COVID-19 and the Global Library Field
Last update: 4 August 2020
Key Resources for Libraries in responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic
The information and resources below are provided on a non-exhaustive basis but will be updated regularly. It is based on publicly available information, and that submitted to email@example.com. We welcome additional ideas, references, suggestions and corrections to this address. Please see also our FAQs specifically concerning IFLA.
- Understanding COVID-19 and its spread
- Library closures around the world
- Managing different approaches to restrictions
- Staying safe at home and work
- Providing services remotely
- Available resources
- Managing remote working
- Reassigning library resources
- Reopening libraries
- Actions by Associations, National Libraries and Library Partners
- Communicating with users in different languages
- Ongoing issues
- IFLA's activities
Understanding COVID-19 and its spread
Resources about the disease
Coronavirus refers to a family of viruses. COVID-19 – or Coronavirus Disease – is the infectious disease caused by a newly discovered type of coronavirus.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) has set out, most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.
Common symptoms include fever, tiredness and a dry cough. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, aches and pains, sore throat, and very few people will report diarrhoea, nausea or a runny nose.
The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is be well informed about the COVID-19 virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads. The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
To find out more about the virus, see the WHO’s research pages, or the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on the virus prepared by the WHO. You may also wish to sign up to the WHO’s WhatsApp alert in order to receive trustworthy information directly to your phone.
Resources about latest cases
National authorities around the world are working to gather information about numbers of tests, infections and consequences. You should turn first to your national authorities for this information, as they should have the most recent data.
The Centre for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University is also maintaining a global map live, including figures on numbers of recovered patients. This is being used regularly in media reporting.
Library closures around the world
Libraries around the world are facing hard choices around which services to offer and how, ranging from minimal restrictions to full closure. We are aware that governments themselves are taking different approaches, sometimes ordering the closure of all institutions, others indicating that life should continue as usual, and others simply leaving decisions up to library directors.
Clearly any decision to restrict services or close a library is a difficult one and needs to be taken following an assessment of the relative risks.
We are currently aware of entire public library systems being closed in the following countries and territories: Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Bosnia, Brazil, the Cayman Islands, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ghana, Kenya, Mexico, Myanmar, Nepal, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States Virgin Islands.
In the meanwhile, libraries in the Aland Islands, Algeria, American Samoa, Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Bermuda, Bhutan, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, the Faroe Islands, Finland, France, French Polynesia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Greenland, Guadeloupe, Guernsey, Hong Kong (China), Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Italy, Japan, Jamaica, Jersey, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao (China), Malaysia, Malta, Martinique, Moldovia, Morocco, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Réunion, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Samoa, Seychelles, Singapore, Sint Maarten, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, St Lucia, St Martin, Svalbard, Switzerland, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, the United Kingdom and Viet Nam are beginning to re-open with precautions in place to protect health. Sweden, meanwhile, saw over 90% of municipalities keep libraries open, and 85% of municipalities even offer extended services.
Meanwhile, school libraries in 106 countries will have been affected by the closure of all educational institutions, while in others, at least some schools have been closed, according to figures from UNESCO. In many of these, university libraries are also closed.
National libraries too have closed to the public in Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, the Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, India, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Malawi, the Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Myanmar, Nepal, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Ukraine (Vernadsky), the United States of America, and Uruguay.
National libraries in Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bermuda, Bhutan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cabo Verde, the Cayman Islands, China, the Cook Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, the Faroe Islands, Fiji, Finland, France, French Polynesia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Greenland, the Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, St Lucia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine (Yaroslav the Wise), the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Viet Nam have now re-opened on a limited basis. Some have re-opened and subsequently closed, in response to wider developments, such as was the case with Albania.
We welcome updates to this information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Managing different approaches to restrictions
Libraries in different parts of the world are facing very different situations, from broadly maintaining a full service to complete closure.
Drawing on experience around the world, libraries and librarians are finding themselves in one of a number of situations:
Business (more or less) as usual: in some countries, cases of the virus have been limited and governments have not taken any specific measures. Nonetheless, normal recommendations around good hygiene apply. In this situation, libraries are, for example:
- Ensuring access to soap and warm water
- Ensuring they have a supply of hand sanitiser
- Keeping surfaces clean, including toys and library computers
- Ensuring that staff and users are encouraged to take time to recover if they are feeling ill, rather than coming in to work
- Providing pages with useful links to reliable information for users on their websites and promoting media literacy faced with potential misinformation online.
Some restrictions: there are more cases, and governments are beginning to act in order to limit larger events, as well as actively encouraging people to take extra measures to protect hygiene. In this situation, libraries are, for example:
- Reconsidering programming such as storytimes or workshops, especially for groups at risk such as older users. Additional efforts to ensure hygiene, including through disinfecting hard surfaces. Removing riskier items such as toys or virtual reality headsets from circulation.
- Considering whether to close study spaces where people may spend a longer time in the company of others.
- Preparing for potential further restrictions, for example by ensuring that all staff have the skills and tools to work remotely (if this is possible) and that services, as far as possible, can still be provided digitally.
Minimal service: in many countries there are stricter measures still, with tougher limits on public gatherings, specific warnings for people at risk, and closures in the most affected regions. In these situations, libraries are, for example:
- Fully closing spaces and only offering the possibility to borrow or return books at a counter, or via a book drop. Some countries are experimenting with drive-through pick-up and return of books. Others are only allowing visitors who have pre-booked.
- Implementing quarantine policies on returned books (see below for further details).
- Implementing plans to offer remote services for example eLending, eLearning, or support to remote teaching
- Finalising and testing measures for all staff to work remotely and allowing those who can to do so already.
