Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Coronavirus Continued - Flatten The Curve; Close Your Library!

Coronavirus and libraries, Libraries response to Covid-19, close the library

Many of you complimented me on the calm tone of my previous Coronavirus post. Well, be forewarned, this one won't be like that. This one will likely have feelings all over the place, because I am exhausted and I am angry! It is still not time to panic, but it IS time to take this seriously. Very seriously.

I am exhausted physically and mentally from preparing for this pandemic, and from trying to educate people who are refusing to take it seriously and follow recommended precautions. It is very disturbing how willfully ignorant people are being, how selfish and self-centered, or how myopic and misguided. 

As a former microbiologist who has the knowledge and experience to understand the situation and distinguish fact from rumor [I worked in infectious disease research, including HIV research for Tony Fauci and adenovirus (another respiratory virus) research], I have felt obligated to try to educate people (especially since I didn't recognize the seriousness at first myself), but I feel like I'm beating my head against a wall, and I am so frustrated to see people taking unnecessary risks that put us all in danger. I am frustrated, I am stressed, and I am angry.

It makes me angry to hear of churches and organizations refusing to cancel services or events, hosting POT LUCK meals, encouraging kids to come to youth group. It makes me angry that my own father, who is 79 years old with stage 4 congestive heart failure refuses to stay home, and it really makes me angry and frustrated that so many libraries are still insisting on staying open and putting the health of their staff and community at risk!

I am very, very fortunate to work for a library system that made the difficult decision to close, and for that I am very thankful. Management acted quickly, educating themselves with facts, formed a thorough and well-thought out pandemic response plan, and took it day by day, quickly taking needed action as the situation evolved. Within 5 days we went from removing toys not easily disinfected and stepping up cleaning and disinfection of toys and high-touch surfaces as I described in my previous post, to removing more toys to keep in manageable, to canceling all programs, to removing all toys, to shutting down for 3 weeks, at least. And yes, we are all getting paid. My system did it right.

I am proud to work for a system that put the best interest of staff and patrons first. At the same time, I am so frustrated and angry with how many libraries are staying open, or still circulating materials through drive-thru windows, curbside pick-up, or home delivery. Some are so myopic, with tunnel vision and have such an inflated sense of purpose, a very misguided, obsessive commitment to mission, that they are taking unnecessary risks and likely contributing to spread of the virus, putting staff and the community at risk.

People, wake up! We are in a pandemic the likes of which we have never seen before. This virus is NOT like a typical flu, more like the Spanish flu. No one has any immunity to it, and it spreads very fast, much faster than the flu. Yes, for SOME it will cause mild illness. However, it has a higher rate of serious complications than the flu, and a higher death rate, especially for those at high risk, which is anyone over 65 OR with a pre-exising condition, like heart disease (which includes high blood pressure), diabetes, asthma, immuosuppresive disorders or treatment, history of cancer, smokers, etc. Another thing people need to understand is that as with any virus, people are contagious BEFORE they ever realize they are sick.

This is serious, and it's not going to be over in a couple of weeks. We will be dealing with this for months! It's not going to be easy. It will disrupt our lives. It will disrupt services. It will overwhelm our healthcare system if people don't listen, as is happening in Europe now. Too many people in respiratory distress with too few beds and even fewer life-saving ventilators means many more deaths. We must slow the spread of the virus to minimize the loss of life. THAT is what is important now, not library services. Food, shelter, health, safety. Those are the ONLY things that matter right now. This is not the time to martyr ourselves.

Yes, I miss being at work. I miss talking with my coworkers, I miss my patrons, I am very bummed that I am not getting to do my St. Patrick's Day STEM program this afternoon and that I didn't get to do my Pi Day program on Saturday. I know it is a challenge being stuck at home with young children, or all by yourself. But the alternative is worse. I know we like to think that our little patrons adore us and can't possibly survive without us and storytime. But I'm here to tell you, they can. There are alternatives. Many authors, illustrators, zoos, museums, and others are offering digital alternatives. E-books and other digital materials are still available. They can still go outside and play (at home). People can survive without books, programs, even wifi. They will not all survive this virus. 

