Frustrated librarians are expressing deep concern that a rush to reopen the Bay State’s book stacks could be deadly thanks to barely-there guidance from Gov. Charlie Baker and a lack of knowledge about the COVID-19 virus’s lifespan on borrowed items.
“We have hundreds of people entering the library at every hour and libraries just aren’t built to accommodate social distancing,” said Callan Bignoli, director of the library at Olin College of Engineering. “It’s too much too soon. We need to slow down.”
Public libraries will be allowed to bring back staffers and offer curbside pickup as of today. Although the public won’t have access to virus hot spots like cramped public computer workstations or child reading nooks, the virus could cling to borrowed items like DVDs or paperbacks.
“Even if it’s just curbside pickup, we don’t have enough information to know how long the virus lives on these surfaces,” said Bignoli.
Baker’s Phase 2 guidelines allow, “browsing inside the library with restrictions.” That vague directive means libraries are on their own when it comes to keeping their patrons and employees safe, said Bignoli.
“It seems like the whole thing is really rushed, and for workers it’s scary,” she said.
Instead, many libraries are relying on a plan by the state Board of Library Commissioners and the Massachusetts Library System that suggests quarantining all borrowed items for 72 hours.
That plan suggests health and safety measures like masks and gloves for employees, plexiglass barriers for service desks and creating one-way lanes inside the library similar to some supermarkets.
The Peabody Institute Library in Danvers is one of many libraries preparing to offer curbside pickup and delivery this week after shutting their doors 10 weeks ago. Library Director Alex Lent said he’ll be “making some changes inside the library building to accommodate social distancing guidelines.”
The library serves as safe community gathering spot for so many, including parents with children home from school and seniors without access to a computer. The late Gov. Paul Cellucci’s wife Jan was just one of many cheering the May 25 library reopen on Twitter last week.
“Great news about Massachusetts libraries! They will be a vital and ‘free’ resource as we go through the summer,” tweeted Jan Cellucci May 19.
Bignoli just wants to ensure libraries remain safe for employees and patrons.
“Libraries are very trusted,” she said. “We should take that to heart before we reopen and put anyone at risk.”