The big question about the reopening of public libraries in England under the Cummings Government isn’t when it is legal to do so – currently 4 July – but rather what “open” means and what will happen if the rules are broken. After all, Westminster Libraries have been happily providing library computer access for weeks without any trouble even though it has questionable legality.

Up and down the country councils are working out what reopening means. Most are waiting for the Libraries Connected guidelines but some are not – Nottinghamshire is the first I am aware of to announce what it will be doing in July. And what it will be doing looks more than expected: not just click and collect but actual public access to collections, albeit with limited public numbers allowed. Now, there’s no way such public access can guarantee Covid-free stocks – after all, one member of the public wandering around touching random books (and they so will) will void any quarantining beforehand – but that’s not a legal problem that will stop their plans. Because the law is not there, in this and so much else, as can be seen by the leader of the current government happily going on TV today to explain his trip to Durham was fine, because … well, because. However, to be fair, Notts may be justified – Denmark is reopening its libraries with no stock quarantine at all – possibly because recent evidence suggests contamination is mainly by air particles. And those Libraries Connected guidelines will just be guidelines: councils can actually ignore them and do what they want.

This easy-going approach represents real dangers to staff, the public and to the reputation of the library service. People need to know libraries are safe, be they visitors or workers. But they will not get such assurance from the government, who apparently find the intricacies of ruling rather bothersome – so they will need to get it from Libraries. If you are involved in reopening plans, you therefore need to factor in health and safety into your plans and not expect clear national rules. Because “danger of death” has never been a Universal Offer or an employment condition for the sector, and it should not start now.

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National news

  • Annual public library loans figures reveal the UK’s most borrowed e-books for the first time – British Library. “For the first time, the annual public library loans data – released today for the period covering July 2018 – June 2019 – includes figures on e-book borrowing as well as print books, audiobooks and regional borrowing.” … “Culture Minister, Caroline Dinenage, said: “It is brilliant that, thanks to digital services, so many people can still engage with their local library and enjoy the nation’s most popular titles. E-books are a fantastic way to entertain and educate, especially as we spend more time at home.” E-book most lent list is significantly different to printed list [perhaps due to borrowing restrictions? – Ed.]
  • DCA brings bestselling multimedia kids app to UK public libraries – DCA. “Brighton & Hove libraries have partnered with local charity Amaze to target the offer to families with children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).  This is one of the first times that a UK library has prioritised access to specific content directly to vulnerable families and is a great example of how libraries support their local communities.”. Richmond, Camden, Slough and Brighton & Hove now use Hopster.
  • Health on the Shelf – SLIC. “Public libraries provide a population-scale platform for population-scale public health issues. With 50% of people in Scotland using public libraries, they provide substantial reach through their core services, such as books and computers, as well as through tailored health and wellbeing services …”
  • Libraries to adopt ‘safety first’ approach for July reopenings – BookSeller. Isobel Hunter says ““Reopening libraries has to be a phased process in line with the latest safety advice and all planning should be based on risk assessments, carried out with staff, unions and health and safety teams. It is also critical that libraries are given enough notice about reopening to properly prepare their buildings and their staff to keep everyone safe.” … “Nick Poole, c.e.o of the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals, said the safety of both users and staff must be the “primary concern” when it comes to the strategy for reopening libraries. He emphasised to The Bookseller it is a “‘can’ open, not a ‘will’ or a ‘must’” from 4th July …”

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to prioritise libraries for early re-opening as lockdown restrictions are lifted; and what discussions they have had with the Local Government Association on this issue.” Lord Bird – They Work For You.

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International news

  • Australia – Libraries reopen with easing of restrictions – Public Libraries Connect. “Customers have been welcomed back inside in some areas; while, in others, it’s a ‘click & collect’ service only. Some libraries are operating on regular hours, others on reduced hours.” … “For those allowing public access, a popular choice has been to encourage or enforce time limits, with restrictions between 15 to 30 minutes noted across the state.” … “Social distancing regulations mandate a maximum of 10 customers per space; though, for some smaller libraries, this number is less”
  • Canada – All the things the library has done for Halifax residents since shutting its doors for COVID-19 – The Coast. “It’s problem solving in real-time, with residents stuck at home but screaming for services, and it’s working. “As we have pivoted,” Kachan said, “the things we are doing are resonating with our community.””
  • Global – 184: Matt Finch – Circulating Ideas. “Steve chats with strategy & foresight consultant Matt Finch about what scenario planning is and why libraries need to be doing it, some of the big ideas libraries need to be thinking about, working remotely during a pandemic, and exploring Library Island.”. Including working out why libraries should be doing something e.g. podcasts and not others.
    • Global – COVID-19 and the Global Library Field – IFLA. “The information and resources below are provided on a non-exhaustive basis but will be updated regularly. It is based on publicly available information, and that submitted to updates@ifla.org. We welcome additional ideas, references, suggestions and corrections to this address. Please see also our  FAQs specifically concerning IFLA”
  • Japan – The Traveling Library Truck – NHK World. 24 minute video. “For 3 days, we follow a library truck stocked with 2,800 books. In Matsuyama City, a public truck service has been delivering books to the surrounding mountains and islands for 45 years.””
  • New Zealand – Even in the worst-case scenario – Public Libraries Magazine. “What are public libraries meant to do for their communities? How does the changing nature of our community also change our mission? And when crisis strikes, disrupting the assumptions, routines, and procedures of “business as usual,” what is the impact on the social role of our institution?” … “No library service seeks to be tested in the ways cities like Christchurch and Ferguson have been, but in such moments, hidden aspects of libraries’ social role are made starkly manifest, offering lessons for us all”
    • Libraries Offer Limited Service From Monday 25 May – Scoop. “District Libraries Manager Glenn Webster says from Monday people will be able to return library items via the after-hours facility, borrow items, request items and collect held items.” … ““People will have to show their library card to enter, so we can ‘contact trace’ if required. Only one family member is allowed at one time and the time spent in the library is limited.””
    • Reopening Libraries in New Zealand: Slow and Steady Wins The Race – Justin the Librarian. “One of the things I’ve noticed in our first week of being open back up to the public is just how un-library-like our library feels as we adjust to being open” … “We were expecting a ton of materials to be returned to our libraries, but we’ve noticed that instead of it being too much it has just been a good and steady stream of returns.” …. “At the core of everything I am hoping to continually broadcast a message of kindness and communication.”
  • USA – Is It Safe to Go Back to My Local Library? – City Life. “the biggest risk involved with libraries reopening is simply the fact that, like every other business, they are enclosed, indoor spaces where people will gather. It’s therefore crucial that both library workers and patrons wear masks, that high-touch surfaces are regularly disinfected, and that strict capacity limits are enforced,” … “you can at least rest assured that your library books aren’t likely to carry terrifying diseases into your home.”

I see conversations on Twitter where library employees are in tears because they are considered at-risk for COVID-19, yet their libraries are forcing them to choose between their jobs and their lives.

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