*Updated March 12, 2020
There are a number of guides for library administrations and individuals regarding safety with COVID-19, but not as many for mid level managers. ULU Board Members Lauren Bradley and Scott Jarzombek have put together this guide to fill that void and help branch managers make decisions in their own locations. Branch managers in larger systems are in a position of having to interpret administration policy to their staff and also communicate staff and branch needs to the larger administration. This guide discusses things to keep in mind and do when in this position. Remember, as a manager you set the tone for your library, be sure to remain calm, only share reliable information, and model good behavior in not spreading rumors.
We are not doctors, but librarians and as such we can’t tell the public what to do but can guide them to reliable resources to help them make their own choices. Follow and share the guidelines and updates from vetted reliable sources like:
- Centers for Disease Control
- World Health Organization
- Your local and state government agencies
For Your Patrons
Let patrons know about best practices to prevent germ spread including keeping their hands clean and keeping sick individuals away from public spaces, including the library.
Libraries remain one of the top-trusted institutions in most communities. Patrons are nervous and are receiving information that is conflicting and incorrect. Libraries should never diagnose or give out medical advice, but should disseminate factual information as appropriate. Consider partnering with your local department of health or community health organizations, they may have educational literature or be able to provide programming.
Consider the impact on your community if library services and hours are reduced or suspended. Be prepared to communicate this impact to your administration and external stakeholders. Create a contingency plan for communicating policy changes if appropriate, including circulation policies or program cancelations. Encourage your staff and administration to extend due dates and waive fines in affected areas.
As the outbreak areas grow, limit the amount of contact between patrons. Consider pulling toys, games, and other shared objects from patron areas. Consider canceling and suspending programs and events in accordance with local municipal recommendations.
For Your Staff
Make sure all staff including your custodial and security staff understand best practices for maintaining a clean work environment. Make a plan to regularly disinfect work spaces and patron program materials such as storytime props. Tell staff who are sick to stay home. Stress the importance of conveying factually correct information to patrons. Double check your emergency contact list to ensure you have up to date phone numbers. Keep staff informed through multiple communication channels (e-mail/phone/in person).
You may have staff who are high-risk. Ask them what their doctors would like them to do, but do not make decisions for them without consultation. If working remotely is a possibility for some staff, figure out the technology and workflow needs. Reference contract and/or employment agreements to understand implications to staff of a prolonged closure of your library and advocate upwards to ensure that your staff are taken care of and feel ok about staying home if ill. Be aware that staff and patrons of certain nationalities or ethnicities may be at increased risk for physical or verbal abuse due to race-based bigotry surrounding the virus spread; be proactive in creating a safer environment for them.
If your library is part of a larger body such as a city government or school, be aware that they may be planning on utilizing library spaces, services, or staff in their own emergency contingency plans. Try to be aware of these plans and advocate to be included in the planning as early as possible. Remind them of the importance of the library, and that operations should continue as soon as possible.
Be ready to be responsive to your organization and local government. Information and policies are changing rapidly. Managers and staff should be ready for a rapid change of policies and plans. Stress to staff the importance of calm factual messaging to patrons and manage expectations about future plans. Check in with your staff regularly to listen to how they are feeling, and make sure you are modeling best practices.