Well, it’s been a surreal week. The news has got worse and worse. As I write this, country after country is closing its borders. Spain is telling its citizens to stay inside and they’re using drones to do it. Austria has just announced it is banning gatherings of more than five people.

Meanwhile, the British Government is moving from its “Do Nothing” stage to its “Wait And See In A Couple Of Weeks” phase. Official policy is that a large part of the population needs to be infected in order to give what is called “herd immunity“. Leaving aside whatever our thoughts are about being called a herd” and the 1%ish death rate of those sacrificing themselves for the others, the vital part of this policy when normally applied (e.g. small pox, polio, measles) is a vaccine. We don’t have a vaccine yet.

In what may be the biggest understatement I have ever made, the government’s relaxed attitude is a bit of a problem for public libraries. While the official policy of “wash your hands” is in action, public services are likely to stay open. Public library workers are employed by councils who appear to be abiding by government advice. Chief librarians are mere employees too. Libraries Connected is made up of chief librarians.

So here are some publicly known facts that will help them while everyone is deciding if following the government advice is sensible or not:

  • Those without symptoms are likely not to be contagious, but this is not 100% certain. However, anyone with a new cough, temperature or difficulty in breathing may be. (Source: Government)
  • Being with 2 metres of someone can spread the disease. Touching the infected person or something they have touched can spread the disease (Source: Government). “Under most circumstances, the amount of infectious virus on any contaminated surfaces is likely to have decreased significantly by 72 hours.”
  • There is a significant estimated death rate of, on average, around 1%, or lower. (Source: Guardian but fairly well known). Worst case scenarios (80% infection rate) is therefore around 500,000 in the UK (source: Evening Standard). This places it as slightly worse than all UK fatalities throughout World War 2, and more than half that of World War One. While that huge number is unlikely in practice, the normal rate for flu for comparison is just 600 (source: Oxford University).
  • Risk is increased “in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.” (Source: Government)

So what does this translate to in public library terms? Here are some more commonly known facts:

  • Books are issued and returned in public libraries. Books have surfaces.
  • Self service machines are operated by touch. Touchscreens have surfaces.
  • Computers have mice and keyboards, both of which have surfaces. They are often not 2 metres apart from each-other.
  • Chairs and tables have surfaces. As do door handles. And toys. And musical instruments. It is hard to 100% be sure you have cleaned a toy. Or a tambourine.
  • Wipes are in increasing short supply.
  • Older people are a core part of the overall library user base. Public library staff are often older themselves, and are thus more likely to have older relations they need to look after.
  • Knit and natter groups, rhymetimes and events normally involve people being under 2 meters of each-other. Knit and natter groups often have older people in them.
  • People will sometimes use a public library. or attend events, when they are slightly ill.

Amongst libraries not closing abroad, the following has been noted:

I will not go any further than that. I for one look forward to future communications from the Government, news from library services and information from Libraries Connected with great interest. I have quoted the statement of the latter to me below, in full.

Changes by local authority


“Libraries Connected is closely monitoring the situation and implications for library services. This includes hosting an ongoing discussion between Heads of Library services to share approaches and ways of managing the evolving situation as new NHS and government advice is released. Libraries are developing their emergency planning as part of the wider plans of their local authorities, with a focus on protecting staff and library users. At present, in line with current government advice, libraries are operating business as usual. However, many are now increasing cleaning, especially of surfaces like door handles, touch screens and keyboards. Libraries are also considering how best to protect those who may be more vulnerable, such as running risk assessments on events such as rhyme time or older people’s groups. If staff are unsure what to do in their library, they should ask their Head of Service for advice as the situation evolves.”

Isobel Hunter, Libraries Connected – Statement on LC and Coronavirus

“It’s time to call for closure of all public libraries as they are an obvious infection point for the virus Many elderly and vulnerable people use libraries and are at risk , not to mention the safety of staff , and the disease is carried airborne , especially in enclosed spaces. 

