Guest post by Amanda Watson, Director of the O’Quinn Law Library and Assistant Professor of Law.

“It’s the way we’ve always done it.” Law librarians, like most people, are generally creatures of habit. It isn’t surprising, since so much of our work is understanding, and even translating how things work.

The United States Supreme Court hears around 80 oral arguments a year. For about half the year, lawyers travel to the prestigious columned building to answer questions from the Justices. It is a career highlight for those lawyers, who sometimes commission artists to create images of them in front of the iconic bench.

Spring of 2020 has been a time of many challenges to “the way we’ve always done it” because of the response to COVID-19. The oral arguments are no different. In an April press release, the Court announced they would hear oral arguments by telephone conference.

The Supreme Court bench is known for being very active. It was difficult to imagine how that would translate to a telephone conference because the lawyers nor the Justices would see the nonverbal cues so important to the back and forth of the usual argument.

Why did the Court decide not to use video conferencing? As SCOTUSblog put it, it would be hard to “put the genie back in the bottle” after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Whatever method was used would certainly set an unofficial precedent for future arguments.  Some Justices have said that a video conference would turn into an event, with lawyers trying to create news-worthy quips instead of focusing on advocating for their clients. Audio recordings have been provided (with a delay) since 1955, so providing them as a live stream was a more modest innovation.

The telephone conference arguments started in early May and provided both live and archived versions to the public. The arguments have been very orderly. The most surprising feature turned out not to be the live stream or mechanics of telephonic communication, but that the usually quiet Justice Thomas asked questions, and that a toilet flush was heard during one argument when someone forgot to mute their telephone. All in all, telephone conferences have been a success while not changing that much about the future of arguments. They are not the way we’ve always done it, but they likely will allow for an easy transition back to the way we’ve always done it when COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed.

The Computing Services Special Interest Section is made up of awesome law librarians doing interesting things.   The CS-SIS Member Spotlight is designed to shine a light on our members so that we can learn more about each other and stay connected.

CS-SIS Member Spotlight:  Amanda Watson

 

Allow me to introduce Amanda Watson, incoming chair of CS-SIS.  Amanda’s path to law librarianship began at Mississippi University for Women where she earned her B.A. She then attended the University of Mississippi School of Law and accepted a clerkship at the Mississippi Court of Appeals.  Following her clerkship, she joined a small firm specializing in family law but wanted to shift her focus to helping people without being limited by their ability to pay.  She recalled her student work at her law school library, and teaching legal research to 1Ls and pondered “isn’t that a career?”  That was that, as law librarianship allowed her to dig into her commitment to serving the public interest.

With law librarianship experience in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, Amanda jokes she is well-versed in 5th circuit jurisdictions.  As Manager of Information Services at the Jackson office of Phelps Dunbar, LLP, she had the support of her firm while she earned her Master of Library Science degree from Florida State University.  She was then appointed the State Librarian of Mississippi. With a solid understanding of law firm and government law libraries, she entered academic law librarianship.  She worked for seven years at the Tulane University School of Law Library, ultimately as Associate Director, and then transitioned into Director of the O’Quinn Law Library at the University of Houston.  Amanda has positive takeaways from all of these library positions and notes her appreciation of her staff, bosses, and mentors along the way.

Amanda is excited to be the incoming chair of CS-SIS as our membership considers its future and a potential rebrand.  She learned early on in her career that an important aspect of librarianship was the ability to bridge the gap between lawyers and technology and explaining technology to lawyers.  Her membership in the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) helps keep her up-to-date on industry trends.  She understands information architecture and the systems that need to be built and is interested in creating and improving technology.  Currently, she is excited by the concept of a tool that will search across secondary sources.  While a treatise discovery layer may be years in the making, Amanda knows that such a product will have a positive impact on her students, and legal research beyond the academy.  She has seen librarians work with vendors to improve products and make them the best version of what they can be.  She brings to the CS-SIS executive board a talent for speaking the language of tech and her innovative ideas.

