Protect Library Workers

Templates for Letters, Recommendations, and Petitions for #closethelibraries Efforts

Note on 5/28/20: The templates on this page have been updated to reflect current conditions (i.e., focus on reopening vs. initial closure). Please use these as you see fit to help further your cause without reinventing the wheel.

Letter | Recommendation | Petition

Safe Reopening Letter (added 5/28/20)

Subject: Tell (Library/system) to keep our community safe by keeping physical library branches closed

Dear (insert decision makers, like your alderman, mayor, library commissioner or state representative),

As a (insert location) resident and library patron, I’m shocked to see that there are plans for reopening our physical library branches while it’s unsafe for so many members of our community. As you know, we are still far from having access to widespread testing or a reliable supply of PPE, let alone a vaccine for COVID-19. We also still don’t have tested and scalable approaches to sanitizing libraries’ many physical materials. More importantly, libraries in 2020 are high-contact spaces where many vulnerable members of the community - not to mention staff - gather and interact frequently, which makes them a perfect epicenter for a new spike in the pandemic.

Our library’s remote programming and digital resources, like (insert any specific examples), have been a tremendous benefit during this difficult time. I know I’m not the only community member who’s grateful for the work that library staff has done to serve us even with the challenges we’re all facing. Based on the past months, I’m confident that (library/system) can continue to meet (insert location) residents’ needs through these remote services for as long as necessary for us to remain distanced (insert local term, e.g. “sheltered in place) to ensure our community’s safety.

On the other hand, I’m very concerned that if (library/system) reopens so early on, this will be remembered post-COVID as a decision that put workers and residents at risk in a misguided and dangerous attempt to return to "normal." The stakes for our community couldn’t be higher. Please, reconsider and urge your colleagues to do the same (insert different call to action if needed).

All the best,
You and as much info about who you are as you're willing to share

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Library Organization Recommendation for Safe Reopening Against Layoffs/Furloughs

(Note: This is adapted from the Massachusetts Library Association's recommendation to its members on April 21, 2020.)

In this time of uncertainty, reliable information and community support are among our most trusted and valuable resources, and (insert organization, if applicable) members, as do all librarians and library workers in (insert place name), provide both of these services every day. (Insert organization name) encourages and champions the numerous important contributions that library workers make to their communities in the form of trusted information resources,entertainment, companionship, early childhood education, job seeking, information literacy, skillbuilding and more.

(Insert organization name) recognizes that the dangers posed by the COVID-19 virus outweigh the benefits of operating public-facing libraries and information organizations for in-person services during this public health crisis. Accordingly, (Insert organization name) supports decisions to close such facilities until public health and medical experts determine that it is safe to reopen them. At the same time, (Insert organization name) encourages government, business, and academic leaders to take a long-term view and begin preparing for the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. A critical step in this process is retaining and fully compensating library workers regardless of their paid position in their organization.

There is significant work that library workers can accomplish remotely, including digital and phone outreach and information literacy programs to help communities better connect and navigate their online services and environment. Layoffs and furloughs undermine libraries' important work in preparing communities to learn, connect, evaluate information and thrive during any and all extenuating circumstances. Libraries that layoff now will have communities that are less preparedfor the subsequent outbreaks of COVID-19 that many public health officials fear will come later in 2020.

Libraries are among the only institutions advocating and supplying services such as education, outreach, and internet access to marginalized populations--seniors, people with disabilities, lower and middle class workers, people experiencing homelessness, survivors of domestic violence, new immigrants, English language learners, and far more. The work of libraries may be more crucialthan ever right now as they strive to offer ongoing virtual programming, information literacyinstruction, free media access, personalized outreach, and technology support to their communities. Because libraries are trusted and respected sources in their communities, they reliably and efficiently spread much needed health information and learning resources during these unprecedented times of social displacement. It is for these reasons that MLA strongly urges the full retention of library staff who are actively connecting with their communities and providing reliable, trustworthy services and support to their communities and partners online.

