Coronavirus – Public library ideas and responses

Public libraries, like all other sectors, are having to learn fast what to do in this time of global pandemic. Here is a list of some of the things that are happening, or may do soon.

Ideas for now

The Basics, common to many library services currently:

  • Remove ID requirements so non-members can join and access e-resources.
  • Extend loans and renewals until after the outbreak. Waive all fines.
  • Purchase more ebooks. Consider reducing the number of ebooks each person can borrow if demand outstrips supply.
  • Online chat during office hours.

Boosting the online offer:

See Libraries from home – Libraries Connected. “We want to help families to choose live and recorded events not just from their own library service but anywhere in the country. We’re also promoting activities to keep adults connected through library reading groups and book discussion groups.”. Lists five services each doing rhymetimes, storytimes, lego clubs, reading/book groups. Also “efestivals” and code clubs. Also mentions World Book Night and Get Creative At Home.

Globally, see this very comprehensive page from IFLA – COVID-19 and the Global Library Field – “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 We welcome additional ideas, references, suggestions and corrections to this address. Please see also our  FAQs specifically concerning IFLA.”

Resources for now

Various library services, e.g, Kirklees, are doing comprehensive lists for the public. This one from 100% Digital Leeds is also impressive.

The following are ones noted while checking library news and emails. Library services should be aware that copyright rules still apply during the pandemic. This is especially important when looking at international, especially, US links which have differences. In the UK, “A simple way for you to check this for the UK is that copyright in the UK is typically the life of the author plus 70 years and it runs to the end of the calendar year 70 years after the author’s death.   So, for example, Agatha Christie died in January 1976; so in the UK her works are protected by copyright until 31 December 2046.” Please note however that this does not constitute legal advice and the publisher should always be consulted if unsure.

Staff training

Opening the Book – “Opening the Book has worked day and night over the last two weeks to adapt seven of our online courses so they can be taken from home without access to a library. We have set up new curated discussion boards for learners to keep in touch.  Library staff in Ireland and Scotland are racing through and giving us great feedback.  It’s a way of keeping a focus on our service professionalism; keeping in touch with colleagues; and we are supporting large rollouts to use this to plan and prepare programmes of activities they can implement, ready to go, when they get back to work. We also cut course prices instantly to enable more staff to access.  We have to cover our costs so we can’t offer for free but these are definitely costed as not-for-profit.”

Staffing redeployments

Some staff will be on furlough (staying at home with Government paying 80% of salary but not doing work for the council) although it appears to be up to the council if they make up the other 20% of their salary. Please email me at if you can let me know what is going on in your service.

See the following for two in-depth looks about how particular services are doing:

  • Aberdeen – Staff waiting to be redeployed, 5 April.
  • Barnet – Frontline staff in Barnet are working from home calling vulnerable people to identify if they need support. Their service development team are continuing with development work, also working from home.
  • Bournemouth Christchurch Poole – “working at the new call centre to support people isolated at home, developing further online resources, filming for YouTube, answering email enquiries, planning non contact Home Library deliveries, and missing seeing our customers”
  • Bridgend – At least some staff to be on furlough.
  • Bromley – Home delivery service customers now receiving regular phone calls. 
  • Bury – Staff working in the contact centre and 3 of the community hubs are based in libraries.
  • Caerphilly – Likely to be redeployed.
  • Cambridgeshire – staff redeployed as call handlers and phoning out to isolated residents, working with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough network of COVID-19 Coordination and Response Hubs.
  • Cornwall – supporting Council contact centre and Council mailboxes, also working in the Shielding Programme, Registration Services. All staff are completing redeployment forms, to match skills to other essential Council services that need staff. But also working  to develop our own online  presence with storytimes, rhymetimes,  book delivery for vulnerable people etc. 
  • Denbighshire – Denbighshire library staff are telephoning the people who have received shielding letters to make sure they have food, prescriptions etc, and also creating content for social media/ promoting eResources.
  • Dudley – Five staff identified to answer calls to the Dudley Foodbank, one morning per week. Supporting Dudley Council for Voluntary Services – in providing a telephone service and delivering food and medication to vulnerable people. Mobile library and school library vans taking out medication which needs to be with patients within a 4 hour period.
  • Durham – suggestions are customer service and befriending either via email or phone, food bank deliveries, and also bin collections.
  • Essex – At least some staff furloughed. Some working on distribution of food.
  • Greenwich – Online training and social media. Home Delivery service operating as normal (although under stringent safety standards).
  • Hammersmith and Fulham – Redeployments to registration service.
  • Hartlepool – Library & hub staff, alongside colleagues from other divisions, are helping run the support helpline providing support to the vulnerable and isolated. Taking calls, co-ord & delivering food boxes & prescriptions. Support Hub is based in Central Lib/Hub.
  • Herefordshire – Redeployments to start soon.
  • Kent – No redployments, Some deliver/support Registration, others library online services, with more senior people supporting business resilience work
  • Kirklees – Staffing triage telephony system to help the community response. People in need can ring and volunteers can offer their support.
  • Lewisham – Will be asked to volunteer for variety of council jobs inc. child protection and street cleaning.
  • Manchester – staff volunteering to work in Covid contact centre, some staff working on online programme from home
  • South Tyneside – Some redeployed to help in the Covid Response Centre answering calls and making calls to the most vulnerable in our community, also still running a non contact home readers service.
  • Southwark – Staff being redeployed to “absolutely critical services like children’s and adults services, health and emergency planning”
  • Stockport – “taking library telephone calls, supporting a CV19 telephone line, calling vulnerable people, supporting Registrars and delivering hearing aid batteries to incredibly grateful residents.”
  • Surrey – Supporting Registrars, coroners and call centre.
  • Sutton – Various redeployments to necessary council services.
  • Wandsworth – Ravi Govindia, Leader of Wandsworth Council visits new Coronavirus Helpline Hub – Wandsworth Conservatives. “The hub is staffed by 40 members of staff drawn from other service areas including libraries and  electoral services. When he visited this morning, Cllr Govindia heard that staff has already dealt with more than 200 calls in just over 24 hours. ” … 11 library staff supporting the Contact Centre, taking phone calls  Home Library Service operating as normal and expanding numbers of customers as requests come in.
  • Warwickshire – Some are staffing “Shielding Hub”, Regstrars, others answering online enquiries.
  • Westminster – Staffing a new telephone service for shielded residents and others who need food and medication when self isolating. Basically organising rotas and being nice on the phone, asking the right questions to find out what they need. Being able to spell names and addresses.
  • Wiltshire – staff helping to ensure vulnerable residents have access to food parcels & prescriptions, collating database of local voluntary orgs & signposting residents to community support groups. Also delivering library services online.

Ideas for reopening

Effectively, it’s hard to see how normal service can resume safely in public libraries until the crisis is over. Maintaining 2 metre exclusions between the public would be very hard, if not impossible, as would quarantining all books for 72 hours. The following are items which touch upon the issues involved.