Full closure: where measures are strictest, libraries have either been forced to close, or have chosen to do so following consideration of the risks to users and staff. In these situations, libraries are, for example:
- Ensuring that all staff working from home unless completely necessary. Where staff are coming into work, ensuring that they can do so while respecting rules around social distancing
- Librarians are being reassigned to other duties in other departments within their municipalities, for example using information management skills to support health and social services
- Providing ongoing communication with users about opportunities to use library resources or services
- Organising digital story-times where copyright permits
- Promoting use of digital libraries and other tools - including potentially investing in more content/licences
- Offering an amnesty on borrowed physical books, and increasing the number of eBooks users can borrow
- Making library spaces and equipment available for other activities, such as printing personal protective equipment.
- Raising awareness of digital offers, both on the front pages of their websites, and through putting up posters in the windows of library buildings.
Preparing for re-opening: in a number of countries, there are already steps towards lifting restrictions, at least partially, with libraries potentially part of this. Timings remains uncertain, and clearly safety should be a priority. In this situation, libraries are:
- Starting to make plans for gradual reopening when rules, permissions and library buildings and resources themselves permit this to happen safely, and making necessary changes to library policies. Carrying out a risk assessment, focused both on library activities and the wider situation, can be a key part of this.
- Setting limits on numbers of people using the library at any one time, and establishing how to enforce these (for example through advanced booking, ticketing, or using other means of counting numbers of users), as well as preventing situations where people may gather closely together, for example using one-way systems, limiting furniture, keeping reading rooms closed, or continuing to postpone programming, and keeping toilets closed
- Implementing regular cleaning processes (including through short closures of the library), especially focused on surfaces where the virus appears to be able to last for longest (plastics, metals other than copper), or at least intensifying clearning
- Developing click-and-collect or drive-through services in order to allow access to books without human contact
- Developing protocols for how to respond if someone with symptoms is identified in the library
- Ensuring that staff have the equipment and training necessary to stay safe, including consideration of screens if necessary, limiting contact as far as possible and enabling work from home for as long as possible, and provide regular updates
- Making clear when it is impossible to open safely, and otherwise ensuring that those taking decisions understand the nature of library spaces, including through a gradual approach to resuming services only when each one is safe
- Continuing to promote online services and resources in order to limit numbers looking to visit the library
- Communicate clearly about all any new rules to library users, both online and onsite, and provide regular updates
- Ensuring that plans are in place for a potential return to lock-down in case of new peaks in infection rates
Please see the section on re-opening libraries below for more information on this topic.
Staying safe at home and at work
In the light of the above, the WHO recommends in general that people should practice respiratory etiquette (for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow, or a tissue that they immediately throw away). People should also wash their hands or use an alcohol-based rub frequently, and not touch their faces, as well as maintaining distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Known COVID-19 hotspots should be avoided, especially if you, or those you live with, are older or otherwise vulnerable (for example, you or they have diabetes, heart or lung disease).
People with mild symptoms who are otherwise healthy should self-isolate and contact their medical provider or a COVID-19 information line for advice on testing and referral. People with fever, cough or difficulty breathing should call their doctor and seek medical attention.
There are many more resources available on the WHO website. Furthermore, in precedence to the information given below, we encourage libraries to seek advice from your national public health agency, and of course to follow the guidance that already exists. Where libraries form part of wider institutions – such as universities or schools – it is desirable that they are involved in planning and management of crisis response, as has for example been the case at the Duque do Caixas campus of the Federal Library of Rio de Janeiro.
A key question for many in the library field has been around the risk of infection through contact with materials carrying coronavirus. Clearly our understanding of any aspect of how the virus is spread is still at a relatively early stage, and so it is not possible to offer definitive advice, other than the universal recommendations on keeping hands clean and not touching faces.
There is nonetheless emerging research (in the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Journal of Hospital Infection) into the survival of the virus, both in the air and on different types of surface. It appears that it survives for longer on plastics and steel, and for less long on cardboard or copper, although these tests took place in laboratory conditions and infection risk does fall over time.
A webinar organised by the Institute of Museum and Library Services in the United States echoed this, suggesting that the risk from paper was low, with hard, regularly touched services posing more of a risk. The Dutch government has also suggested that the chance of catching the virus from paper surfaces, such as mail, is low, as has the Austrian Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and the guidance provided to Norwegian libraries, which notes that there has been no evidence of contagion through surfaces yet, a point also echoed by the main advisor to Swedish libraries on the subject.
Outside of the library field – for example in postal services – ordinary precautions appear to apply when handling paper or cardboard. What does seem more likely is that other surfaces – such as door handles, keyboards, mice, CDs and DVDs, toys or VR headsets – could carry the virus, and so should be regularly cleaned or removed from circulation.
Nonetheless, where there is a chance that a book or other piece of equipment has been in close contact with someone ill, it may be appropriate to wait or use safe cleaning practices. The general recommendation remains to take care – a point also echoed by the French government.
In order to provide as best as possible a response to the uncertainty that still exists, the Institute of Museum and Library Services in the United States has set up REALM (Re-opening Archives, Libraries and Museums), a partnership with OCLC and the Battelle Institute to explore further how to ensure safe handling, to which IFLA is contributing. This will look to assess the risks around particular materials and services, with a view to helping libraries make choices as they decide how to re-open and resume services.
The project has now published a first key output – a review of the available literature. This looks across research papers, both those which have and have not been subject to peer review yet, and coming from a variety of fields. It looks at evidence on transmission through the air and through proximity to those with the virus, on the virus’ survival on different surfaces, and at the effectiveness of different approaches to cleaning. While this material will be helpful for those developing strategies, the authors are clear that research is still at an early stage, and evidence is coming from a wide range of different contexts.
The REALM project has also published the plan for testing the survival of the virus on different materials and surfaces, as well as a systematic review of the available literature. The first results from laboratory tests have also been released, underlining that after three days of quarantine, virus could not be detected on previously contaminated hardback and softback books, or on papers inside books, plastic covers and DVD covers. The second set of results focus on a new range set of materials is already being tested, including braille, glossy and magazine pages, children’s board books and archival folders, and a third looking at plastics used for audiobooks, video or music, talking book or USB cassettes, acrylic display cases or partitions, plastic storage bags and plastic storage boxes. The materials to be tested in a fourth round – this time stacked together – has also been announced, and will cover DVD and CD cases, hardcover books, softcover books, plastic-coated books, and expanded polyethylene foam. You can sign up for updates from the project via its newsletter.
In the light of this, we are aware that some libraries have imposed a wait period (quarantine) before handling returned books, while others have made it clear that no-one is expected to return books until things return to normal. For example, Public Health England has suggested that the risk posed by cardboard can be considered negligible after 24 hours, and plastic after 72 hours, a position also adopted by the Austrian Library Association. Not all libraries are imposing quarantines however, with Danish libraries for example not doing so, on the basis that the risk of infection in society as a whole, coupled with the relatively low risk from books, means that this is not worth it.
Meanwhile, Libraries Ireland has produced guidelines suggesting a 72h wait, at least in the case of materials which have been returned or handled since the start of lock-down, and proposes procedures for deliveries. The Australian Library and Information Association – based on government advice – has suggested that 24 hours is enough, an approach also adopted by the Library at the Duque do Caixas campus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and libraries in Egypt, who are using sunlight to facilitate disinfection. The Czech government has suggested 48 hours should be enough, while Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Russian State Library of Foreign Literature are opting for 72h, Slovakia for five days, Argentina for two weeks, and France and the Kaslik Holy Spirit University in Lebanon for 10 days in the case of plastic-coated materials (72h for paper). Some, such as the Italian Ministry of Culture, Andalusian Library Association, the libraries of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the Slovenian public health agency are suggesting longer still, although in the case of the Italian guidance, this has been questioned by the Italian Library Association. A number of countries also note that spaces for consulting works should be easily cleaned.
Some of this guidance is now being relaxed, on the basis both of emerging evidence and in the light of reduced rates of prevalence of the virus. For example, quarantining is no longer mandatory in Flanders, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia, while in France, times have been reduced.
For materials with plastic covers, such as DVDs, cleaning with alcohol wipes has been suggested by the Australian Library and Information Association and others, allowing these to go back into circulation immediately. There are differing approaches to the merits of cleaning books, with the Austrian guidance suggesting that heat treatment will work, while others suggest that there may be risk to materials, and so quarantine is safer.
The German library association has echoed this advice, while the Austrian has noted that readers should not moisten their fingers before turning pages, and suggests using a slightly alkaline cleaner for book covers. Czech libraries are ensuring that staff are wearing gloves and masks when handling recently returned books, amongst other advice, while the Italian Library Association, in addition to the above, has suggested that users could be asked to indicate if materials being returned have been in contact with someone with the virus. The Dutch National Library has instructed readers not to use hand-sanitiser, but rather to wash hands with soap and water before handling works, in order not to cause damage.
Meanwhile, the libraries of National Autonomous University of Mexico underline that books should not be kept in plastic bags. They have also set out a detailed protocol on how to manage returned or other incoming books to the library through a system of colour-coded zones associated with different activities.
Where users are working with course materials, the Dutch libraries authorities have recommended reducing risk and logistical issues by encouraging users to take these home (and to come with their own paper and pens), rather than leaving them at the library.
As for computer equipment – generally accepted to carry a higher risk – much guidance focuses on looking to disinfect this. In many situations, access to computers is seen as essential, and exceptions have been made to library closures in order to allow this, while implementing tough rules designed to limit risk, such as in central parts of London, United Kingdom.
The Dutch library authorities has suggested, where this is possible, that mice and keyboards should be detached after use and returned to a central point in order to facilitate this process. Others, such as in Helsingborg, Sweden and Topeka, Kansas, plan to ensure presence of library staff to disinfect computers after use. The Danish guidance continues to warn against allowing public use of computers, given potential complexities in cleaning.
A number of sets of guidance suggest offering clear ways of returning potentially contaminated books, through book drops, dedicated returns desks, or even baskets around the library for returning material for consultation only. In Geneva, some school libraries are leaving baskets in each classroom for returns. The Polish guidance suggests that returns should be made onto surfaces that can be easily cleaned, or sheets of paper which can be disposed of, while the Croatian National and University Library has set up baskets at one entrance where books can be left, while the Japanese Library Association suggests using tables for this.
When handling newly returned materials, the Australian Library and Information Association (see link in the re-opening libraries section) recommends using gloves when handling newly returned books, and then throwing the gloves away immediately afterwards. Others have suggested though that gloves can also damage materials in some cases, and that regular hand-washing may also work. The French government guidance, for example, does not suggest gloves, but rather cotton overalls which can then be taken off and washed. The Croatian National and University Library (see links below) notes that legal deposit copies should also be treated with care, with the packaging in which they arrived removed carefully and thrown away in special bins.
Once gathered, clearly, the need to store books may cause logistical problems, especially for smaller institutions. French guidance suggests that if a dedicated room cannot be found, specific parts of the library should be used (and kept inaccessible from the public), or even external storage used. Furthermore, they suggest, there should be efforts to limit the number of staff working with such materials, and to provide them with adequate protective equipment. Noting the potential logistical issues that this may entail, some American guidance has noted the potential to use portable storage solutions.
As for efforts to disinfect works, the National Library of China too is currently using isolation and static sterilisation of works, although plans to set up a centralised book return centre and disinfection centre using ultraviolet and ozone disinfection equipment. The Hungarian National Library – through its Library Institute – has also explored the issues, noting that care needs to be taken to ensure that disinfection measures do not end up causing harm, for example, alcoholic gels (see this Library of Congress study), ozone or ultraviolet light in the case of some materials or cleaning fluids, a point also underlined by the Northeast Document Conservation Centre. In such cases, the Institute, like the U.S. Library of Congress, advises that time itself is a good disinfectant.
The National Centre for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) in the US has produced videos, in English, Spanish and Portuguese. There are many other useful resources on the NCPTT site on the subject of how to treat historical materials.
Meanwhile, waste that may be contaminated may be usefully kept separate for a number of days, as the Estonian guidance suggests, in order to limit risks to others.
The Slovenian Public Health Institute (see translation in our section on re-opening libraries below) has also suggested that readers receiving works at home should also look to respect quarantining, waiting a number of days before opening packages, and then, if materials are not made of paper or card, either cleaning them or waiting further. The Czech guidance (see below) also suggests that readers should be made aware of risk, with those wanting to able to leave a book for a few days before using it. In this case, the guidance suggests that borrowing periods can be extended.
Meanwhile, for staff, basic hygiene measures, such as washing hands thoroughly with soap and water, avoiding touching the face, with a number of countries also recommending masks and gloves, at least where these do not harm materials.
Social Distancing and Delivery Services
Given that close physical contact appears to be the primary means of catching the virus, a core response has been ‘social distancing’ – keeping a safe distance between individuals in order to reduce the risks of the virus passing from one person to another. Coughing, sneezing, and even talking tends to mean that potentially contagious droplets are emitted into the air.
The recommended distance varies from country to country but appears not to be below 1m (3-4ft), and is often more. This may not always be possible. In the United States for example, we have seen libraries proactively ask authorities for closures where they feel that the risk to users and staff is too high.
See our section on reopening libraries below for more on the topic of enforcing social distancing within libraries.
For those libraries which are not yet open, many have maintained a focus on how to provide book deliveries to vulnerable groups and others, while taking full account of the need to safeguard health. We are likely to see such measures continue to be important as libraries re-open. Indeed, in Wuhan, China, library workers prepared library corners for patients. In the case of vulnerable users, as the Czech guidance underlines, utmost care needs to be taken to minimise risk.
For example, Radford College School library in Australia has a click-and-collect service for books, while Lane Cove (also in Australia), Godoy Cruz library in Argentina, The Hague in the Netherlands, and various Portuguese public libraries are doing deliveries, and on Svalbard, the library is working with taxi companies to give access to books, as is Veria Central Public Library in Greece. Around half of Swedish municipalities offer some sort of delivery or pick-up service, and in Denmark, Roskilde library has been proactively contacting previous recipients of home deliveries both to check in, and ask if they want to make reservations, now that this is possible again. The Central Library of Osaka Prefecture in Japan offers deliveries by post. Meanwhile, the State government of Western Australia has provided guidance on safe home deliveries. In Ethiopia, according to one news story, libraries are being placed on camels to ensure children in lock-down receive access. See also resources from library associations below for more.
Nonetheless, some have expressed concerns about risks associated with deliveries, or simply closed book-drops. Clearly, in any situation, it is important not to risk the health of staff, volunteers or users. There is specific guidance on deliveries, for example, in the materials prepared by Libraries Connected in the UK.
Providing services remotely
Libraries around the world of all sorts have been working hard to provide access to collections and services remotely, often investing time and effort in updating websites and computer systems in order to deal with demand. While many libraries already had a strong digital presence, many others have now moved to create one in order to continue serving members, such as the library at Al Iraqi University in Iraq. As highlighted in a survey by the Conference of Directors of National Libraries, ¾ of national libraries, for example, introduced new digital services.
All types of library have promoted their digital services – for example, the Bibliothèque nationale de France is organising virtual exhibitions, and the National Library of Spain is promoting its digital content that can be used to support education, the National Library of Morocco is providing free eBooks, and the Public Library in Aarhus, Denmark, has put its digital content at the front of its website, while the Granby library in Quebec, Canada is highlighting content focused on learning new skills. The National Library and Information Service of Trinidad and Tobago’s Heritage Library Division has even used the circumstances of the pandemic to accelerate its shift to providing a digital offer.
Building on its SimplyE app, New York Public Library is running online book clubs, as is the Library of Alexandria, Egypt. Across Malaysia, in preparation for World Book and Copyright Day on 23 April, a #LetsReadTogether campaign encouraged people across the country to read more online. Libraries in Johannesburg, South Africa, have reinforced their activities on social media, including new regular ‘ask a librarian’ sessions, for example in this revised planned schedule.
Kibera and Nakuru public libraries in Kenya - partners of EIFL's Public Library Innovation Programme - are promoting local language content around COVID-19 through social networks, as well as sharing book recommendations, while the Ghana Library Authority (another EIFL-PLIP partner) is also promoting access to its digital content alongside key health information. Kota public library in India too has increased its online services, promoting bibliotherapy as a means of helping users through the crisis, and receiving useful coverage in the local press.
School libraries in the United States are also working hard to provide materials in a format that allows parents to support their children’s education at home. The Portuguese Network of School Libraries has produced a guide and a platform for school libraries, highlighting ways in which they can continue to fulfil their missions and suggesting tools and materials, even during the period of lockdown. In Uruguay too, school libraries have launched an online platform to continue to support reading among adolescents, while in Brazil, the library at the Marista Social School Santa Monica is working closely with teachers and through Microsoft Teams to engage with pupils to support learning, despite collections being unavailable. READ Bhutan has developed materials to support parents and children, working closely with schools and even broadcasting content. They have also been working to create alternative learning spaces if schools cannot re-open as planned.
The Education division of the National Library and Information Service of Trinidad and Tobago created packs of digital resources for primary and secondary school courses, and has also brought its library and information literacy instruction online, as has East West University, Bangladesh. It is continuing to work to find new ways of delivering teaching effectively. Similarly, the National Library of Jamaica has established a programme to help students continue to study and pass their exams.
Meanwhile in Iraq, the Al-Abbas Holy Shrine library is providing a remote lending service for researchers giving access to electronic resources. Meanwhile, health libraries are seeing major interest in the information they can make available, as is the case for the library of the Health Agency in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
Many public and school libraries are promoting online storytimes, where they can find a solution to copyright concerns. In Portugal, for example, there is a focused YouTube channel – also the case for Sao Paolo, Brazil, and in the Maria Stagnero de Munar library in Uruguay - while the UK Library Association CILIP has launched its National Shelf Service. Redwood City in the U.S. and Monash in Australia are providing storytimes for speakers of minority languages also, for example, while a librarian from the National Library of Pozega in Serbia is doing online storytimes that have hit the national news, while the Central Library of Osaka Prefecture, Japan is working with the institute for children’s literature based in the same building (which itself works with publishers) to do the same. Similar efforts in Greece have also allowed libraries to stay in touch with their users, and even to run art projects. The Library of the National Autonomous Library of Mexico has organised a virtual party of readings for World Children’s Day (here and here).
There have also been major efforts to boost access to eBooks, for example by increasing the number of eBooks that people can borrow at any given time (in Denmark), creating a new app with freely available content (in the Netherlands), and by reassigning budgets to pay for electronic content.
Clearly not all users are already familiar with digital tools. Libraries in Huesca, Spain, have responded by developing new training materials for users to help them make the most of these possibilities. Similarly, the Central Library at the University of Baghdad has launched training to help students make best use of digital tools available to them.
Other core services, such as help for people needing to apply for benefits, or look for jobs, are likely to become more and more important. Libraries in Miami-Dade in the United States are already providing printed forms for people needing to apply for unemployment assistance, while those in Hilsborough Country (also in the U.S.) are offering the same – and the possibility to deliver these – as a drive-through service. Livadia public library in Greece has made its job-search support service available online for free to help users continue to benefit despite lock-down restrictions.
Traditional efforts by libraries to produce collections of books and materials on topical issues have continued, with a strong focus on dealing with stress and worry, and promoting positive mental health, not least the National Library of Medicine in the United States. In Helsingborg, Sweden, the library has even brought in public health experts to offer talks for users, while the Chinese library field has placed a strong focus on spreading wellbeing and helping people respond to pressures, not least in Hubei Province.
Others are putting existing activities online and inventing new ones. The Library of Congress for example is organising a virtual transcribathon in order to engage people at distance, while the National Library of Norway us encouraging users to access its podcasts while in-person events are not possible. The Dutch National Library has teamed up with a writers’ organisation to provide an ‘author on your screen’ service, while librarians in the United States have been able to use GoogleForms to create themed virtual escape rooms, many of which have been taken up and used by teachers to support education. A range of library crowd-sourcing initiatives is available via Library Journal.
Vega la Camocha public library in Spain has set up a book-themed Gymkhana in order to keep children involved in reading and to help out parents with keeping them entertained, Arlington Public Library in the U.S. is working with local children and artists to produce ‘quaranzines’, and a librarian in Peters Township, Pennsylvania, set up a Harry Potter-themed digital escape room. School libraries in Malaysia have been at the heart of delivery of e-NILAM, a programme for encouraging reading while schools are closed.
Aarhus Public Library has a music quiz, writing competition, alongside online poetry slams, online homework help and public debates. Turku Public Library in Finland simply created morning coffee times for users online, while the central library of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany has produced a booklet (kindly translated into English) to help people find acivities that connect them better to nature, in the context of wider work on sustainability and storytelling.
There are similar efforts in Egyptian and Portuguese libraries, while Orkney Libraries in Scotland have launched a Lego Challenge, and TS State Central Library Chandigarh, India, has been running not only a series of competitions for users, but also is sharing book reviews and other information through social media. Meanwhile, libraries in Salt Lake City are working with guidance on broader community engagement during lockdown, and the library at the University of Tartu, Estonia, has promoted poetry therapy as a means of enhancing users’ wellbeing.
Some public libraries have also worked to develop new possibilities to be in contact with librarians remotely. Danish libraries have set up an online Ask-a-Librarian reference service - and Aarhus has a service just for children. In Sweden, Helsingborg libraries have established a chat function on their website for the first time, as have many libraries in Malaysia. Johannesburg public libraries in South Africa are running video competitions to encourage young users to share digital skills with parents and grandparents, as well as to develop their own digital literacy abilities, and sharing the results on their Facebook page.
Similarly in academic libraries, there are efforts to provide remote access, for example through an online article request service at the East West University in Bangladesh, digital contacts at the Agricultural University Library of Colombia and the Veracruz University in Mexico, or through call-in hours at Rhodes University, South Africa. The library of the University of Malaya is developing tools to facilitate online discovery and evidence retrieval about the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing a poster to explain its work, and has set up a COVID-19 Evidence Retrieval Service to support doctors around the country answer questions. Meanwhile Abgu Papazian University library in Armenia has set up opportunities to contact librarians remotely, as has the Central Library of the Al Ameed University in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Nahrain University Library in Iraq has expanded subscriptions to the national virtual library to ensure students can access this, alongside published theses and Diyala University and Imam Al-Kadhum College Central Library, Iraq, like others, are making use of email to provide access to resources and respond to questions from students as well as through a messaging service. Rabindra Sadhan Girls' College, Assam, India, is doing the same, but through WhatsApp groups, given that these can work better on phones. Finally, Al-rawdha-Al-haydari Library in Iraq has been making more use of its website in order to promote electronic resources, as has Diyala University, Iraq, building new interfaces for access to materials.