So, please, stay home as much as possible, continue to be vigilant about hand-washing, stay home if you are sick. Even if you don't feel that bad! It is the young people who are only developing mild symptoms that are spreading this around to everyone else. People are contagious before they know they are sick. Educate yourself about the situation in Europe. Any risk of transmitting the virus for non-essentials is too great, and library materials are non-essential in a time of crisis. 

If you are upper management or a board member, PLEASE, for the sake of your staff and community, just CLOSE THE DAMN LIBRARY! Send your staff home, with pay! Push your digital services, some staff can work from home to help patrons via e-mail or chat to navigate unfamiliar digital services, extend due dates, suspend overdue fines, close the bookdrop, do not continue to circulate materials. Post links to family resources on the website. Just leave the wifi on, but close the doors, and LET STAFF GO HOME! Don't be responsible for preventable deaths.

I say this not only as a library employee, not only as a microbiologist, but also as a board member of my local library (which is closed and staff will be paid). And I'm certainly not the only person saying this. Our state librarian recommended all libraries close, as have officials in many other states. Read this editorial from Library Journal: Close Your Library.  

***As I was writing this, ALA  finally released a statement asking all libraries to close: ALA Press Release - Libraries Should Close***

For those who are still being asked to report to work, especially if your library is still circulating materials, I am can only say I'm sorry, and I hope your management will come to their senses and do what is right. Express your concern, provide information about the risks, and other libraries that are closed, send them the above links. Reach out to state and local public health authorities and government. Flood library and city administrators, governors, and media with social media posts.

If you're one of the ones who feels the need to martyr themselves, find a way to do so without putting others at risk. You don't have the right to make that choice for your employees, coworkers, family, or community. We are here to serve our communities, and right now, the best way we can do that is to encourage everyone, including staff, to stay home and slow the spread of the virus.

As for me, I have stocked up and plan to stay home as long as possible, and only go out when absolutely necessary. I am actually cooking again, though I am not yet bored enough to start cleaning and organizing. I am trying to finish up all the work for my final class for my MLIS now, in case I am too sick to later. I'm not going to have a graduation ceremony because of this pandemic, but I'll be damned if I let it cause me to get an "Incomplete" and postpone my actual degree completion. I do have a few ARC's I picked up at PLA, though I'm wishing I'd gotten a few more now.

We are in this for the long haul, I'm afraid, and things will be very uncertain for a while. Stay in the present, practice social distancing, try to slow spread of the virus, don't worry about SRP. We will figure all that out later. For now, focus on flattening the curve and saving lives!

Feel free to share your own frustrations, challenges, or coping methods in the comments!

Also, here is a continuously updated, interactive map from Johns Hopkins University showing total cases, deaths, recovered cases, and active cases of Covid-19 for each country, U.S. state, and Canadian province.

*I have also emailed ALA asking them to continue to speak out and insist all libraries close and send staff home, with pay! A copy of that email is in the comments below.

Friday, March 13, 2020

All Right, Let's Talk About Coronavirus

coronavirus common sense precautions for libraries

NOTICE: This situation now calls for drastic action. Please refer to my more recent article, written on March 17th - Coronavirus, Continued - Flatten the Curve, Close Your Library!  

[If you're reading this long after the 2020 Coronavirus crisis and just looking for general best practices for sanitizing toys and such, proceed below to the original article, which was written right before the first confirmed case was announced in my area, and edited and updated as the situation rapidly progressed.]

Original Article, written 3/6/2020, edited 3/11, 3/12, and 3/13:

First off, everybody take a deep breath and calm down.

So far, CDC estimates that 31 million Americans have gotten sick, at least 210,000 hospitalized, and 12,000 have died. But not from coronavirus; FROM THE FLU! You know, that disease that happens every year, that disease we know is coming but don't take adequate precautions for, that disease for which there is a vaccine that so many refuse to get. Right now, the flu is still a more serious health threat than coronavirus for most of us.

Does that mean we shouldn't be concerned about coronavirus? No, as that is rapidly changing. Coronavirus cases are now in almost every state, with community spread already established in several. It is more serious than the flu because for one there is no vaccine or treatment for coronavirus as there is for the flu, it seems to be more contagious and spreads faster than the flu, and may cause more serious illness than the flu, so it is something to be concerned about, but panic and misinformation don't help anyone. I will admit, I am now much more concerned that I was just a few days ago.

