In a Pandemic, Librarians Are Reporting to Work, Scared and Questioning Their Institutions

Some public libraries have closed due to Coronavirus. But where they remain open, librarians are going to work as library systems nationwide weigh community need for services and the health and safety of staff.

Update (Mar 15 9:13 pm ET) : Brooklyn Public Library has announced that it will close Monday, March 16 through March 31. Queens Public Library has also closed from Mar 16 until further notice.

Armed with wipes, hand sanitizer, and the usual coffee, librarians took to their posts this weekend. 

“You still have wipes and hand sanitizer?” quipped @thecharminglibrarian on the Twitter thread #SaturdayLibrarian

A weekly virtual gathering, #SaturdayLibrarian has shifted in tenor this week. Generally a light exchange, peppered with amusing patron stories and good-natured grumbling, the conversation has taken a sober turn amid the Coronavirus, classified a global pandemic just days ago by the World Health Organization.

“Getting ready to be the last #SaturdayLibrarian before we close for 3 weeks starting Monday. I feel like I’m prepping for battle and anticipating the worst. #librarianproblems,” tweeted a public librarian in Michigan, who asked SLJ not to use her name. “Last Saturday until after Easter because of our closure,” posted another librarian, @todaystwo. ““We’ve pulled toys but it isn’t stopping kids from playing. Yesterday was full of people taking out armfuls of books. Monday we start curbside pickup.”

While some public libraries have closed due to the COVID-19 virus, others have not. New York Public Library on Friday announced that it was closing all locations from March 14 through March 31. Meanwhile, the adjacent systems in New York City, Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Public Library have canceled programs but remain open, as of this post.

Read: Kid Lit Authors Step Up To Help Educators, Students, and Parents 

"We want to strike a balance and we're trying to discern that balance every day.... The library system plays a crucial role…,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio at a Saturday press conference, reported Gothamist. On the same day, an 81-year-old Brooklyn woman was the first person in New York to die after falling ill with COVID-19. 

New York City schools, the largest system in the nation, will close beginning Monday, March 16. 


“I would say stress among public librarians whose doors are still open is unprecedented, and my feeling is many will be reassessing staying long-term in the public library profession once this is over,” a Massachusetts public librarian told this reporter.

“My supervisors are doing nothing to address or acknowledge our stress or concerns and are overstating to the public the cleaning that's being done. We are now disinfecting book jackets that return, but the building is not being cleaned as thoroughly, mostly just once a day in the morning. We only have one custodian. The MA governor has listed libraries as spaces exempt from their large gatherings rules and no one—state library board, associations, etc., has been advocating for us. We’re on our own and we’re scared.”

In Florida, schools statewide were closed until March 30, per Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran's announcement late Friday. But the Orange County Library System remains open during its normal business hours. Additionally, “Early voting at library branches will continue as scheduled, and Census 2020 is still scheduled to set up tables at our locations as planned,” according to Orange County’s site.

As for Saturday librarian @todaystwo? “I survived my shift at the library. Barely. I now hate people. Seriously. I cannot wait until we are closed. Honestly I now wish we weren’t doing curbside. I wish I could just stay home,” read her post that evening.

Read: Free Tools for Online Teaching and Learning During School Closures 
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Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka is editor in chief of School Library Journal.

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Alice Stern

Boston Public Library announced last night that it is closing. Public librarians are underappreciated enough, but the lack of care for front line staff was evident in how long it took the decision to be made.

Posted : Mar 17, 2020 02:24

Susie Harkey

While I understand and normally would advocate for libraries to be a place for all, these times call for change. It’s a national safety issue, not an access issue. I didn’t think being a librarian meant risking your life. Disappointed in admins and govt. on this one!

Posted : Mar 17, 2020 12:43

Sophie Dupassage

Broward County FL no events, manipulatives removed but still opened. Over the weekend there was high traffic - entire families coming for books and hangout. Staff also incredibly stressed.

Posted : Mar 16, 2020 11:47

Rachel Shaevel

Chicago Public Libraries are OPEN. Staff are beyond stressed.

Posted : Mar 16, 2020 01:45

Carol-Ann Hoyte

Just learned that NYC schools are slated to close.

Posted : Mar 15, 2020 09:39



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