Having immediately understood the valuable role technology would play in this Covid-19 pandemic, Amanda proved again that librarians and libraries are habitually useful.  In the early weeks of implementing online teaching, she and her library team created reference materials and guides, provided hundreds of individual trainings, and are making a huge difference in the lives of students and faculty as they adapt to a remote learning environment.   Amanda had previously navigated the waters of hurricanes Katrina and Harvey and knows that being a good listener, having patience, and embracing creativity are qualities that will help her library get through this pandemic.  In the meantime, she’s embracing working from home and is preparing to teach Texas legal research online this summer and is looking into teaching her advanced legal research course online in the fall.

Amanda loves her family and values the time she gets to spend with her wife and two sons.  She enjoys watching RuPaul’s Drag Race on VH1 and in non-pandemic times visits art museums and attends theater, ballet, and opera performances.  She sings recreationally and her eldest son, also a singer, is a member of the Houston Boy Choir.

Thanks to Amanda for her willingness to be interviewed for this CS-SIS member spotlight.

Thank you to Nancy Bellafante, Serials & Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, for this guest post.

The Biddle Law Library at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School responded to the COVID-19 crisis by increasing online reference services and expanding our collection of electronic resources. Before the shutdown, Biddle’s staff worked quickly to digitize course reserve materials. The library also partnered with publishers to provide free online access to casebooks and textbooks and invested in new ebook collections and study aid packages.

Yet, the library offers more to students than research support and course materials. We provide opportunities for personal connection. How can the library offer emotional support to students from a distance? In this remote environment, how can we communicate a smile or words of encouragement that we normally share in our face-to-face interactions?

During Final Exams period, the library puts up a digital display of the staff’s beloved dogs and cats (even a few turtles) to bring a little joy to our students during a stressful time. This spring, we adapted this idea to create the video, Finals Survival Tips: Pets Edition.

Library staff submitted clips of their pets demonstrating important tips for making it through finals, such as “eat snacks” and “take naps.” The video also included a message from librarians to let students know we miss them and are still here to help.

Creating the video did not require much time nor technical expertise. Below is an overview of the process.

Tools Used

  • Microsoft Photos – Pre-installed Windows 10 application, includes a built-in video editor
  • Zoom – Videoconferencing program with an option to record, offers free and paid accounts
  • Canva – Online graphic design program, offers free and paid accounts

Collect Video Content

Send an email to staff, explaining the purpose of the video, along with the deadline and guidelines for submissions. Explain how the video will be shared. Ask staff to keep clips under 15 seconds. Give ideas for the clips and encourage multiple submissions. Since some video files are too large to email, set up an online folder for staff to save submissions.

Create the Video

Microsoft Photos is similar to other video editors, but with fewer bells and whistles. If you are unfamiliar with video-editing software, watch Microsoft’s short tutorial series on how to make a video. Below are the basic steps to creating a video:

Start a new video project and import collected clips into the program. Decide on the video’s orientation. Note, most people record with their phones in portrait mode. Drag clips to the timeline to create the video sequence. Select individual clips to remove any black borders and to trim the clip, capturing the most interesting footage. You can also adjust or mute a clip’s volume if needed.

Add background music to the project. Select a track that fits the emotional tone of the piece. Add title slides to help communicate and organize the video’s narrative. Again, choose visual elements that match the video’s tone and message.  Keep it short. Our video was just under 3 minutes, which is a bit long, and it makes posting on some social media platforms difficult. If you have a lot of good material, consider breaking it up into a series. Once your video project is complete, save it as a movie file (MP4).

Create Text Slides Using Canva

Microsoft’s video editor is simple to use, but it has some limitations. It does not allow you to adjust the music volume for individual clips or add multiple tracks. Also, the program does offer clip transitions, and there are few text and title slide options.

For our video, I created the text slides using Canva, a free online graphic design program. Canva is easy to use and provides many templates and images. It is free to sign up for an account; however, some of the design elements are only available for paid accounts. I highly recommend Canva for creating marketing materials and social media posts.

Share the Video

Publish the video to your library’s YouTube or Vimeo channel to easily share the link on your website and social media. Our video was also shared with students in an e-newsletter sent by our school’s Student Affairs Office. I find this direct form of communication with students has the most reach.