Furthermore, (Insert organization name) believes that library workers are especially vital in the aftermath of acatastrophe. Libraries have been and will continue to be the place where people go to completetheir unemployment applications, apply to new jobs, or work on new resumes. Libraries are major outlets for official municipal information. We expect an increase in materials circulation because of information and educational needs and new hobbies developed in quarantine. (Insert organization name) calls on every employer in (insert place name) to support all library workers by recognizing their value, retaining them as employees regardless of position type and including them in post-pandemic plans.

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Petition for Workers' Safe Reopening Demands

(Note: This was drafted collaboratively with the current and past cohorts of the Library Freedom Institute and is posted as an active petition on - please sign if you haven't yet!)

Library workers care deeply about the communities we serve, which includes doing our part to keep our patrons and ourselves safe during this pandemic. Libraries serve as important community hubs for connection and learning. They are busy, well-loved spaces, which is why their closure has been so critical in the time of coronavirus. Community spaces like libraries could easily become infection zones, and libraries around the country have taken the difficult but necessary action of closing down for the sake of broader community health.

As the discussion has moved from closures to considerations for reopenings, library workers are starting to think about what safely returning to physical work may be like. On a routine work day, library workers handle materials, touch surfaces, share computers, assist with technology use, clean all manner of messes, and conduct checkout and reference transactions, all typically from much less than six feet away. Without proper health and safety measures in place, libraries could easily become breeding grounds for the virus.

In order to ensure the health and safety of our communities and ourselves, we demand the following measures be taken before any libraries are reopened:

  • Every effort must be made to make libraries a part of state, county, and/or municipal reopening plans. In the absence of this, a clear, slow, evidence-based phased plan for returning to work must be developed by state library agencies and municipalities in alignment with state and local recommendations.
  • Library staff must not be forced to return to work before stay-at-home orders are lifted.
  • If stay-at-home orders are lifted, there must be a sustained reduction in new COVID-19 cases within the community for at least 14 days before library staff return to work.
  • Flexible and robust paid sick leave policies and remote work options must be available to all library employees, regardless of position type. Library management must continue to allow teleworking, especially for individuals who are in high-risk groups.
  • Childcare support must be provided for workers who are unable to send their children to school or daycare. Paid time off for family leave should be offered to accommodate these challenges as well.
  • Library management must develop clear, detailed plans for reopening such as these guidelines from the German Library Association and this phased approach from Idaho. These must collect input from and be shared with all staff members, and must be as locally specific and appropriate as possible.
  • The library must have access to the necessary materials to maintain high hygiene standards without compromising the protection of local health care professionals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, or people caring for family at home. That means PPE must be provided to all library staff, but only after there is no shortage of it for essential workers. Additionally, libraries must be well stocked with disinfectants for all surfaces that are on the EPA's List N for use against SARS-CoV-2, and staff must be thoroughly trained in proper cleaning and disinfecting procedures.
  • Surveillance technologies, such as temperature checks, cannot be implemented without scientific evidence of their reliability in identifying possible infections, and must come with detailed policy about how long the technologies will be in place, who will have access to the data, how it will be stored, and how law enforcement requests for the data will be handled.
  • These demands must continue to be met until there is a safe and effective vaccine to guarantee freedom of movement without spreading the risk of COVID-19 infection.

Libraries across the country are tried-and-true economic and workforce development hubs. The economic recovery depends immeasurably on the health of library workers and the continued existence of their positions as the work begins. If it is not safe to resume physical operations, workers can still provide online services to people in need, especially unemployment and other social benefits. We can bridge digital divides safely by extending WiFi access to parking lots and working with other municipal departments to do so through other creative means, such as turning decommissioned school buses into mobile WiFi hubs and providing devices to the underserved. As libraries contend with their many incompatibilities with social distancing, they need to have their energy freed up for efforts to reconfigure and redistribute what public space is right now.

Libraries will be necessary and important to their communities as we begin to strategize and recover from this crisis. It's time to treat library staff as if we are necessary and important, too.

Sign our petition and support these demands

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