Ideas on Reopening Libraries Post-Covid

20 May 2020 4:14 PM | Michel-Adrien Sheppard (Administrator)

Not the easiest topic to cover.

No one really knows when law libraries in different cities or jurisdictions will be reopening or under what conditions.

Will physical access be restricted? Will all returned materials have to be quarantined? Will most of your staff continue working from home or will we all return wearing masks and gloves? Will elevators be no-go zones? Will space need to be redesigned to eliminate cubicles and open offices? What about air conditioning during muggy summer and fall days? And washroom surfaces? Reference counter surfaces? Table surfaces? Shelf surfaces? Surfaces, surfaces everywhere. And all those doors and those buttons to push to access restricted areas.

Here are a few ideas and sources to help you start thinking about "reopening the library".

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has created a webpage devoted to COVID-19 and the Global Library Field.

One of the sections is about the reopening of libraries:

"Most examples so far focus on a phased approach, with new services, activities and parts of the library only resumed when this can happen safely, with some associating the shift from one phase to the next to wider progress in tackling the pandemic, while others are more cautious in setting dates. As the Australian Library and Information Association has set out ... a useful approach is to start by assessing risk, then developing plans, and only then setting timings for resuming different services. It may also be the case, of course, that partner organisations are not yet open, which will also have an impact."

"Broadly, the library field has warned against any rush to re-open physical buildings. Furthermore, given uncertainty about how the situation will develop, it is possible that stricter rules will need to be implemented subsequently, and so the possibility of returning to lock-down should be borne in mind (indeed, West Virginia recommends continuing to work from home one day a week so that the habit is not lost). At the end of this secti
on, you will find a selection of plans already established."

You may also want to check out the IFLA blog for posts on library reopening. Two recent texts cover the debate:

NELLCO, a law library consortium based in the North East United States, has published results from a survey it recently conducted concerning the response of academic law libraries to the COVID-19 pandemic. One section covers reopening plans.

OCLC and other organizations in the United States have launched REALM, a research partnership to share information on best practices for the Reopening of Archives, Libraries and Museums. It will have a specific emphasis on the handling of materials and workflows:

"This research collaboration will provide information on how long the virus survives on surfaces and how—or if—materials can be handled to mitigate exposure."

"To achieve these goals, the partnership is initiating work on several fronts:

  • Collect, review, and summarize authoritative research that applies to materials commonly found in the collections and facilities of archives, libraries, and museums
  • Ongoing consultation and engagement with a project steering committee, working groups, and other subject matter experts from archives, libraries, and museums
  • Laboratory testing of how COVID-19 interacts with a selection of materials commonly found in archives, libraries, and museums; and identifying methods of handling and remediation
  • Synthesize the above inputs into toolkit resources that support reopening and operational considerations
  • Share project information and toolkit resources through the project website and amplified by member associations and support organizations that serve archives, libraries, and/or museums."
The New York Law Institute wrote recently about Reimagining the Law Library in the Time of COVID-19. It defines guidelines for returning to work:

1. The library will operate with a minimal crew

2. Hygiene and virus prevention protocols will be established

3. Access for library patrons will be phased in

4. Social Distancing will be practiced among Staff

5. New delivery protocols will be put in place

6. Mail will be Resumed

7. Patrons will be advised of precautions and protocols

The article also provides links to many other reopening plans elsewhere.

The Australian Library and Information Association has developed a Checklist for reopening libraries which is very practical:

"In practical terms, there will need to be a greater focus on the safe handling of items for borrowing and display. The Institute of Museum and Library Services, OCLC and Battelle in the US are collaborating to develop an evidence-based approach to safe reopening practices, providing information about how to handle materials, training and cleaning in libraries."

"The International Federation of Library Associations is also gathering information about the strategies that libraries around the world are taking, as they plan to reopen their libraries."

"Each library will have its own plans for reopening, depending on the sector and the specific needs of the library’s community, but the checklist provides a practical framework which outlines major considerations that library managers should be addressing, when planning to reopen their library."

And I leave you with thoughts from David Whelan, Director, Legal Information & the Great Library, Law Society of Ontario. In an April 14, 2020 blog post entitled The Things We Leave Behind he thinks about what he "might do with a clean slate" post-pandemic.

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