The Most Important Element

Don’t forget the human element! We recorded a message to our students in Zoom for the video.  As heart-warming as our furry friends can be, seeing the faces of the librarians and hearing their voices were key to making a personal connection and communicating our support.

 

 

If you switched to working from home (WFH) quickly, you likely had little time to prepare and may still be making minor adjustments to get your ‘home office’ just right.  One adjustment that can be the hardest to tackle for some is switching to a work-life without a printer.

Though I’m a save-the-trees, don’t print unless you absolutely have to kind of person, I understand that there are some things that are just better done on paper. Additionally, with all the extra screen time we’re getting coupled with fewer breaks in between virtual meetings, moving as much of our reading off-screen as we can is better for our health. With that said, the often quick functions of scanning and printing that most of us took for granted in a typical day at the office have now joined the growing list of basic functions we’ve lost to this pandemic.

Thankfully, technology can help us work around this too.

Scanning

If you have an iPhone or iPad, Apple’s Notes app makes it possible to scan, markup, and share or save documents through any number of methods (email, Google Drive, etc.)

Screen shot of Apple's Notes app used to scan a document

Apple’s markup feature is especially useful if you need to ‘sign’ something electronically and don’t have access to an Adobe product that lets you do so, like Acrobat Pro or DC.

Similarly, Android users only need to have the Google Drive app to scan and save documents as searchable PDFs to their Drive.

Faxing

If your job requires you to fax documents, check with your campus or firm IT staff to see if they subscribe to an IP Fax service (I just learned my University does).  If that’s not an option and you really need to send a fax, try an online fax provider–some of which offer between 7 and 14 free trials.  (Just make sure the one you choose offers security!)

Printing

If you can’t get back into your office to take your work printer home (or your workplace won’t let you remove office equipment), you may feel like your last resort is to buy your own printer. (I found a Canon ink-jet printer on Best Buy’s website for as little as $35, but they are currently sold out and will likely be for a while).  My advice before buying a printer is to first think of possible alternatives to printing.

If you have things that will eventually need to be in print but aren’t necessary right now, save them in a Google or Box drive folder with a name like “To Print” and set yourself a reminder to do so when you’re back in the office.  You may even find that some things you thought you would need to print can continue to live online.

Scree Speak options on an Apple iPhone

If you work with a lot of text-heavy documents and would normally print them out to read, or if you’re just tired of reading so much on a screen, consider using a screen reader to listen to them instead.

If you really need something to be on paper, try writing it out by hand. While yes, this can be a lot slower than typing–who else has used the virtual equivalent of a post-it on your desktop just so you didn’t have to write one out by hand?—it may lead to better retention.

In the end, each of us will have to find the way we work best without being able to quickly scan or print. While this can be annoying, it does present opportunities to rethink how we work with print materials and come up with new solutions. And who knows, some of those solutions may persist even after we finally get back to our offices…

Who doesn’t love the Internet Archive? As one of the longest running vehicles for capturing content generated online, it also serves as one of the primary databases for Public Domain and Creative Commons licensed media. Founded in 1996, the vast archive includes more than 430 billion web pages, but the fun doesn’t stop with the web. As a non-profit library, it also presents a broad spectrum of collections, from live audio to feature films, ebooks to software, and even patents and other government documents. In this post I wanted to share some favorites from the archive I’ve enjoyed recently, both for work and entertainment.

Deutscher Bundestag

This unofficial mirror of official documents of the German parliament contains nearly 150,000 items (so far). It is automatically updated using the open source (AGPLv3) pdok-mirror software and the internetarchive python library. While working virtual reference at UGA Law Library I was recently lucky enough to have a question involving locating anofficial government document related to Energiewende. My colleague Anne Burnett, Foreign & International Law Librarian, helped to locate exactly what I was searching for – and she found it in this collection!

United States Patent and Trademark Documents & Gov Docs

Contributed by Think Computer Foundation, this collection of US patents and trademarks includes more than 400,000 applications. Portions are a part of the GovDocs collection (which includes more than 80,000 and are sortable by date).

