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.


  1. I completely agree! Our library closed, work from home option as much or as little as we like, fully paid. At home I am getting organized, got back-up groceries and over-the counter meds, and have made a schedule of meals (probably for the first time ever). Back to cooking, but also avoiding the cleaning lol.
    Good luck to everyone! Wash your hands! Stay home and read!


  2. My library did close for at least two weeks. Jen, I’m curious as to your thoughts about whether returned library materials need to be quarantined before staff handle them due to not knowing how long the virus may live on some surfaces. I’ve tried to research this, including sending two messages to ALA which were not answered.

    1. Though I know it creates a logistical nightmare, especially after libraries that have closed finally get to reopen, but yes, I would advise quarantine for returned materials. Unfortunately, I can't really say for how long with any real authority. As you say, no one knows for sure how long the virus can live on surfaces, only educated guesses. I would guess quarantine for a minimum of 4-5 days, but again, that is an educated guess, and I'm now sure how that would actually be managed from a practical and logistical standpoint. Just let me reiterate, my opinion is that NO physical materials should be circulating at this point.

  3. I sent this to ALA today. Again, these are just my opinions, but I believe in erring on the side of an abundance of caution, and though it's too early to be sure, it seems that the aggressive measures taken in my state (KY) may be slowing the spread.

    "I would greatly appreciate your reading this, and passing it on to those in leadership positions, who can give the many library employees (and their communities) still being subjected to unnecessary risks a voice.

    I say this as library staff member, a library trustee, and a former research microbiologist. I have a masters degree in microbiology, and in my former career worked in infectious disease research, including doing work for Tony Fauci's group at NIH. I have the benefit of this education and experience, and can better understand this pandemic, and the risks some libraries are taking than most people. I have been following reports from Europe closely, and this is a real crisis, especially considering it seems there is a new variant strain that is much more lethal.

    I was so glad to see the ALA press release yesterday urging libraries to close and send staff home, with pay (though it should have come out at least 48 hours earlier). However, despite this I have learned of many libraries still staying open, forcing even high risk staff to continue to work or use vacation days. Other libraries are closed, but still making staff come in to work, often still circulating physical materials through drive-through windows, curbside pickup, or home delivery.

    This needs to stop! Every interaction is a risk of viral transfer, and people are contagious and shedding virus before they ever show symptoms and realize they are sick. These practices are needlessly contributing to viral spread and endangering staff and patrons. Any risk for non-essential goods and services is too much in this situation, and as passionate as I am about about libraries and everything we do, in a pandemic crisis physical materials and open libraries are most definitely non-essential. The essential things right now are food, water, shelter, health and safety.

    I published an article yesterday (http://www.adventuresinstorytime.com/2020/03/coronavirus-continued.html), and have had an overwhelming response in people contacting me to say their libraries are still open or still providing curbside service, or requiring staff to come in or take vacation time or unpaid leave.

    I strongly urge the ALA to put out another press release, with stronger, more concise language that says libraries should close, no physical materials should circulate (including curbside service), and all staff should be allowed to shelter in place at home with regular pay! And to continue to speak out, every day until these misguided, misinformed, or ignorant directors, board members, and/or city/county officials listen!

    Another consideration is that libraries have a responsibility not only to stop contributing to the spread of the virus and to protect their staff, but to model aggressive social distancing. Many community members will not take it seriously as long as the library is open to any degree. Libraries rarely shut down, so an extended and total library shutdown gets people's attention. Thank you."