However, t
he things we CAN and SHOULD be doing to protect ourselves and our patrons are the same things we really should have been doing already because of cold and flu season, and most of it is easy, though slightly inconvenient, and should be common sense.

No, I am not a medical doctor or public health specialist. However, I do have master's degree in Microbiology and I worked for several years in biomedical research on disease-causing microorganisms and vaccine research and development in private industry, for the military, and for NIH. My thesis research was on adenovirus pathogensis, studying the how and why the virus causes disease at a molecular level. Adenovirus is not related to Coronavirus, but causes similar disease patterns and has a similar transmission. So while I am not an expert and I don't claim to know everything, I know a little something.

So, what should we, as library staff be doing to protect ourselves and our patrons? As I said, nothing you haven't heard before, and the same stuff we should have been doing all along, because it is cold and flu season. Here are my suggestions:

Coronavirus common sense precautions for librarians
  1. WASH YOUR HANDS! With soap, for 20-30 seconds. This is the number one method for minimizing transmission. Wash before eating, after going to the bathroom, after changing diapers, after handling library books, etc.

  2. KEEP YOUR HANDS AWAY FROM YOUR FACE! This is probably almost equal to hand-washing as a preventative measure. Most germs enter the body through our mouth, nose, or eyes.

  3. Cover coughs and sneezes by coughing into a tissue, then wash hands, or cough into your shoulder or elbow.

  4. Provide tissues and hand sanitizer for patrons and staff.

  5. Put away toys that can't be easily cleaned/disinfected for the time being, such as stuffed animals, your nice Folkmanis puppets. Wash scarves in hot water and dry with heat after every use, or better yet, put away and don't use for now.

  6. Stick with hard plastic toys that can be easily cleaned and disinfected. Ideally, things should be routinely disinfected weekly, though I know this is not always possible due to limited staff (and now, due to hoarding of disinfectant due to the hysteria creating temporary shortages), but do the best you can. Anything that has been used by infants/toddlers should really be sanitized between uses, though. Disinfectant wipes are good for things that can't be immersed in liquids and quickly wiping down surfaces.

  7. The standard method for disinfecting is a diluted bleach solution. "But bleach is so 
    toxic!" I hear some of you exclaiming. Well, yeah, that's the point! You WANT something toxic in order to KILL the germs; we don't just want to annoy them.

    3% bleach is what most daycares use for routine sanitizing, which is 1/4 C bleach in 1 gallon water; soak toys for 20 minutes, then rinse and let dry. Every lab I worked in used 10% bleach to disinfect work surfaces, and this concentration is only necessary for surfaces that are known to be heavily contaminated. Some people are needlessly concerned about using bleach on children's toys that may be mouthed for some reason, but a simple rinse takes care of that.

    *And note, all "bleach" products are not the same. Make sure it is regular old bleach. Also, bleach does expire so check labels. The  solution needs to be made fresh each day for maximum effectiveness.

  8. No, hydrogen peroxide is not as effective; many germs are resistant to it. It's great for washing dirt and debris out of a wound, but not for disinfecting. And most definitely not vinegar. Vinegar is NOT a disinfectant. It's fine if you want to use it for routine cleaning at home when you're not really worried about disinfecting or preventing an epidemic, but it is not much better than plain water as a disinfectant.

  9. I know many libraries do not like using bleach, and may not have the space or facilities to make soaking toys a practical option. Another option is a dishwasher with a hot wash cycle; some even have a steam sanitizing cycle. These reach temperatures high enough to kill most germs. 70% alcohol is also effective, but must be used sparingly and in a well-ventilated area due to the fumes and flammability. The CDC also posted this list of effective disinfectants:  https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-03/documents/sars-cov-2-list_03-03-2020.pdf

  10. Once it hits your area and is  spreading, not just an isolated case or two, I'd just stop using anything that can't be easily disinfected, and I'd try to disinfect as frequently as possible. In this case, it makes sense to put out fewer toys so that this is manageable, or even just put them away for now.