Ebooks & Audio Books

With over 20,000,000 freely downloadable books and texts, this section of the archive is a treasure chest overflowing with wonderful content. From the collection homepage you can easily sort by libraries from a particular country or by categories like Fringe and Off-Center. There is something for everyone! A portion of this collection includes 1.3 million modern eBooks that may be borrowed by anyone with a free archive.org account. Related collections like the 13,000 free audio books are also available.

The VHS Vault

For lovers of obsolete formats like myself, the archive is packed with digitized media captured from formats that are becoming more and more outdated. The VHS vault is a perfect example of this! One colleague recently shared the 1981-1989 collection of MTV VHS recordings that are a part of the VHS vault. In addition to shows recorded to video by home viewers, you’ll find trailers, commercials, music videos, experimental films, and more.

Software Library: MS-DOS Games

This collection of software for MS-DOS machines includes games of action, strategy, adventure and other unique genres of entertainment software. The programs found here are bootable and playable thanks to the EM-DOSBOX in-browser emulato. With more than 2,500 games there are tons of options. (Thanks to colleague TJ Striepe, AD for Research Services, for sharing this Games and the MTV 80’s links!)

Music, including Sound Effects & Live Performance Libraries

From the popular sound effects library to collections of your favorite band’s live shows. Radio station archives are there, and nearly 230,000 78 RPMs and Cylinder Recordings. Looking for content to use in your own work or project? Search the archives various collections by file types and their rights. Among the gems, fans of the Grateful Dead (like my colleague David Rutland, Collection Services Manager who first shared this set with me) can find enough to listen to all day, everyday.

Images, Video and Feature Films

There are also vast collections of more than 3 million images, more than 5 million moving images (including more than 6,000 feature films). Many silent films that have entered the public domain can be found in the Internet Archive. You can also find collections of sci-fi and horror, comedy, television shows, and animation and cartoons. Not everything is entertainment – NASA has impressive sets of media including short, relevant educational video segments they hope will “inspire and engage students”.

This blog post could go on endlessly sharing millions of items from the Internet Archive. What is your favorite item or collection at archive.org? We encourage you to explore the database and discover something new. If you know exactly what you are searching for, try out their sophisticated advanced search which feels like it was made just for librarians!

 

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Coronavirus’ impact is felt especially hard by professional associations, which were forced to cancel or change the format of their in-person conferences. These conferences not only draw in substantial revenue, but also promotes their projects, membership, and scholarship to the greater professional community. As a newish tech law librarian, one of the first organizations that came to my attention was Stanford’s CodeX, and I was brimming with excitement for their FutureLaw Conference 2020.

CodeX is Stanford’s Center for Legal Informatics. The FutureLaw Conference is a one-day conference that “focuses on the way technology is transforming the law, and redefining the methods in which individuals interact with legal systems and institutions.” Past conferences have been a valuable way to keep up-to-date with new technologies and their impacts on legal education and practice. The cancellation of the in-person conference was blow to the law librarian community, but CodeX graciously offered the conference in a free online format.

Topics from the online conference include implications of recent natural language processing breakthroughs, regulatory reform to increase access to justice, “no-code” platforms for legal tech development, legal innovation in Sub-Saharan Africa, AI and cybersecurity, facial recognition, and VC investment. I noticed a few audio hiccups but overall, the virtual conference was an amazing production considering that most of the presentations came together weeks after the cancellation of the conference.

Given the rise of no-code or low-coding platforms to create technology solutions for law firms, I found the “The Surge of No Code Platforms for Legal Tech Development” of particular interest. The session included CEOs, practitioners, and legal educators with experience with no-code platforms. No-code or low-code platforms refers to technology that allows non-computer programmers (like lawyers) to create legal tech applications that would typically require coding experience. These tools range from document automation to expertise automation. Claire Johnson Raba, a clinical teaching fellow at the UC Irvine Consumer Law Clinic, noted that the ethical and attorney competency concerns of no-code applications should be addressed in a law school environment in order to incubate these technologies to prevent future malpractice. Because these applications are becoming more popular within the private sector, I believe that it will only be a matter of time before law students are expected to have some experience with automation technologies. The presentation itself discussed a wide variety of topics, surpassing my expectations from a one-hour podcast panel discussion.

