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

The Built Environment

The Built Environment

Over the last decades, public libraries have increasingly become spaces where our community gathers and lingers. How will COVID-19 change the capacity of libraries? How will furniture and finishes changes? Where can technology help reduce the risk of virus spread within public spaces? How can staff and the public safely more through and interact within library buildings?

The Built Environment Webinar

The Built Environment Checklist

Capacity & Layout​

Assumptions: social distancing = 2m

  • Will the public be restricted based upon total occupant load of the building or capacity of an area/space? and how will that be done?
  • What are the unique challenges of each branch? (i.e. leased space, multiple floors, co-located with other municipal and non-municipal uses)?
  • Does the library need to submit a “plan” of how it is meeting public health requirements prior to opening?
  • What is the decision-making framework for changes to the facility? Who signs off on plans/renovations? Will some areas need to be cordoned off? Will you move to closed stacks?
  • Which areas in the library are high priority for modifying to allow for social distancing? Computer lab/area, service points, entrances/exits, shelving aisles- directional limits (ex. one-way aisles), meeting rooms, reading lounges/seating areas
  • Where should quarantined materials be held (program room? expanded book-drop areas?)
  • What work could be done prior to reopening to improve capacity? weeding of collection

Building Systems​

  • Are HVAC systems maintained and working well?
  • Can windows in the building be opened safely?
  • Is it preferable for the AMH to be used over staff handling materials? What is the most effective way to clean your AMH machine(s)?
  • What changes are required to existing contracts? (ex. cafe, maintenance, janitorial)

Furniture & Finishes​

  • Which surfaces and finishes are more susceptible to contamination and how long does the virus live? (research is evolving)
  • Have you identified the library’s high touch surfaces identified to ensure cleaning priority?
  • Is it possible to retrofit entrance ways so door handles are eliminated?
  • If furniture/equipment/toys are to be moved, where will they be stored?

Technology Considerations​

  • How will keyboards and mice be cleaned (public and staff use)?
  • Can self-checks be set to not require touch screen use? Is it possible to implement further touch free/self-service options with customers checking out items on their own devices?
  • Are there options for touch-free automation to reduce contact with other surfaces (ex. automated hand-washing dispensers, automated hand drying, automatic doors, etc.)

Moving Through & Interacting Within the Space

  • Are distance markers required for limiting the number of people allowed in at a time? For queueing?
  • What strategies can be used to manage crowding in elevators, escalators and stairs?
  • Is it possible to separate entrance areas for exit areas in your building?
  • Do emergency evacuation procedures need to be reconsidered? What would that look like?
  • Should plexiglass barriers be installed to service desks? Between public computers?
  • What strategies will we use to discourage use of cash? (cards/phones with tap preferred, fine-free?)
  • When will it be safe to open children’s play areas? Will they have shared toys? Interactives?
  • Should all shelving be done during closed hours?
  • How will staff breaks be handled to allow for social distancing? Are staff areas being adequately cleaned? Who is responsible for the cleaning?
  • Are there adequate hand-washing stations? Is there a need for handwashing stations in the public areas of the library? In staff (circulation) areas? More hand sanitizer stations featured more prominently?
  • Should water fountains be used? Should they be redesigned? Should food and drink continue to be allowed in libraries?
  • What should be measured at the facility? Gate count, material returns, WiFi use?
  • What has to be procured in advance of opening? sneeze shields, foot print – peel and stick, PPE, stanchions, signage.
  • If your library continuing curbside pickup during a partial or staged opening for people who choose it or who have compromised immune systems? What precautions need to be in place outside of buildings?
  • Is the adjacent outdoor space that can use to increase seating capacity? Can the building’s WiFi be extended into that space?


  • Is there signage and communication asking customers to stay home if feeling unwell/displaying any symptoms?
  • What wayfinding methods should be used to communicate new guidelines and limits to visitors and staff (signage, floor decals, PA announcements stanchions, etc.)?
  • Are drawings needed to communicate what furniture is to be moved, routing of the public, stanchions?
  • Is staff training required related to the physical changes to the branch?
  • How are the limitations of the branch (occupant load) documented and communicated?

The Built Environment Working Group

  • Amanda Fullerton, Manager, Service Design, Halifax Public Libraries
  • Terry Gallagher, Senior Manager, Finance and Facilities, Halifax Public Libraries
  • Lisa Hardy, Facilities Design Lead, Calgary Public Library
  • Åsa Kachan, Chief Librarian & Chief Executive Officer, Halifax Public Libraries