Saturday, 18 April 2020

‘Close the Libraries’

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted anything here but I felt that now was the time although it’s a very strange thing to be writing about the ‘Close the Libraries’ campaign when I’ve spent the last 10 years fighting to keep them open!!!

On 1/3/20 I tweeted about cleaning & disinfecting Library work surfaces & equipment, this is around the same time when other Library Workers in the UK started to raise concerns regarding the risk of keeping libraries open during a pandemic.
Library Workers where saying that they didn’t have hand sanitiser, gloves, masks or even proper washing facilities. They where also asking questions about how long the virus could remain active or survive on different surfaces like paper, plastic, screens etc.

The New England Journal of Medicine reported on a study that was done on the life of this virus on various surfaces, Paper/cardboard=24hrs, Plastic=72hrs. Many libraries started quarantining materials for 72 hrs then disinfecting but this seemed to be mainly in the US.

Library Workers in Lambeth decided enough was enough and walked out on 20/3/20 due to a lack of hand sanitising facilities and the lack of social distancing, this forced Lambeth Council to close all of its libraries and even got a mention in The Guardian
Unions where using Section 44 of the Employee Rights Act 1996 to argue that workers could refuse to attend a workplace that they felt put them at risk.

A key concern for all library staff was social distancing, how do you achieve this in a library setting where staff work behind open desks with no protection and the public and staff are milling around? Libraries where still holding children’s events etc a week before they closed on 23/3/20, in fact I did an Under 5’s session myself to approx 70 children, parents and carers!!!

A concerned library worker tweeted

“Inconsistency from councils & union branches, no PPE, opposite of #SocialDistancing, library workers gagged & stressed.”

All this inconsistency and indecisiveness was putting library workers under great mental stress, the fallout of which will have to be fully dealt with by services and councils at a future date.

On the 17/3/20 Libraries Connected (formerly The Society of Chief Librarians) put out this statement

“Given the central role of libraries in their communities and their support to the most vulnerable, any decision taken to close buildings should not be taken lightly. 
However, in light of the recent escalation of the COVID-19 crisis and the latest government advice, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that library buildings should close to protect communities and staff from infection. We are calling on government to make a clear decision about closing libraries, along with other public buildings.“
On 20/3 the gov decided to close all schools. Library workers where concerned that this would mean that more children (and parents/carers etc) would come into libraries.
On the 21/3/20 Libraries Connected wrote to the DCMS asking that Public Libraries be put on the government list of services and institutions that must close due to the pandemic and on the 23/3/20 the DCMS responded saying that councils should be left to make this decision. At this point it was still estimated that 40% of all Public Libraries where still open.

Then on the very same day that the DCMS stated that councils should make the decision they finally instructed libraries to close.

“Other premises including libraries, non-essential shops, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship have been ordered to close.”

It’s worth pointing out that many volunteer-led ‘libraries’ had already closed before this date due to the vast majority of volunteers being elderly and therefor at greater risk.

This was a very strange day for library workers who on one hand where greatly relieved but on the other where sad to close.

In the US the #closethelibraries #protectlibraryworkers campaign is still in full swing against those authorities and Library Directors who refuse to fully close their libraries although many are now offering ‘kerb side’ pickups which many still see as unsafe.
On twitter and in the real world Callan Bignoli @eminencefont and Alison Macrina @flexlibris have been at the forefront of the campaign and have even managed to get the New York Times to cover it.

So what are library workers doing now their branches are closed well many have been redeployed and are helping to contact the elderly and vulnerable and others are doing online storytime sessions etc. The demand for e-books and other online resources has shot through the roof.

When all this is over if it ever is then let’s hope that politicians and decision makers locally and nationally start to appreciate that libraries really are an essential service not only when there’s a public emergency, but I personally won’t be holding my breath.


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