Virtual conferences may be the current operating procedure given the coronavirus pandemic, but I hope it will not become the norm. While CodeX and several other conferences are switching to a virtual format, I feel that the conferences are lacking without the networking opportunities, questions from the audience, and awesome vendor swag. However, CodeX FutureLaw 2020 still lived up to my expectations providing high-level discussion about emerging technologies.

For the full agenda and links to each presentation to CodeX FutureLaw 2020: https://conferences.law.stanford.edu/futurelaw2020/agenda/

 

On April 10, I sent a note to two co-workers about virtual study rooms that said: “this is a weird yet maybe good idea.” Twenty days later we’ve not only implemented virtual study rooms but have heard positive feedback from our students and plan to continue offering them this summer, particularly for those students studying for the bar.

Why virtual study rooms? While I personally would find it deeply unsettling to “be” in a room online in a group study setting, many people like it for accountability, including legal writing professors. Just a little over a week ago, there was a discussion on the Legal Writing Institute’s LRW-PROF listserv about improving concentration with a writing group that could be replicated online with a platform like Zoom, or with a program called Focusmate. (More about that discussion here.) Another reason: providing students a “place” to study eliminates a small piece of their cognitive load while studying for exams. Yes, they could figure out how to put together an online study group themselves using many of the various technologies at their fingertips, but this option is a simple as a few clicks. It’s one less thing for them to think about.

After we decided to give it a try at Lewis & Clark Law School, we first tested Google Calendar’s appointment feature to offer two-hour appointments but opted instead for LibCal. Because LibCal is a scheduling platform particular to libraries and library spaces, the customization options were better suited to our needs. We decided to offer three study rooms with two main restrictions: the rooms could only be reserved by a student with our email domain, and the rooms should be reserved 12 hours ahead of the meeting time during the weekdays and by Friday at 4pm ahead of all weekend meeting times. Students could also email Reference to request a sooner time during the workday.

The lengthy booking requirement is required because there is not currently a way to automate the process of sending Zoom room credentials when the student reserves a room. Right now, we have one librarian sending the Zoom credentials to the person who made the appointment through LibCal, and that same librarian is the one notified when someone makes an appointment. We will expand this if it gets too unwieldy.

We decided on three study rooms because they needed to be tied to Zoom institutional accounts to allow for meetings longer than 40 minutes and there is a limited number of institutional accounts available on our campus. We were able to use three email addresses that already belonged to the library to register these Zoom accounts. Once a student reserves a room, the librarian emails the student with the Zoom credentials and it’s up to the student to share those credentials with people in their study group. Each time slot is given unique meeting credentials with a password to prevent Zoom-bombing and Zoom settings allow attendees to enter without a host.

Since we launched virtual study rooms, students have thanked us and we’ve had repeat users. I’ve been in touch with Springshare about a Zoom integration with LibCal and was told, “We are working on a feature to integrate Zoom with LibCal’s Appointment module 🙂 Please keep an eye on our blog for more information on when that will be released!” I’m hopeful that this feature is coming soon, which will potentially eliminate our need to mediate bookings and Zoom credentials.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the response rate to our virtual study room option for students, and it’s been great to hear the positive feedback.

Update, 5.8.20: Springshare announced a LibCal Zoom integration on April 30. This requires that you have access to your Zoom API/Key. At this point, I haven’t been able to experiment with the integration, so for now, we are using the method described above. 

 

The Computing-Services Special Interest Section is made up of awesome law librarians doing interesting things.   The CS-SIS Member Spotlight is designed to shine light on our membership so that we can learn more about each other and stay connected.