  11. Also disinfect other heavily used surfaces, like computer keyboards, mice, doors/doorknobs, light switches, etc. For these, it's probably easiest to use disinfectant wipes or spray.

  12. Masks - Healthy people do not need to wear a mask, and wearing one really doesn't provide you much protection; the virus is so tiny a paper or cloth mask really doesn't provide much of a barrier. However, persons who are sick should wear a mask to help contain any secretions released from coughing and sneezing to lesson viral transmission.

  13. Books - I know some small libraries are wiping down books as they come in. If your volume is small enough and you have the staffing and time to that, great, but the reality is that just isn't a feasible for larger libraries, and I don't know how much that really accomplishes because you can't disinfect the pages inside.

  14. Stay home if you are sick! 
With all that being said, I recognize ideal isn't always practical or possible, especially with the mass hysteria causing shortages of supplies. And there are alternatives to bleach, which I know generally libraries would rather not use because it can damage clothing or carpets, and often just don't have the space or facilities to allow for soaking items in dilute bleach solution. But we do what we can. It's not possible to disinfect or sanitize everything, so pick your battles and do what you can, and we are all figuring it out as we go.

There's talk of whether libraries should close or not. Just a few days ago I thought talking of closing schools, libraries, etc., was an overreaction. But after reading about how dire the situation now is in Italy, with their healthcare system being completely overwhelmed and in crisis, having to resort to wartime triage, I am re-thinking that. Mass closures and keeping everyone at home for an extended time, just a week or even two probably wouldn't be enough, may be necessary to keep our system from being overwhelmed.

But, such closures would have to be coordinated, and the timing would have to be just right. If schools or other places where people congregate are still open, closing the library probably won't have much effect overall. I know such drastic action as extended, mass closures would cause other issues and economic hardships, and I really don't know when would be the right timing, but probably soon after community spread has been confirmed in the area. If the CDC, state or local public health service advises or requests places like schools and churches close to encourage people to stay at home, then I think libraries should close, too.

In the meantime, I'd really be pushing all the digital media available through the virtual library via the library website, Overdrive or Libby apps, etc., curbside pickup if you have it, and post messages and signage asking people to please stay home if they are sick. Suspend overdue fines, and employers should be more flexible about extended absences since the CDC is asking people to self-quarantine for 2 weeks if they get or are exposed to the coronavirus. It may be time to just put all the toys away, and think about cancelling programs; though it is so opposite of our usual mission, we might better serve the public by not encouraging them to come in a hang around for a while.

For now, I don't think there is reason to panic, but to be very conscientious and vigilant about hand-washing, staying home if sick, and disinfecting toys and surfaces, and start thinking about additional measures to take and how closures might be handled when and if they happen. This has reached pandemic proportions, so I think it is inevitable that it will reach all of our communities eventually. The good news for our young patrons is that children seem to get less sick with it than adults; the bad news is that means they can be carriers and contribute to more community spread.

But for now, let's all stay calm, stay informed, and stay vigilant about good hygiene! 

Update 3/11/2020 to add what my system is currently doing - we have stepped up cleaning and sanitizing in general, particularly high-touch points like computer keyboards, mice, and touchscreens, table tops. We have a sanitizing spray that is labeled safe for food-prep areas that we are using to sanitize toys at least once a day, and we have removed toys that cannot be easily sanitized or would not hold up to being cleaned that frequently, and are still working on winnowing them down to a manageable amount. The public schools currently have no plans to close, but again, this is a rapidly changing situation.

Update 3/12/2020 - As of this afternoon, my library system has canceled all programming, as have several nearby systems, but still open. We are almost out of hand sanitizer. I was authorized to pull all the toys, manipulatives, and crayons off the floor as sanitizing was becoming too labor intensive, and we have community spread, so risk is increasing. Tonight, the governor asked all schools to close for at least two weeks starting on Monday. We now have 11 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in our area. 

Update 3/13/2020 - As of today, my library system announced they are closing at the end of business today through April 5th. Several other systems in the area have made similar announcements. Staff will be paid, as is our policy for emergency closings (part-time included). We have gone from 0 cases to 12 confirmed cases across 4 counties in the last week since I first began writing the original article. It is not contained, and community spread has been established. Schools are closed as well, and the governor has requested non-essential personal stay home or work from home as much as possible.

