What a week. In seven days that will likely remain in everyone’s memory for life, it started with chief librarians – and frontline staff – arguing vociferously for councils to shut down library services. Boris freaking Johnson then went on television and officially closed the sector for the duration. Whoa.

Then everyone had to get used to the new normal, which included basic precautions not previously seen outside of zombie movies. Those with laptops and jobs they could do at home did so, others did what was necessary at the workplace and then went home. Then came the concept of “furlough” where government give 80% of the salary, the idea of the “shielded” who will have to stay indoors indefinitely and then the need to redeploy staff to other services, prominent amongst them Registrars.

It’s no surprise people were feeling a bit shell-shocked. Several librarians, all of them senior, have confided in me that they’ve never worked so hard before in their lives. Some point out that it’s something there were no plans for this, or case studies, and a bunch has been made up on the fly. It turns out that contingency/scenario planning has not been a strength of government at any level, despite repeated near-miss epidemics in the past. Oh well.

So what will the future bring? In terms of keeping the goodwill of staff, I think the key will be fairness. Walk outs happened in at least one service last week, with more on the cards if things hadn’t changed so much on Monday evening. I can see other such pitfalls for the future and the challenge of management will be to be clear and open with staff. everywhere.

Public libraries will become entirely digital for quite some time. A whole ton of money is going to be spent on e-books and other distance resources that would not have been bought before. Printed books will not be bought in normal quantities for a while. Library staff are taking a crash-course in video rhymetimes, zoom and conferencing. These developments alone will revolutionise the service. Also, nationally, Libraries Connected has discovered it can be an independent voice, which can only be good. And if the Single Digital Presence, or whatever a national libraries website will be called, for libraries doesn’t get off the ground this year then it never will.

And when will libraries reopen? Well, I’m guessing not until Coronavirus is wiped out. Keeping books quarantined for 72 hours after being touched isn’t going to fly (unless we go full closed-access of course, now there’s a thought) and it’s hard to see people, especially children, keeping two metres apart. So not for a few months at least. By that time, society itself may be changed.

So this will be a marathon, not a sprint. The good news is that the sector has shot out from the starting blocks far faster than could reasonably be expected. I look forward to reporting more in the future and have started a list (what else?) here for things that catch my eye.

But whatever the week brings, remember to look after yourself first. These are traumatic times and will not be helped if your ill, with stress or otherwise. Keep well, take care.

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National news

What are the Government doing about those without internet access? Many people in our communities rely on libraries to access the internet, but now those libraries are closing. What measures will the Government bring in to ensure that people can get online, whether for benefit services or to maintain some form of social contact? These are huge demands being placed on the civil service, and I pay tribute to all those public servants throughout our public administration who are working day and night to establish these schemes. They are not often praised, but they are in this situation.

John McDonnell, 24 March, House of Commons.

Kid Normal E-audiobook now free.

  • UK Libchat Monday 6 April: Virtual Libraries – taking our services online – “The chat sessions start with general introductions and then we move on to the discussion topics.  Please add the questions that you would like to discuss below in under 280 characters.””
  • W H Smith closes 60% of stores as Johnson shuts shops and libraries – BookSeller. “Johnson’s decision to close libraries comes after Libraries Connected, in a letter to ministers, demanded further action. Although the vast majority of local authorities had already closed all their libraries, as of Monday afternoon, around 22 still had some open according to the organisation. Those that had some buildings still running included Waltham Forest in London, Worcestershire and Sefton, which pointed out in a tweet  to concerned residents over the weekend that “libraries are not amongst the public facilities listed for compulsory closure by the government at the moment”. On Friday, Unison members working at 10 Lambeth libraries walked out, saying they refused to come back to work because of fears over coronavirus. Libraries Connected said authorities had been forced to make the decision whether or not to close based on their own interpretation of government guidance and this was not enough.”

” libraries have been responding to the crisis with innovative ideas and had seen spikes of up to 100% in e-membership in recent days. Other ideas include Facebook Storytime, online book clubs, live streaming activities via social media and rotas of phone calls to regular library users.”

International news

  • USA – Internet Archive’s ‘national emergency library’ has over a million books to read right now – CNet. The library has 1.4 million books, all available for immediate loan.
  • COVID-19: How One Library is Coping with Being in the Epicenter and How Controlled Digital Lending Can Benefit Libraries – Sirsi Dynix. 1 April. “Director of the American Hospital Association Resource Library, as she shares the experience of her and her team as demands on their library has increased and how they have adapted. Then, hear from Chris Freeland, Director of Open Libraries at Archive.org, as he talks about how to add great electronic content for free.”
  • How to Combat COVID-19 Related Misinformation – EveryLibrary. “On Friday, March 20th, The EveryLibrary Institute hosted a webinar on How To Combat COVID-19 Related Misinformation. Now you can watch this webinar at your convenience with this webinar on demand.”
  • How to Sanitize Collections in a Pandemic – American Libraries. “The easiest, safest, and most inexpensive disinfectant is time.” … “That also means libraries should plan to stay closed until the risk of public infection is eliminated.”. But if not possible, “Internal hard surfaces, including tabletops, door handles, book drops, and computers, should be professionally cleaned. “
  • Macmillan Abandons Library E-book Embargo – Publishers Weekly. “Macmillan’s controversial two-month embargo on new release e-books in public libraries officially kicked in on November 1, 2019, over the strong objections of the library community, which has consistently rejected the embargo as violating a core value of librarianship: equity of access. The embargo policy came just over a year after Macmillan instituted a four month “test” embargo on new release e-books from its Tor imprint. “

Local news by authority

“Northamptonshire waited until end of day on 23rd March before closing all of its main libraries.  Smaller ones had mostly closed earlier than then because NCC had decided not to staff them and most library support groups felt that their volunteers should not, or could not, offer to open those libraries. The business of each library authority being allowed to make its own decision as per the reply from DCMS to Libraries Connected is yet another example of ‘localism’ not serving libraries well.
At the local level, our community-managed libraries were put in the same position.  They had to decide for themselves whether or not to stay open.  Some were more reluctant to close than others but it seemed that all appreciated that they should not be using volunteers aged over 70.”

Alison Richards, via email