CS-SIS Member Spotlight:  Elizabeth Outler

Elizabeth believed her undergraduate mentors when they told her to study what she liked best in school, which happened to be English.  After earning her bachelor’s degree from Smith College, she had little idea of what she wanted to do, so she delved into career exploration.  She taught as an adjunct at a community college, managed an office publishing the Florida Administrative Law Reports, and worked for an immigration law attorney.  While in Boston, she landed a job as an IT consultant where she built “canned” reports for companies with new data warehouses.  Over the years she applied and was accepted to law school four times, but talked herself out of it the first three times because she knew that she didn’t want to be a lawyer.  She did have a persistent interest in being a law student, however, and enrolled at the University of Florida where she earned her J.D., was research editor for the Journal of Law & Public Policy, and earned Order of the Coif recognition.  She also worked as a student in her law library and found that it was a job she enjoyed doing.  With encouragement from her law librarians, she pursued her Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Florida State University.

Since then Elizabeth has been enjoying law librarianship with its evolving job descriptions, ILS transitions, and new opportunities.  After working as Associate Director of the Legal Information Center at the University of Florida, she moved on to Barry University as Head of Technical Services.  Her life path then brought her to Louisiana where she is now Assistant Director of Technical Services at Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge.  In addition to supervising acquisitions, doing the cataloging, and serving as the systems librarian, she also teaches first year legal research in the spring.

An interest in technology has been a constant throughout Elizabeth’s work history, and she joined CS-SIS to keep up with innovation.  She appreciates being part of our “network of people who know how to do things” and is not shy about reaching out to fellow members.   Elizabeth is committed to pitching in on professional organizations and is serving her second year as a Member at-Large on the CS-SIS executive board.  The board has appreciated her time and expertise.

Elizabeth is a rare librarian in that she does not enjoy reading; she believes this is due to the pressured reading load of law school and studying for the bar exam.  She prefers watching SportsCenter and hanging out with her adopted dog, Keke.

Interesting pet name, eh?  Her dog is named after Barkevious Levon “Keke” Mingo, a NFL Super Bowl-ring-wearing defensive end who played college ball at LSU.   Needless to say, Elizabeth is a football fan who enjoys SEC football rivalries with her pup.

Thanks to Elizabeth for her willingness to be interviewed for this CS-SIS member spotlight.   If you are interested in interviewing and writing a blog post about a CS-SIS member, please contact Tawnya Plumb at tplumb@uwyo.edu.  It is a great opportunity to learn about a fellow member.

—This is a guest post by Sarah Lin—

Working at home during a crisis is a lot different from working at home during normal times, but I’m grateful to have prior experience with one of those situations!  I’m starting my 7th year of working at home as a professional librarian, so the process of working apart from my colleagues and users is something I’m used to.  In 2016, I wrote an article for Spectrum (http://epubs.aallnet.org/i/695274-aall-spectrum-july-august-2016-volume-20-number-6/29) outlining my tips on running a technical services team remotely, and I think those points are useful for any other remote team.  In this short post, I’ve tried to list out the more logistical habits, workflows and structures I’ve put in place over the years that are helping me cope in this new reality.

In terms of work-from-home structure, you want to think about the place you work, the equipment you use and the applications you need to do your job.  My home situation has changed a few times since 2014, and I’ve worked in the dining room, the living room, my bedroom, my very own office, and now back to my bedroom again.  Occasionally I’d work from a coffee shop or the library, or even my patio, but mostly in my home because I’m an introvert who likes to be at home.  What has stayed constant is that I have a dedicated place where I work as well as a special bag where I would keep all my work stuff if I did need to either use my desk for something else or change location. The importance of this is to let my work disappear for a while, so that it doesn’t encroach into every aspect of my life.  When I used our family desktop to log into Citrix, I wouldn’t turn it on at any other time, and I started to use the internet on my phone exclusively after work hours.  Once I got my own work laptop, I would often tuck it in a drawer after work was over, or in my laptop bag.  I’m still very much a paper person, so I have a special shelf where I can throw my notebook and paper detritus so I don’t have to see it on the weekends or evenings.  I was initially resistant to having a second monitor, but have found it tremendously useful to reuse an old monitor we had lying around.  I have noise-cancelling headphones for travel which I never used at home, but now that there are 4 other people at home with me all day, I’m finding them to be very useful.  Earplugs work well, too.

