Reopening during Coronavirus: examples and ideas

Last updated 7.6.20

Included below is information picked up from the UK and internationally, listing different approaches to reopening while Coronavirus is still endemic to some extent.

The advice below ignores the psychological impact of the increased risks involved in opening. For options there, see this article. It also focuses on those items specific for public libraries – for example, problems with small staff rooms etc are not included. The page is not included as a checklist but just for interest and as a place store information.

Reopening a library will likely be a phased process and may normally be expected to follow something like – closed, then housebound delivery, then click and collect, then open access with strict social distancing, then “normality” and events.

In addition, one size does not all, and so libraries in some areas may be able to safely open more than in others. Anecdotal evidence from shops suggests that demographics play a strong part in public willingness to obey social distancing, for example.

A physical service while the library is closed.

  • Wifi – Have wifi on so that people can use the wifi outside of the library building.
  • Home library service – Operational in many UK library services inc. Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, West Berkshire, Greenwich, Halton, Stockport. Staff should be provided PPE outside and social distancing in the library. Use their own cars but on voluntary basis. (that is, not forced to do it but still paid). 3 day quarantine required, with monthly deliveries. Call ahead to ensure public still want books / have old books waiting:

Curbside/Click and Collect/Grab and Go. Give out books either in entrance area or (especially in the USA) to waiting car. Order via phone/email/online reservation. Here is how it work in one Danish library.

  1. Vulnerable resident registers with the Home Library Service
  2. Librarian contacts resident to discuss their favourite (and least-favourite) genres and authors
  3. Librarian uses this information and their own knowledge to compile a selection of books they think will be of interest
  4. Books are cleaned – especially important if they have a plastic dust jacket – and quarantined for 72 hours
  5. Library staff call resident to check they are well and still want the delivery
  6. Staff member drives books to resident’s doorstep, rings the bell and steps back to maintain two-metre distance
  7. After one month, the books are collected and exchanged for a fresh selection. Anything not read can be renewed and kept for another month.
Not the way to do Click and Collect

Having the public in the library

  • Public computers. Often essential for those job-hunting or needing help with benefits. Remove sufficient PCs so there is sufficient space between them. Appointment system. Make booking only possible via staff. Clean computers between sessions.
  • Bookstock. 72 hours is the WHO guidance for the virus being viable on plastic and this on library books. Quarantine is expected for this period. Please not that this mean a 4-day or half-day system as books returned on Monday PM will not have been out of circulation for 72 hours by Thursday AM. Having somewhere to store the books being quarantined is vital – having them somewhere where staff and public can touch them is not recommended. An idea would be caged trolleys such as those used in retail if they are available.
    • However, more recent evidence (late May) and thinking suggests that contamination from touching physical objects, while possible, is hugely less of a factor than being close contact with an infected person. It is notable that the public libraries open in several countries – Bremen (Germany) and Orange County (Florida) – do not quarantine books at all but focus on social distancing and protective equipment.
There may be no realistic alternatives to quarantine …
  • Screens. Difficult for those library services which have removed counters and introduced floorwalking. Staff should not have library cards passed to them – the number should be read out by the customer.
  • Social distancing. Hazard tape or other marking so keep 2 metres away. Possibility of one way systems where floor layout allows.
  • Furniture and clutter. Remove all excess furniture and clutter e.g. chairs, leaflets, public stationery.
  • Doors – keep open in public areas if possible.
  • Limit numbers coming into the library to ensure social distancing possible. Australia suggest a certain number of people per library or per square metre of floorspace. Both New Zealand and Australia have some libraries having a maximum amount of time allowed and some have an “only one family member” rule.
  • Cleaning: increase cleaning frequency. Clean desks and computers between staff if sharing of computers is necessary e.g. at public desk.
  • “PPE” is a difficult term to define and is rarely up to hospital standards (nor should it be: such equipment is in rare supply and should be kept for health professionals). Where used, it normally means a facemask and gloves. It may also mean visors for those where close proximity is expected. Disinfectant/hand gel is an expected minimum in all cases. However, just having, for example, “gloves” is not enough – there needs to be a plan for ensuring they are only used by one person, regularly cleaned, etc.
  • Staffing bubbles. Ensure staff contact with other staff is kept to a minimum via timetabling different teams, closing the staff room etc.

Near normality

  • Open browsing. Difficult as even one person using shelves unsupervised theoretically means any item could be infected.
  • Events. These will be some of the last things to be reinstated, including rhymetimes and storytimes.


The following video looks at the experience in Bremen (Germany) and Utrecht (Cologne), uploaded 29 May. Both library services are open and do not quarantine books: