Note on 4/25/20: An archived version of this page more directed at #closethelibraries advocacy can be found here.
At the time of this writing on 5/28/20, many states are in the process of reopening and ending their stay-at-home orders, and the vast majority have not included specifics about libraries in their reopening plans. Libraries are often included in the early stages of reopening, in an unfortunate reflection of the misunderstanding of the tremendous transmission risk in our work environments which seems to come down to "well, books look pretty safe, right?" This is a huge risk to our colleagues and communities given that many of us interact with dozens, if not hundreds, of patrons every day and are surrounded by non-porous surfaces that are shared by everyone who walks in the door.
We're seeing a jumping of the gun that reflects incredibly poorly not only on our regard for the health and safety of our patrons and colleagues, but also on our status as a trusted provider of information. To push for reopening before the results of studies like the REALM project or being patient enough to observe the impacts of reopening in states (which, as of this moment, don't look great) is conveying a level of normalcy and safety that, inconvenient or not, simply doesn't exist right now. It is an act of disinformation that we should feel ashamed of.
Taking inspiration from our friends at Building Up People Not Prisons, we've pulled together this weekly course of action to help push for safe, patient, and responsible library reopening around the country.
Call/email/tweet at the director of the library in question or whomever that person reports to.
Call/email/tweet at the city, town, or college/university administration in question.
Call/email/tweet at state representatives and senators in your area.
Call/email/tweet at your governor.
(Note you can find longer-form examples and templates for recommendations and petitions on this page.)
Dear [Recipients], My name is __________ and I'm calling/emailing to urge you to not fully reopen XYZ Library/libraries until there is more evidence indicating it is safe to do so.
Resuming in-person services before we know if phased reopenings in the state are truly safe means you are exposing patrons/students/staff to unnecessary risk of COVID-19 transmission. With medical professionals still in agreement that staying at home is the best possible defense against this deadly virus, I'm urging you to do your part and make sure libraries do not open to the public prematurely.
It is an act of disinformation for libraries to abuse their high regard and trust level with the public to delude patrons into thinking it is safe to return to running regular errands and visiting high-traffic public places like libraries at this time. We need to take our own advice here, wait for good information and evidence, and consider the consequences before making hasty decisions that could cost lives.
Dear Governor X, My name is __________ and I'm calling/emailing to urge you to shift libraries to the final phase of reopening, alongside public schools, in the state of X.
Libraries were not specifically named in stay-at-home orders and seem to have barely factored into reopening plans, and this is a huge community health concern as libraries are not quiet, empty reading rooms in 2020. 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.
It is too soon to even consider fully reopening libraries in X, and they should not be treated any differently from other businesses and organizations where large groups congregate. Library staff should not be forced to choose between their jobs and their safety and should be sent home with full undocked pay for the duration of this crisis. They are busy doing their best to continue providing high-quality services to residents of X from home.
Dear [@governor]: I'm urging you to move libraries to the last phase of reopening in X State. They need direction & guidance to protect their communities now. #ProtectLibraryWorkers
Dear [@library/university in question], I've just heard from a parent of one of your students that you're still open to the public to help w/distance learning, etc. Your staff need to be at home safe, PAID, to #flattenthecurve. No library service is essential right now #ProtectLibraryWorkers
Good evening, [@library/officials]! I just heard about what's going on at X Library System. Curbside pickup unnecessarily endangers library staff & patrons. Why not focus only on digital services instead? #closethelibraries#ProtectLibraryWorkers
X Library is already opening back up to the public. Contact X state gov (@governor) & city's staff at X Website or X Phone Number to let them know this is dangerously wrong. #closethelibraries#ProtectLibraryWorkers
Dear [@library/officials], X Library needs to be fully closed. Staff should be sent home with pay immediately. There is no service a library can provide right now that surpasses the benefit of ensuring staff & patrons alike are staying at home. #closethelibraries#ProtectLibraryWorkers
Libraries need to protect the lives of both our patrons & our workers. @governor, please act to include us in reopening plans and protect & pay X State's library workers.#ProtectLibraryWorkers
This website wasn't written by labor lawyers, but here are some initial things to consider if you are concerned about your safety on the job:
In most cases, your first step is to get everyone on the same page on your staff and agree on some unified messaging. Then, round up the posse and let everyone and their mom know what's happening, in whatever way makes sense for your context. Get in touch with as many public officials as possible. See if you can get statements from any prominent community members in your defense, particularly from healthcare workers or experts.
Labor Notes is a media and organizing project that has been helping union and non-union workers fight back against oppressive management tactics for decades. They're happy to assist libraries with their unique situations and are especially focused on responses specific to COVID-19.
Generic Help "Hotline"
Also Available for Help
Alexandra (Al) Bradbury, Editor, Labor Notes, New York Office