Application usage is important to think through, because apps and software can make your life more complicated if they proliferate too much.  Technically, all of the programs I use to help me get my job done, but I think there’s two categories: the software you use to actually do your job, and the software you use to make sure your job gets done.  What you need to do your job is likely predetermined by your employer, but you might have some flexibility when it comes to other apps.  I find that being able to do a modicum of work off of my phone is helpful, both over my morning cup of caffeine and during times (especially now) when I’m splitting my attention between actual work and my new “coworkers.”  For me, having a way to chat with colleagues, either through Hangouts or Slack, is vital to attempt to replicate the social environment of the workplace.  Then I also need tools to manage my to-do list and my time—Rachel Evans posted about Trello & Slack (http://blog.cssis.org/2020/03/19/taking-the-office-home-telework-place-spaces-with-trello-slack/) and I enjoy using Google Tasks and KanbanFlow for my personal to-dos.

With structures in place, I’ve created a number of habits over the years that have allowed me to be productive at home.  I like quiet time in the morning, when I’ve got a cup of tea and can catch up on emails and reprioritize my day based on what I find.  I’ve always had a time zone challenge to my workplaces, so meeting times were often a fairly regular block.  At one employer that ended up being mornings and another was afternoons—these days I home-school in the mornings and work in the afternoons, so meetings have to fall then, with most in the 12-2 range to accommodate my boss in Ohio.  Having those windows and a general feel for my day is something I have always communicated to my coworkers through another habit.  These days it’s a Slack status, but at other times scheduling was something we covered in team meetings so that everyone knew what everyone else had going on.  When spread across time zones, I created a chart showing overlap on days/times to help the team remember who was doing what, when.  Those team meetings were a habit that I was sure to incorporate time to chat—when people work remotely, they don’t get the daily ‘watercooler’ interactions that those in the same space do and it’s important to incorporate relationship-building activities remotely, even if it takes up meeting time.  The last habit that I created was boundaries; though each of my remote positions were slightly different in culture and norms, when I’m off work, I’m off.  I log out, silence my phone, set my status to off, put away my papers and mentally switch off—even if I’m still in the same room as is happening more frequently these days.  Boundaries are slightly more challenging of late, but over the years I’ve explained to my kids again and again what I do and how the money (and health insurance) I earn provides us with things we want.  As a result, they are generally understanding when I remind them what I need to do, and that it has an end time.  Meetings are a hard boundaries for me with my kids, and I try to accept small interruptions outside of meeting time to keep our relationships healthy.

With the framework of my habits and work structures established, it has been fairly easy for me to set up a few workflows so that work goes more smoothly.  Documentation of everything has long been my go-to, especially meeting notes so there’s a communal record of decisions, ideas, and priorities.  This is especially important because meetings—frequent ones, to both build support for initiatives and to share information—are hallmark of remote work and integral to actually getting things done.  With priorities and schedules public and a solid routine at home, remote work has a better chance of success.  This is so helpful now, when you might be interrupted by the emotional and physical needs of the people you live with multiple times a day (and maybe your own!).  I’d always rather be doing work than writing about what work I’m going to do, but transparency is a key benefit of documentation and so essential when we’re not only all working remotely, but also doing it while our lives are in flux.

The last 3 weeks have brought with them a new mantra for my work-at-home life, echoing advice I received as a new mother: lower your expectations and then lower them some more.  If you have others living with you, they will impinge on your plans.  If you don’t, know that others do and you will assuredly run into challenges as their lives have changed and their work is impacted.  Keeping your expectations in line with reality is important because it saves you any resentment when things don’t go the way you planned.  It’s a hard thing to do, to look at the global situation and want things to go back to normal (I miss my home office a lot).  Focusing on what you can do—reconfiguring your space, finding a new task app, catching up on professional reading—rather than how you wish life was takes a little bit of the stress away.  Whenever you do have time in your new normal to turn to your work, I hope that refining your workflows, habits and the structures you use helps you be as productive as possible.