The Anatolian University Libraries Consortium (ANKOS) has intensified resource sharing between its members through a single portal, in order to accelerate access to research, and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia has produced a series of tutorials on how best to use library materials. The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro is doing the same, as well as providing consultation via WhatsaApp and videoconferencing. Academic libraries around the world – for example at East West University in Bangladesh again – have also been bringing together information about freely available resources, as has a librarian at the Government Degree College in Jammu and Kashmir, India. The Central Library of the Al Ameed University in Iraq has looked to support reflection on COVID-19, and the role of technology, through a seminar on the subject (now up on YouTube), while the library of the University of Mustansiriyah, Iraq, is maintaining a count of the use of its electronic thesis deposit service and webinars joined by library staff.
Some libraries are also looking to help out potential users who are not yet registered, and who cannot now sign up in person. The National Library of Estonia for example has established means for giving people access to books without contact, as has the Turkish Ministry of Culture in the case of public libraries, while the National Library of Morocco is also maintaining online inscriptions. Austrian and Croatian libraries have expanded access to eLending to the whole population, while Iranian libraries have agreed to recognise each other’s library cards in order to allow people to use the closest library to them. The Cultuurconnect organisation in Belgium, which works with libraries, has also opened up its content to unregistered users, as has Booklist in the United States, which works to provide book reviews and other materials.
In many countries, libraries’ offer of free WiFi to users is a key part of their offer. In the United States, there has been a call on libraries to leave networks on so that users can access the internet from their cars if needs be. Others are offering access to Zoom subscriptions in order to help library users stay in touch with friends.
The role of libraries as guardians of the historical record is as strong as ever. A post from Ithaka S+R highlights various initiatives to collect and preserve materials about the pandemic, while the International Internet Preservation Consortium is looking to coordinate efforts. Meanwhile, Columbia University has launched an archiving programme, as has the National Library of Spain, while Kingport Library in Tennessee, and Springfield County Libraries in Illinois, in the United States and the State Library of Victoria in Australia have asked members of the community to share their COVID-19 stories, and libraries in Huesca, Spain, for example, are encouraging children to write stories about their experiences, which at the same time helps them cope with the pressure they are feeling. The Association of Librarians and Archivists of Cameroon is working with the Bamenda University and the Ministry of Culture to coordinate archiving efforts in the country in order to preserve the lessons of the present.
Finally, the work of libraries to support research of course continues, with the Information Science department at the University of Kuwait for example helping to lead research into the way in which information spreads on social media concerning COVID-19.
With so many services on offer, libraries in a number of countries have been able to work with newspapers, radio stations and other communications channels in order to raise awareness.
Some activities and services may be impossible, for example with staff unable to come to work to carry out preservation activities. In response, the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material has prepared a guide, as has the French Association of Heritage Libraries.
Many libraries are seeing a major increase in interest in digital resources (for example in the United Kingdom), leadng in some cases already to the re-prioritisation of resources from physical to digital materials. In Denmark for example, lending limits have been increased to allow users to access more eBooks at the same time. In France, a government survey has underlined that increased demand for books is also likely to lead to reallocation of budgets, but that challenges remain around digital locks and publisher limits on numbers of simultaneous borrowers. Meanwhile, Norwegian libraries are working together to save time and complexity by pooling resources and information on a single site, as are those in the Czech Republic.
Clearly the possibility to use resources online depends a lot on the terms under which they are accessed. Fortunately, a lot of publishers and vendors have taken helpful initiatives. In the academic field, many have provided open access to materials related to COVID-19. Others have facilitated access by making it easier to log-in and access materials from outside of official networks.
There have also been welcome steps from major trade publishers such as Macmillan and Penguin Random House to make it easier for public libraries to buy and access eBooks for lending, and Audible is providing access to hundreds of audiobooks. Nonetheless, open access to academic materials, especially directly concerning COVID-19, is not always as universal is as claimed. See our section on library partners below for more. Specifically in the library field, in addition to the examples given in the section on associations below, ENSSIB in France has offered open access to its resources.
Sometimes, libraries themselves have been able to provide much wider access, as has been the case with the National Library and Archives of Iran, which not only put the national children’s library of 28 000 titles online for free, but also to open up its own Digital Library, which previously had only offered bibliographic data. They have seen a sevenfold increase in registered users, and more than doubled time for online consultations with researchers. The National Library of Albania also has focused strongly on building its offer of online materials, while the Central Library of Al Qadisiyah library in Iraq has made a range of materials in Arabic and English available online for free for the benefit of students.
Other information providers, such as the Internet Archive, have also made large volumes of materials available with fewer limits to support learners, researchers and others to access information in difficult times, although following a legal challenge from a number of publishers, will take down this possibility early. The Hathi Trust is also allowing libraries to lend out digitised copies of books that they own in hard copy, although this is not possible globally due to copyright laws.
Beyond this, there are many great freely available resources available with educational materials – notably Open Education Resources (OER) Commons, which provides access to materials curated by a team of librarians. UNESCO’s Education Division is also providing links to valuable educational resources, and its Archives have a collection of sound recordings from the past. Wikimedia has set up a project on COVID-19 to manage information on the subject (see the webinar), while the National Library of India, meanwhile, has developed search engines for OERs for researchers and children and young adults.
In particular, there are resources for teaching media and information literacy online – this is both a traditional area of strength for libraries, and a skill that is particularly necessary in the current circumstances. One example is the MOOC hosted on the Commonwealth of Learning platform. Many university libraries are also increasing their offer of training on information literacy in order to help students having to carry out their research online. Libraries in Hawai’i, as well as in Loveland, Colorado and elsewhere in the U.S are also offering online courses in information literacy around the pandemic.
