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

The Built Environment

Best & Leading Practices

The physical space may have four phases of being open:

  1. Staff only
  2. Staff with distribution of materials out
  3. Staff with limited public interaction and materials in and out
  4. Staff with full public access
  • Each step should have a clear plan (ex. signage, stanchions, staff training, stakeholder communication)
  • Existing contracts should be reviewed and amended at each step (janitorial, cafes, leases, etc.)

Capacity & Layout (assumptions – social distancing = 2m)

The application of social distance guidelines will impact the capacity (number of people allowed in a branch) and the physical layout of the library. Depending on the current layout, location of furniture or equipment in the branch, the total number of people in the space may need to be reduced by up to 50%. To calculate the total occupant load, attention needs to be given to specific functional areas including staff spaces, information desks, public seating areas, computer areas and program spaces.

Think of the design of space as evolutionary as the public and staff adjust to the new layout and social cues around social distancing; be prepared to make further revisions based on observation and feedback. For public areas, the analysis of furniture layout drawings will help managers determine the revised placements of furniture and equipment and ensure the public and staff practice appropriate social distancing. Consideration should be to the following:

  • Public health guidelines and regulations that apply in your province or territory
  • Safe ratio of people per square metre for all library space – staff and public spaces
  • Capacity monitoring and enforced
  • Consultation with staff and stakeholders with consideration to accessibility. Staff may require training related to physical changes made to the space
  • Entry doors and exit doors (separate from each other where possible)
  • Redundant furniture and equipment stored to avoid congestion (either onsite or offsite)
  • Restricting movement of furniture from its social distance placement
  • Open seating areas that allow people to be in the presence of each other while still retaining distance are preferable
  • Determining whether stacks will be accessed. One-way aisles are recommended
  • Relocation or reduction of shelving to provide for wider traffic routes may be necessary
  • Estimating the volume of materials that will need to be quarantined. Identify dimensions and layout of the quarantine area and staff access pattern
  • Using floor distance markers to guide queuing in high traffic areas

Building Systems

Initial analysis of the spread of the COVID-19 virus indicates the virus is not likely transmitted via the building systems in the way that Legionnaires’ disease is. The droplet form of the virus is more likely to fall on horizontal surfaces rather than remaining suspended in air and distributed by the buildings ductwork.

However, it remains recommended to maximize the air quality in the building through:

  • increasing the percentage of outside air,
  • improving or more frequent replacement of air filters,
  • extending the operating hours of the ventilation system beyond opening hours of the location, and
  • opening exterior windows.

Furniture & Finishes

  • Health care facilities are leaders in best practices for choosing and maintaining furniture finishes and materials. Contract furniture manufacturers are good resources for information on furniture coverings, and most textile manufacturers offer health care lines which feature upholstery that is stain resistant and has antimicrobial protection and fluid-barrier protection.
  • Soft and porous materials are generally not as easy to disinfect as hard and non-porous surfaces. EPA has listed a limited number of products approved for disinfection for use on soft and porous materials. Soft and porous materials that are not frequently touched should only be cleaned or laundered, following the directions on the item’s label, using the warmest appropriate water setting. Find more information on CDC’s website on Re-opening Guidance and Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility for developing strategies for dealing with soft and porous materials.
  • Furniture high touch surfaces to consider for increased cleaning:
    • lounge chair and task chair arms
    • chair backs
    • study table surfaces
  • Consider plastic wrapping fabric upholstery for ease of cleaning
  • Affix notices to each chair reminding occupants to avoid or disinfect touchpoints


Phase 1 & 2 – Staff only and staff with distribution out

  • Ensure easy access to handwashing stations as well as adequate supplies of soap and paper towel. If there is no sink immediately accessible near the work area, a plastic jug with a spigot and a catch bucket may be used.
  • When cleaning and disinfecting staff spaces:
    • prioritize cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces
    • choose a product that cleans and disinfects
    • create a cleaning procedure
  • Review procedures with staff and ensure that high touch tools/equipment are not shared between staff (book trucks, work stations, phones, etc.)

Phase 3 & 4 – Staff with limited public and staff with full public

  • Identify optimal locations for additional hygiene stations- is there a need for handwashing stations in the public areas of the library? In staff (circulation) areas? Should there be more hand sanitizer stations featured more prominently? Hand sanitizer / wash stations should be placed at entrance/exit to allow customers to clean hands before and after touching library surfaces, and anywhere in library where contact with frequently touched surfaces may occur
  • Reduce clutter (browsing copies of magazines, flyers, papers, brochures) This will allow for easier cleaning of surfaces and removes high-touch items.
  • Review customer paths through the space to identify high-touch surfaces. This list may include:
    • doorknobs or push buttons to open doors
    • elevator buttons
    • chair arms and table surfaces
    • computer keyboards
    • courtesy phones or pay phones
    • computer keyboards and mice
    • touch screens at search stations
    • touch screens on self-check machines
    • photocopier screens and lids
    • POS keypads
    • faucets, paper towel dispensers, and stall doors in washrooms
  • When cleaning and disinfecting public spaces:
    • prioritize high-touch surfaces
    • choose a product that both cleans and disinfects
    • create a cleaning procedure – consider altering open hours to allow more time for cleaning
  • Outdoor areas should be clean but do not generally require disinfecting

Technology Considerations

Phase 1 & 2 – Staff only and staff with distribution out

  • Automated Material Handling (AMH) machines should be used for checking in/sorting material where possible. AMH machines should be cleaned regularly per vendor guides
  • Audit doors and ensure those with automatic door openers are functioning as they should. Identify opportunities to retrofit with powered doors
  • Ensure other automated devices (soap dispensers, water faucets, toilets, paper towel dispensers) are all functioning as they should. Identify opportunities to replace manual devices for automated ones to reduce contact with surfaces (like automated hand sanitizing dispensers, automated hand drying, automatic doors, etc.)

Phase 3 & 4 – Staff with limited public and staff with full public)

  • Encourage customers to use self-checks or mobile checkouts. Ensure that your self- check machines are configured to minimize touchscreen interactions. Contact your library’s vendor if you need support in this
  • Review point of sale procedures. Enable tap for debit or credit card transactions
  • Discourage use of cash, consider waiving all fines and fees where possible. Consider overriding copier charges to enable free copying and printing

Moving Through the Space

Phase 1 & 2 – Staff Only/ Staff with materials distribution to public

  • Determine how staff will enter and exit the building. Provide sanitizer at each entry and exit, particularly if contactless entry/exit is not possible
  • Reorganize space to ensure that physical distancing of 2m between people can be maintained by staff at:
    • assigned workstations
    • paths of travel to and from workstations
    • paths of travel from collections to curbside pick-up or current method of service delivery
    • paths of travel to lunch rooms and washrooms
    • paths of travel to handwashing stations
  • Identify potential high traffic areas and take steps to reduce congestion in these areas
  • Handwashing stations: Utilize available washrooms to designate hand washing stations and minimize traffic to each station. If staff are working outside, or there are not enough handwashing stations to accommodate staff, create a portable handwashing station. Designate a specific enclosed room to isolate any person who experiences symptoms of an illness while at work

Phase 3 & 4 – Public in the building, limited and full access

  • Staff access should be limited to one point of entry, separate from public entry if possible. Public access should be limited to one point of entry, with designated “in” and “out” doors if possible
  • Set up safe queueing space outside and inside of buildings
  • Consider the use of Contact Tracing Apps, or a social distancing app such as Crowd Solo (free for attractions)
  • Identify high traffic areas based on available services, and ensure that paths of travel allow for a physical distance of 2m in each direction
  • Mark safe queuing distances and directional flow using signage in high traffic areas, stanchions or floor markers. Note: vinyl floor tape is easier to remove and leaves less residue than masking or duct tape.
  • Monitor types of use, and consider scheduling specific areas for type of occupancy throughout the day to reduce large groups gathering in one area (for example set up an overflow Teen Area between 3 pm and 5 pm if you see large numbers at that time)
  • Implement occupancy limits for elevators to ensure safe physical distancing for passengers, ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities. In addition:
    • Prominently display instructional signage regarding healthy elevator use protocols. This may include floor stickers to establish distancing zones while queuing, passenger limits, and safe distances in the carriage
    • Consider elevator attendants to manage flow and discourage over-crowding of elevator carriages
    • Review elevator cleaning processes, and update to ensure on-going cleaning of high touch surfaces such as elevator panels / buttons
  • Escalators and stairs pose fewer challenges which may be managed with signage directing passengers where to stand and not to pass. High touch surfaces as handrails will require increased cleaning.
  • Review emergency evacuation procedures and local requirements, and consider:
    • reasons for evacuation, including if a person exhibiting symptoms is identified;
    • role of fire wardens during an evacuation
    • how to maintain physical distancing during evacuation and at muster points;
    • cleaning procedures before re-opening after an evacuation;

Make use of outdoor space if it is available to you. The risk of coronavirus spread is significantly lower in open air spaces. Exterior spaces should be clean, but do not require disinfecting. Add seating if possible and ensure the WiFi extends into these areas.

Interacting Within the Space

Phase 1 & 2 – Staff Only/Staff with materials distribution to the public

  • Disallow handshaking, hugging, and unnecessary person to person contact
  • Discourage staff from sharing phones, desks, workstations, pens, etc. with each other or the public. If equipment is shared, have staff clean the equipment with alcohol or disinfectant wipes before and after use
  • If possible provide each staff with a designated laptop for work use
  • When possible, encourage employees to avoid staff rooms by taking breaks and lunches outside, in their office (if applicable) or in larger areas
  • Ensure employees wash their hands upon arrival, before eating, after touching a shared item, after using the washroom and before leaving at the end of the day
  • Limit the interactions between staff and outside contractors, delivery people, implementing electronic signature systems and related receiving practices
  • Set operating hours to allow downtime between staff shifts for thorough cleaning
  • Program regular audio messages that regularly remind employees to follow hygiene and social distancing guidelines

Phase 3 & 4 – Public in the building, limited and full access

  • Stacks should be accessed in a single direction and hand sanitizer placed in easily accessible locations. Public should be asked to sterilize hands and asked to place any browsed (touched) item in clearly marked baskets for disinfection/quarantine
  • Reconfigure service desks to allow for fewer staff working close together. Set up more satellite service points or reduce reasons for transactions (i.e. eliminate fines)
  • Modify self-serve areas (hand-outs, headphones, utensils, food) to limit shared handling of items
  • Reduce meeting room capacity or limit public gathering within meeting rooms, where it is more difficult to monitor capacity. For work locations where a staff member will be in regular face-to-face contact, or where computer workstations are facing each other, consider adding a plexiglass barrier
  • Provide sufficient garbage receptacles to allow for customers to dispose of their own garbage safely, including rubber gloves
  • Food and drink can continue to be allowed in libraries, but encourage hand washing prior to food consumption
  • Water fountains/water bottle filling stations are considered safe, although customers should be instructed to let the water run for 10 seconds before filling

Special Consideration for Children’s Areas

Each province and jurisdiction will have guidelines for safe toy cleaning and services for children. The following list outlines some considerations for libraries to follow based on best practices in child care centres and schools when re-opening spaces for children and families.

Phase 3 – Public in the building with limited access

  • Remove and store toys, play materials and loose parts
  • Close or limit access to fixed play structures
  • Collect loose books in the area regularly and follow procedure for quarantining returns
  • Arrange seating and tables to allow for physical distancing and individual family groups
  • Online children’s program delivery only
  • Consider all surfaces in children’s areas to be high-touch and increase cleaning frequency in this area

Phase 4 – Public in the building with full access

  • Follow guidelines in Phase 3, and;
  • Allow access to toys and loose parts, following local guidelines for daycares and schools where possible
  • If toys are used, keep only enough for individual play, and remove for cleaning after each use
  • Sensory tables and materials like Play-Doh, sand and water are not recommended