Email received
  • Coronavirus and libraries: Staying safe and staying relevant – Christian Lauersen. “On Wednesday March 11 2020 at 8.30 pm local time, the Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, declared a closure of all non-critical public sector institutions likes schools, kindergartens, universities and libraries for 14 days. Critical functions as police and health care will still be in function. All public sector employees who do not perform critical functions was to be sent home for 14 days. ” … “We need to stick together by being as much apart as possible in times like these. That is also why staff don’t come into work in a closed library but are kept at home.”
  • Coronavirus: More universities halt teaching and exams – BBC. “Even if teaching and exams are off, libraries will remain open, say universities “

National news

  • Applications for bursary places at our 2020 annual seminar are now open – Libraries Connected. “As part of our commitment to supporting the development of future library leaders, we are offering two sponsored places at our 2020 annual seminar.” … In Warwick in June. Seminar is entitled “Creating Our Story”.
  • Baroness Neville-Rolfe: Libraries can provide crucial support for women entrepreneurs – Politics Home. “The British Library has a keen ambition to expand this network to 20 regional Centres by 2023, with an increased emphasis on expanding its business support offering beyond city centres and into towns and other locations across the UK. “
  • British Library Leeds plan gets £25m boost – BookSeller. “The British Library’s plan to set up a northern version in Leeds has been given a £25m boost by the government, alongside up to £95m to redevelop its existing Boston Spa site.”
  • CILIP Library Management Systems Suppliers Showcase – CILIP. Friday 20 March,
  • Councils to increase tax across UK as services are slashed – World Socialist Web Site. “The coming year will see nearly all councils across the UK increasing council tax, according to the annual 2020 State of Local Government Finance report, with one in 10 having to make cuts to essential services because they cannot balance the books.”
  • Edmund de Waal takes aim at library closures in British Museum installation – Big Issue. “The striking installation stands up for the importance of libraries while telling the stories of people forced to flee their home countries”
  • Gift to libraries celebrates women’s roles in politics – Oban Times. “Scottish publishers 404ink and BHP Comics have teamed up with the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) to donate copies of the graphic novel, We Shall Fight Until We Win, to every secondary school library in the country, including Argyll, the Isles and the Highlands, to mark International Women’s Day last Sunday, March 8.”
  • Introducing the DCMS Libraries team – DCMS Libraries. “The Libraries Minister is Caroline Dinenage, the Minister for Digital and Culture. We support her by doing things like preparing briefings to support visits she may make or to inform meetings she has with representatives from across the sector.” … “We also support our ministers in dealing with Parliamentary Questions, correspondence, debates and Freedom of Information requests.” … “Underpinning everything we do, is supporting our Secretary of State (Oliver Dowden) in their duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. They have a duty to superintend, and promote the improvement of council library services. But what does that mean in practice?”

“However, that is only part of our superintendence work. We’re really keen to talk to and visit library services who are at an early stage in considering changes (or are in the process of making changes) to their library service provision. This helps us understand what’s happening but also provides opportunities for councils to ask us any questions.”

DCMS Libraries Team
  • Libraries Connected Innovation Network National Gathering 2020 – Eventbrite. “The Library Innovators Network is here to support and connect public library staff across the UK and our National Gathering is a one-day event, designed to allow people to share and to learn from others.” May, Leeds.
  • Minecraft ‘loophole’ library of banned journalism – BBC. “A virtual library has been meticulously created to host articles written by journalists which were censored online.”.
  • Programme Manager, Children and Young People’s Reading – Reading Agency. “The Reading Agency is looking for an experienced project manager to lead our work with children and young people from disadvantaged communities. “
  • Public Lending Right explained – DCMS Libraries. A guide to PLR.
  • Spring budget: UK Chancellor announces more funding for IP centres – WIPR. Extra £13m for more Business and IP Centres in public libraries. ““This funding demonstrates that the Government have heard our calls for greater recognition of the vital role that libraries play in helping businesses to innovate and grow,” said Gerald Vernon-Jackson, chair of the LGA’s culture, tourism and sport board,”
  • Turning libraries into community hubs ‘to blame for decline’ in use, says Coates – BookSeller. “The use of libraries for community activities rather than just as a repository for books has led to a fall in their use rather than an increase, according to a new report by campaigner Tim Coates. In his newly-published Freckle Report, Coates, a former c.e.o. of Waterstones turned advocate for public libraries in the UK and US, published his recent research and made renewed calls to turn around a service that is in serious decline. But, rather than singling out the cuts in funding regularly blamed for the service’s problems, Coates said it was a lack of books that was to blame and two decades spent turning facilities into community hubs, moving them away from their main purpose.”
  • Two new member trustees appointed to Libraries Connected board – Libraries Connected. “Anthony Hopkins, BEM from Merton and Kathryn Harrison from Wakefield. “
  • World Book Day smashes Share a Million Stories target – BookSeller. “Hundreds of thousands of children, parents, carers, authors, illustrators, schools, bookshops, libraries, and publishers across the UK and Ireland shared 10-minute stories with 1.5 million stories shared at the time of writing. “

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