The Library and Information Research Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, meanwhile, is holding a series of webinars on misinformation, information overload, open access and COVID 19 (see here and here), and is building a list of open access resources on the matter, and East West University, Bangladesh, has participated in events on the subject. Libraries in Malaysia are similarly active, both raising awareness of the role of libraries in combatting fake news, and in carrying out studies on information seeking behaviour.
Nonetheless, it is important that all rightsholders take steps to ensure that access to information for research, education and culture can continue as best possible. For example, in Brazil, the approach taken by rightsholders, combined with a lack of appropriate copyright laws means that libraries are not able to offer platforms of digital books, other than those in the public domain. In India, there have been calls for more focus to be placed on accessibility. A survey carried out by the Conference of Directors of National Libraries underlined that half had encountered problems in providing digital access due to copyright, as well as questions such as connectivity and digital skills among staff. Furthermore, there are many publishers who are refusing to provide electronic access to their works, and some charging prices far higher than for physical works. Libraries such as the one at the University of Guelph in Canada are working to highlight these issues.
A number of associations and groups, including the International Coalition of Library Consortia, LIBER, and the Association of University Library Directors in France have called on publishers to facilitate access to works, while Italian librarians have established a petition requesting stronger efforts to provide access, Spanish ones have underlined the need to move faster towards Open Access, and JISC in the United Kingdom has set out some basic practices it hopes all publishers and vendors will adopt. IFLA itself has led efforts to encourage the World Intellectual Property Office to underline how balanced intellectual property laws can help favour access.
Library associations and other groups are working to secure better access. The Australian Library and Information Association, Libraries Ireland, the Finnish Consortium of Public Libraries and the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Te Aotearoa have negotiated agreements with national publishers and authors to ensure that public libraries can take story-times online without worrying about infringing copyright. Following prompts from libraries, Canadian publishers have also waived licensing fees.
Elsewhere, In the United States, Canada (both for broader fair dealing and online storytimes), Australia, and the United Kingdom, there is now helpful guidance on what may or may not be possible under copyright law. In Hungary, there has been a useful change to copyright law to allow for digital access.
Finally, and faced with the need to invest in new content and services in order to support users, the American Library Association has successfully argued for libraries to be included in the economic stimulus package announced by the government there. In addition, some library funders such as IMLS in the United States are offering grantees extra flexibility where it has been impossible to continue with previous projects because of COVID-19. In both Barcelona and Quebec we have seen library acquisition budgets increased as a means both of supporting local bookshops and building library collections.
Managing remote working
With libraries and library associations closing offices – where they have them – many in the library field are facing challenges around how to manage remote working effectively.
Clearly the best situation is where it has been possible to plan in advance, ensuring that all staff have the tools and training necessary to work effectively and safely from home, and that you can stay in touch easily. With many in the same situation, there are lots of materials available on the internet already, with a strong focus on regular contacts and maintaining good spirits and motivation. Yet with it unclear how long restrictions will last, it is always worth having plans in place for how to cope with longer-term impacts. Strong contact between libraries within a network can also help, as can contact with external suppliers, especially in view of potential re-opening, as has been the case in Hong Kong. Similarly in Malaysia, the pandemic has seen the rise of Facebook groups and virtual forums as spaces for people to share and learn.
Some associations are supporting efforts to share ideas on how to do this most effectively, for example in the United States – see in particular the webinar on the topic – or in Latin America or Karnataka State in India, alongside reflections about how best to serve users in general. There are also helpful ideas from Blue Shield Australia about how to continue with conservation activities during lockdown, while the Al Abbas Holy Shrine library in Iraq has provided videos (here and here) to help staff understand how best to work from home, while the Al Iraqi University library has encouraged staff to participate in learning and other online events.
Library associations too are looking at how they can continue their work to support members. The Latvian Library Association has placed its conference online and is running a series of virtual events and a social media campaign. The Library and Information Association of New Zealand – Te Aotearoa has set up virtual drop-in sessions for librarians for librarians, as has the Australian Library and Information Association. The Library of Alexandria, Egypt, has set up a series of videos where information professional share their experiences, while the Association of Librarians and Archivists of Cameroon has used WhatsApp groups to share perspectives and define priorities for the future.
ENSSIB in France is running a series of webinars on different aspects of the impact of the crisis on libraries (with translated summaries now available in English), as is the Al Ameed Scientific and Technical Association in Iraq. The Central Library of the University of Baghdad, Iraq, has launched a new educational publication – Echo of Knowledge – with the first edition focused on COVID-19, while the Al-Jawadain Public Library Foundation of Sayed Hibat El-Din Al-Husaini Al-Shahristani has also held a webinar on the subject of preventing and responding to the pandemic and what comes next.
Public Libraries 2030 in Europe is working with the University of South Carolina LIS school to share training materials also, as is the Indian Federation of Health Science Library Associations (working with the Karnataka Library Association) in training its own members. The Danish Library Association is running courses on design thinking for libraries, and the Austrian Library Association has transformed its in-person continuing professional development offer into eLearning, and the Imam Al-Kadhum college-Central Library has established a training workshop for branch libraries in cooperation with the Systems and Automated Indexing Department.
The National Library of India has continued support to its interns with a series of webinars, while Misr public library network in Egypt has used the time to continue work on planned expansions into new parts of the country. The National Library and Information Service of Trinidad and Tobago has also seen a new drive to encourage collaborative activities between staff, increasing morale and a sense of cohesion. See the section on library associations below for more.
Reassigning library resources
Where libraries have closed and demand for certain services has dropped, library personnel have been active in taking up other roles. In Ireland, for example, library staff have been seconded to help with contact tracing (while librarians in San Francisco have volunteered to do this), and in Trinec in Czechia took on other duties temporarily, while staff at Tulane University library have been engaged in efforts to provide the World Health Organization itself with the most recent scientific advice.
