CULC/CBUC Toolkit on Recovery & Reimagined Public Library Services Post COVID-19


Best & Leading Practices

General Materials Handling

Protective Measures

  • All library collections should be handled by:
    • using physical distancing measures
    • using hand hygiene measures between tasks (soap and water for 20 seconds, or hand sanitizer)
    • regularly cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are used for handling collections
    • not touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • While gloves are referenced in some library practices internationally, they can pose higher risks if they are not used properly. The safest method when handling library materials is to use hand washing between tasks.
  • Wearing non-medical masks and face coverings can be an additional measure taken to protect others when handling collections when physical distancing may not be possible (e.g. browsing, shelving).
  • Physical barriers, such as glass or plastic (e.g., Plexiglas) windows at service counters are an option to help reduce exposure to the COVID-19 virus when physical distancing is not possible.

Quarantine & Mitigation

  • Time in quarantine is the best method for disinfecting all types of library materials. Quarantine limits the amount of contact staff has with the materials and ensures the entire object has been treated. Disinfecting library materials can result in damage to the materials such as books and magazines.
  • The most commonly used quarantine period for library materials (books, DVDs, etc.) to reduce the risk of COVID-19 virus spread is 72 hours. For this period, the materials should be placed in boxes, containers or set aside on designated tables, date marked and where possible, stored in a separate area.
  • Libraries should provide readily available quarantine bins in the shelving areas for users to deposit materials they have touched.
  • Collections shipped between libraries or from vendors should be quarantined if it cannot be confirmed how long they have been in transit.
  • Libraries should consult their integrated library system vendor (and user groups) to learn about automated options to manage the quarantine of collections. Examples: rolling returns/checkout dates to prevent an overflow of holding spaces.
  • Review the types of materials that can be browsed or borrowed by users (e.g. newspapers, magazines, toys, games, tools, WiFi hotspots, instruments) and consider prioritizing items that are available to the public based on balancing community needs and the library’s space to quarantine.
  • When reopening, libraries can help prevent a massive return of materials by encouraging the public to use staggered drop off approaches. For example, advertising specific days to return materials based on a user’s last digit of their library card or the first letter of last name.
  • Consider floating collections to reduce material handling.

Cleaning & Disinfecting

  • Hard surfaces used to handle collections should be regularly cleaned using an approved disinfectant for the COVID-19 virus.
  • There are some library practices of disinfecting materials that are made of plastic or metal. Options include using an alcohol-based cleaner or a quat disinfectant solution.
  • Libraries should inform the public of their safe handling protocols to deter users from using at-home solutions that could damage collections.

Customer Access to Collections

Providing limited contact service options and supporting the vulnerable sectors

When planning reopening services, consider a phased approach:

  • Offer holds pick-up services, such as a walk-in service (e.g. self-serve holds shelves), and/or curbside pick-ups.
  • Continue to promote digital collections.
  • Budget permitting, explore options such as self-checkout kiosks, book vending machines, hold lockers, and self-check out apps.
  • Permit browsing of the shelves where possible, with physical distancing indicators in place. Libraries may require the use of non-medical masks or face coverings when physical distancing is not possible in facilities. For some libraries, closed shelving may be required.
  • Offer designated visiting hours for at risk populations.
  • Expand upon outreach services to reach people who are not comfortable with visiting the library or unable to visit due to other barriers. Examples include:
    • home delivery services
    • collection deposits
    • books-by-mail services
  • Provide options for users to request materials: online, telephone, email.
  • Consider additional supports for users with print disabilities to ensure they have continued access to collections in their alternative formats of choice.

Planning for a Curbside Service

Many libraries are adapting curbside service models as a way to provide access to collections during library closures. Curbside service is also being used as an additional model when libraries are open to help serve more users.

Each library’s service model will be different based on resources, facilities and location. However, there are some key areas for considerations that can apply to all libraries:

Health & Safety
  • What are the health and safety protocols that need to be followed in your community to mitigate the spread of COVID-19? How will the library put in place physical distancing, physical barriers, cleaning and disinfecting protocols of frequently touched surfaces, hand hygiene measures, protective personal equipment requirements, etc.
  • Does the library have adequate space to separately quarantine materials and to separately assemble materials for pickup? All returned materials require a quarantine before staff can assemble pickup orders.
  • What collections will be included in the scope of the service? Will it include only books, CDs, and DVDs?
  • Will different circulation procedures be required (e.g. number of checkouts, holds, loan periods, fee forgiveness)?
  • Will return of items be accepted?
  • What options will users have to make requests: Online catalogue? Online form? Telephone? Email?
  • What solutions will be needed to track and manage requests (e.g. phone and email logs)?
Assembling Items
  • What supplies are needed to assemble items for pickup?
  • What measures will be put in place to organize and store assembled items for pickup?
  • What measures will be put in place to ensure patron privacy?
  • Where can the pickup occur that can be done safely, while respecting physical distancing? At the library door, lobby, sidewalk, in a parking lot? Can parking be reserved for the service? What signage is needed?
  • How will the library manage and schedule pickup times?
  • Will users be required to show IDs, or give their name or will they be allowed to pick up items on their own for contactless delivery?
  • Will users pickup materials for others who may not have transportation or are housebound?

Providing flexible membership and lending policies to promote library usage and ease anxiety during a difficult economic time

  • Consider free library memberships or extending the term of library memberships.
  • Consider a fines embargo.
  • Review the acceptable collection loss rate and the threshold for making collection agency referrals for accumulated overdue fines.
  • Expand membership profile options. For example, offer limited circulation cards to permit people without a proof of address to borrow materials; offer educator profiles with extended loan periods and checkout limits to support homeschooling; extend memberships to those who work within the library’s service area but live in surrounding municipalities.
  • Consider ways of verifying online requests for a library membership without the user having to visit the library. Examples: using OverDrive’s instant digital card that is verified by postal code or using a contracted service provider to validate proof of ID and address.
  • Review lending terms such as due dates, hold limits, checkout limits, renewal limits to balance community needs with library resources.

Collections Development

Balancing New Demands & Restraints

  • Review the acquisitions budget, making adjustments to reflect changing demands for formats, genres and subject areas (e.g. newspapers, magazines, travel guides). Review automatic release plans (ARP), standing orders and budget allocations with vendor representatives.
  • Take advantage of free vendor trials as a way to scope community interest in new content before making a purchasing commitment.

Acquisitions, Cataloguing & Processing

  • Resume operations as soon as possible to prevent collection backlogs and a stable flow of new materials for circulation.
  • Review staff workflows to help reduce the handling of collections wherever possible. Create clearly identified spaces for incoming and outgoing materials.
  • Consult vendors to consider staggered delivery schedules to help manage limited storage space.
  • Consider suspending book donations if there is a shortage of storage space.