talk about works in the collection in the Home is Where the Art Is series to bring myself back to the museum and feel comforted that I’ll be back there soon.” 

Indeed, until we find ourselves in the museum again, we will continue to strengthen our connections to our colleagues and our mission as we navigate our shared future.