And, We’re Back! Re-Opening Our Library

As a medical school library, we already have students beginning a new academic year. Between nurse, PA, and MD programs, residents, and the non-stop functioning of a hospital we support, we knew we would be among the early returners… the guinea pigs, if you will.

Some upsides: The majority of our user base is already accustomed to wearing surgical masks for long periods of time, so I imagine we’re correcting mask protocol less often than we would have to elsewhere. (The fact that we have to do it at all may be unsettling, but I still think we’re luckier than most in this regard.) The students seem to have settled into alternative study routines (or perhaps they have as much news update email burnout as I do, and therefore haven’t heard that we’re open) and didn’t swarm us immediately at 8am on Monday. We have procedures in place for everything that has come up so far, and things are running smoothly (knock on wood).

I’ll give you some details of what’s working for us that may come in handy as you prepare your own reopening plans, or may just be of interest.

  • The open stacks are no longer open; we hung caution tape and signs directing users to the desk to request items, rather than retrieving them on their own.
  • We are quarantining all checked-out items for 72 hours, using some file drawers we weren’t using for other purposes. We picked five, labelled each for a day of the week, and added the day of the week they should be emptied. (The first drawer says “Monday – open Thursday,” the second says “Tuesday – open Friday,” and the rest are opened Monday since we aren’t open on the weekends yet.)
  • All returned items must go directly into the book drop (as opposed to being handed to the person at the desk) so it all goes into quarantine together. (If they are checked out, exceptions will be made for bone boxes and board games, which still go into quarantine, but are too fragile/multi-part for the book drop.)
  • Reserve textbooks, which have a 2-hour checkout, can be checked out, but they must go into the book drop and follow 72-hour quarantine procedure. We’re also reaching out to our liaison departments to tell instructors that if they want any readings from those books, they ought to check them out and sort that out. (We’re also providing copyright information to keep them from making mistakes.)
  • We are not checking out headphones (we don’t feel they can be properly sanitized).
  • All of the spaces of the library are available, but at half capacity. A week before reopening, we stacked chairs, turned around soft seating that can’t be properly sanitized, and separated the tables in study rooms so they’re in each corner instead of clustered in the middle.
  • We still let users borrow packs of dry erase markers, but we have bins for “new” and “used” (depending on your area, you may have seen the same concept applied to pens for signing receipts at restaurants) and they get quarantined and wiped down
  • We ordered a great deal of signage, to cover the following:
    • New hours
    • All guidelines, posted at each entrance
    • Mask reminders
    • No eating/drinking (not a usual policy, but as you can’t eat/drink with a mask worn properly, a new necessity)
    • Small room capacity, posted on each door
    • “Sanitation station” identifiers (where users can find spray bottles and paper towels to clean tables, chairs, computers, etc. before and after use)
    • Reminders to follow specific procedures in relevant areas, like “please put all items in the book drop” (as opposed to handing them to the person at the desk)
  • We created an “incident form” for internal use. Since our ability to move to the next reopening phase depends on the number of incidents we experience in the library, this allows us to track them. There are two types of incident: “learning,” which is a friendly reminder to follow a procedure that goes heeded, and “defiant,” which is the type of event where the friendly reminder is given but the behavior is not corrected.
  • Everyone who can continue to work from home, does. We have two staff members who cover the service desk, all reference hours are covered on Zoom and via email, and three people (me, the Access Services Librarian; the Associate Director; and the Director) come in regularly to manage the library and make sure the staff get breaks. Others may come in occasionally to do a single task that can’t be done from home, but they don’t keep regular schedules in the library.

None of this is complex, nor should it be. We have easy-to-understand, easy-to-follow rules for the space, we’ve limited services and resources as little as possible, and we cut the capacity in half simply by moving furniture and hanging signs.

We’ve been open one week now, and so far – although it isn’t closing time yet – we’ve only had eleven “incidents” to report, and they’ve all been the “learning” type.

If you’re preparing to open your library, I wish you the best of luck, compliant users, and comfortable masks. If you’re holding off for a while longer, I support that decision and hope your pets enjoy having you and home a little longer. (My cat has been more upset about me being gone for the day than any of our users have been about being reminded to wear a mask and stay at or under study room capacity.)

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