Library closures are not taken lightly, but slowing the spread of a pandemic than could potentially cause our healthcare system to crash as is happening in Italy is much more important than providing library services for the next month. Too many have blinders on and want to martyr themselves to continue to provide services. Please don't! You can best serve your community right now by taking the drastic actions necessary to slow the spread. It may not be in your area now, but it likely will be, eventually.

If your library is still open, I strongly urge you to at least pull all toys and boardbooks and cancel all programming, step up cleaning and sanitizing procedures, practice social distancing, be vigilant about hygiene. But if your schools close, then libraries should close as well. More drastic action than is described below is now necessary for fighting COVID-19, but the sanitizing procedures below are good practice for routine sanitizing, and especially during a normal cold & flu season.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Public Library Association Conference 2020

I have gone to a couple of small, local children's literature conferences before, but this was the first year I was able to go to a big library conference. I've been planning on going to this one for at least two years, once I realized it would be held in Nashville, which is only a 3-1/2 hour drive for me.

I have one word to describe it: Overwhelming! The conference center was huge, a bit confusing to navigate, and there were so many things going on at once it was hard to decide what to do! There were big keynote sessions each day, but they started at 8:00 am, so I opted to skip them in favor of more sleep. There were so many breakout sessions, and it's always hard to decide which ones to go to. The ones that sound most relevant to what I do usually aren't telling me anything I don't already know, the ones that sound interesting aren't really of much use to me because I am not in a position that has any power to make decisions or effect any change, some are of no interest, and others sound good, and turn out to be complete duds.

I was only able to go to a day and a half because of other obligations and the hotel was ridiculously expensive, but I crammed as many sessions in as I could. They were all a little different, but had two overarching themes in common: removing barriers to service, and being more intentional in designing programs and services, particularly outreach, to decrease equity and opportunity gaps. I really wish I could have stayed until the end, as there were some other sessions I really would have liked to attend, such as reader's advisory for LGTBQ+ patrons, and one about going fine-free, which is a something my system is beginning to investigate.

The vendor exhibit hall was enormous! I tried to walk through it a couple of times, but it was so huge and I was always pressed for time, so I didn't get very far and it was always overwhelming. I grabbed a few ARC's and a couple of little chachkies, but my manager got 4 or 5 times as many as I did! I did get a couple that were signed, but I wish I could have gotten a few more. I had a hard time being able to tell what were give-a-ways from what was for sale or just for display. I don't really have any extra time for reading right now anyway, so I guess it's for the best. But I did get a picture with the Baker&Taylor cats (above), who somehow I never knew about until now.

Besides the professional development, the conference provided a great opportunity to connect with people. I ran into a former co-worker from a few years back, I got to meet two of my professors from my online MLIS program in person, as well as a few other students, and one alum that I know from our student support group on Facebook. Plus just chatting with other random conference attendees.

If you get a chance, I highly recommend going to a big conference like this, but I have some tips I wish I knew before I went:
  • Get in shape and wear comfortable shoes, as there is a LOT of walking! (I did know this one and did wear comfortable shoes, but it was still more exhausting than I expected.)

  • Book your hotel very early! I waited until January, and all the discounted rooms were already gone, so I paid $100 a night more than my colleagues who booked earlier.

  • Talk to people who have gone before, read over the schedule, and have a plan of action before you get there.

  • Don't assume your library won't pay for you to go. I was so sure my system wouldn't pay for me, since I'm just part-time and not a librarian, I didn't even ask. Then later, too late for me to apply, I found out they did approve another part-timer. So I ended up spending a LOT of my own money and using personal time that I really didn't have to. Really kicking myself for that now!
I'd really like to go to the ALSC conference sometime. It was actually only an 1-1/2 hours away from me in 2018, but I waited too late and registration closed well in advance of the conference (I never knew that was a thing; I guess it was a small venue with very limited capacity?). I also haven't been to our state conference yet, so that will probably be on my agenda next year.

Do any of you have any conference tips for newbies, or conferences to recommend? Any other first-time conference goers want to share your experience at PLA?