To prevent misinformation and profiteering during these troubling times, both the Apple and Google Play App Stores have cracked down on coronavirus related apps. Apple is only allowing applications from “recognized institutions,” and Google Play displays zero results when searching for “coronavirus” or “covid-19.” This caution was justified given the recent ransomware coronavirus app. In face of these trying times, here is a list of reliable apps that won’t brick your device.

Virus Tracker

HealthLynked’s COVID-19 tracking app released on February 27, 2020 for iOS (I couldn’t find it in the Google Play store so I’m assuming it’s still pending verification). This app displays a somber dashboard that tracks COVID-19 infections worldwide. The app also allows users to report their own symptoms and compare them to COVID-19 symptoms, chat with other members, and self-report infection locations. All infection information is displayed on a global map. Because the app draws statistics and infection information from the CDC and WHO, infection cases reported by local news outlets were not immediately shown on the infection map (just might be a delay in reporting and showing up on the app). However, if you’re looking for a virus tracker, this may be the best (and only) reliable app I found.

(Healthlynked’s COVID-19 Tracker’s Dashboard).

Symptom Checkers

Generally, I am cautious about any app that allows you to self-diagnosis your symptoms. Every symptom checking app cautions you (legally mandated I am sure) at the very beginning, that the information provided is not a diagnosis and to consult with your medical provider. WebMD has been a popular bane of medical professionals, but the current climate will likely bring in a new wave of self-proclaimed health experts. Based on my review however, WebMD does not allow you to check for coronavirus symptoms at this time.

Apple has officially released an app in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the White House, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The app is a screening tool for those who believe they may be at risk. The screening tool asks questions about your symptoms, travel, and contact with others. The results I received after I imputed hypothetical mild symptoms of COVID-19 were concise and gave real-life instructions about next steps. For me, it was to self-isolate but not to seek testing (likely due to the lack of testing for low-risk individuals). Overall, after my experience with other “expert systems,” I found that the Apple’s app was the best symptom checker available.

(Apple’s COVID-19 App’s results screen).

ADA is a similar app that allows you analyze symptoms including COVID-19. Again, not a big fan of trying to self-diagnose but the interface is clean and the explanations are straightforward. However, after several attempts of inputting coronavirus symptoms in varying permutations, I could not get a COVID-19 result.

(ADA feels like SIRI for symptoms and diseases).

K Health is another symptom checker app that includes a free coronavirus assessment test. The test asks directed questions related to coronavirus symptoms based on information from the CDC. After the assessment, the app offers to connect you with a medical professional. While I didn’t connect with a doctor, I was able to quickly assess symptoms related to coronavirus.

A much more practical app given the nature of shelter-in-place is Heal. This app puts you in touch with a medical professional to schedule a house call, but is currently only available in some parts of California, Georgia, New York, and Washington D.C. Given that the app works in partnership with licensed physicians, I wonder how long the app will remain viable as our healthcare system experiences the full crush of new coronavirus infections. The app states that a house call without insurance runs around $159, but that approved insurance providers cover much of their service. The concept is a great idea for those high-risk and elderly patients that will find it difficult leaving their home.

News Apps

CDC and Relief Central apps both offer specialized news services with up to date health information and are found when you search for coronavirus in the Apple app store. Relief Central includes information from the CIA World Factbook, CDC Health Information for International Travel (Yellowbook), daily updated COVID-19 Guidelines, Field Operations Manual from USAID, Prime PubMed Search, and relief news from the Red Cross, UN, CDC, and FEMA. While Relief Central is created for medical practitioners, the COVID-19 guidelines includes information for the general public. Given how coronavirus is effecting everyday life on the local level, I also highly recommend setting up alerts from your local news provider. I attempted to review local news apps for the Los Angeles area but many were behind paywalls, painful ads, or were just generally buggy. I found it much easier to view the news through my traditional feeds than any one specific app.

This was a short review of some of the apps available in the sparse coronavirus app market. I hope everyone stays informed, safe, and healthy through these hard times. I look forward to the time when we all delete these apps from our devices!