Across the United Kingdom, there are lots of examples of librarians moving to work at contact centres for people in isolation, helping to ensure those often at most risk keep contact with the outside world, with the same happening in Auckland, New Zealand and Newmarket, Canada. Elsewhere, librarians have volunteered with community initiatives, or, as in Mexico, are working to improve the quality of Wikipedia articles about people from under-represented groups. A further list of types of redeployment at work in England is available Public Libraries News. At the local level, in Nepal, READ library centres have proved to be the best placed to gather and share information about the local situation in order to ensure the government can best respond.
In Kansas, library laptops and WiFi hotspots have been made available to the local homeless shelter, faced with the rise in the number of people losing their homes, while Toledo, Ohio, has donated its vehicles, Edmonton, Canada its equipment, Richland Library, South Carolina, is sharing its hand sanitiser stations. South Pasadena library, Colorado, has set up a portable toilet and handwashing station in its carpark.
Richland is also looking to provide key resources for people facing unemployment, as is Indianapolis Public Library. St Louis County Library is offering drive-thru meals for children, as is the Cincinnati Public Library and some Toronto Public Libraries are now acting as food banks. Libraries in Yarra, Australia, as well as in Monash, Australia, are supporting food deliveries to vulnerable families and people experiencing homelessness, while READ centres in South Asia are providing food rations, alongside masks and continuing to support vaccination efforts, as well, for example, as ambulance services in Nepal. Toronto Public Library, meanwhile, has joined in the city’s annual Newcomers Day in order to make migrants, refugees and other new Torontonians feel welcome, and access information and services, while READ centres in Nepal have provided support to stranded migrant workers.
Meanwhile school libraries in Oklahoma City are handing out books to children – as are some state libraries in Malaysia for the benefit of children in quarantine – while the Walloon guidance underlines possibilities to give schools access to library collections, at least until re-opening. Penn State University library is giving laptops and other equipment out to students who would otherwise not be able to continue to study from home, as is the library of the UPM Higher Technical School of Engineers in Spain.
Library spaces and equipment have also been repurposed, with libraries in San Francisco serving as childcare facilities for the children of key workers and Loussac Library in Anchorage, Alaska serving as an emergency coordination centre, while in Spokane, Oregon, the library is acting as a homeless shelter, and in San Luis Obispo, California, the library carpark is being made available as a safe space for people forced to live in their cars. In Oakland, California, bookdrops are being used now to collect spare masks. In Kansas City, the library is serving as a testing centre for COVID-19.
In Klaipedia, Lithuania, thanks to a cooperation between the National Library and the School of Robotics, library 3D printers are being used to print 3D protective equipment and items such as door-handles. Libraries in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, France, Malaysia and Portugal are doing likewise, while Columbia University is sharing approved designs for these so that anyone with a 3D printer can help. Preservation departments in American libraries are donating existing equipment. In Valpattanam GP Library, India, staff have been collecting cloth masks made by locals for further distribution.
This is not to forget books! The State Library of Western Australia’s offer of ‘mystery boxes’ of library materials was rapidly over-subscribed, and Kansas City Library in the U.S. has been delivering bags of books to deprived areas. Similarly, in Montevideo, Uruguay, public libraries have set up an itinerant book service, visiting in particular soup kitchens and other places where it is possible to lend works to people in need.
Moves towards the reopening of libraries are increasingly on the agenda as countries look to lift broader restrictions. In the case of schools, sometimes the library remains closed, even if lessons have begun again (the case in Logumkloster, Denmark). Decisions will of course need to be based on overall assessments of risk from the authorities. The Japanese Library Association’s guidance suggests a four-stage process, for example, analysing risks from surfaces, close contacts with people, the ways in which people use the libraries, and overall levels of infection in the region. The guidance from Libraries Connected in the UK also includes a deep look at how to assess risks.
Depending on the approach nationally, there may be more or less room for library directors to choose whether to open or not. Where there is freedom, it is important that they are supported with proper guidance and instructions. Elsewhere, there are stricter conditions in place, for example in the Netherlands (see links below), where re-opening is conditional on fulfilling the conditions of a set of protocols established by library authorities. At Midlothian Library, Illinois, the guidance sets out conditions that need to be in place before moving to a new phase, while Oak Park Library, Illinois sets out tasks in a similar way. The National Library of China, before moving between phases, carried out rehearsals with staff to test its plans.
Most examples so far focus on a phased approach, with new services, activities and parts of the library only resumed when this can happen safely, with some associating the shift from one phase to the next to wider progress in tackling the pandemic, while others are more cautious in setting dates. As the Australian Library and Information Association has set out (see below), a useful approach is to start by assessing risk, then developing plans, and only then setting timings for resuming different services. It may also be the case, of course, that partner organisations are not yet open, which will also have an impact.
Broadly, the library field has warned against any rush to re-open physical buildings. Even if other services or buildings are re-opening, the specific nature of library services may make them unsuited to re-open until the situation has improved further, as set out in the Flemish (Belgian) guidance of 9 June.
Furthermore, given uncertainty about how the situation will develop, it is possible that stricter rules will need to be implemented subsequently, and so the possibility of returning to lock-down should be borne in mind (indeed, West Virginia recommends continuing to work from home one day a week so that the habit is not lost). At the end of this section, you will find a selection of plans already established.
Limiting numbers in the library
One step being taken to reduce risks is to limit the number of people in the library at any one time. This makes it easier to maintain social distance. In Macao (China), the public libraries are using a ticketing system to limit numbers in the library, a step also taken in Hong Kong (China) during a recent phase of re-opening. The The National Library of Serbia in its first phase of re-opening allowed only 5 people into its reading room, while some school libraries in Geneva, where they have opened, are letting just one pupil in at a time.
The National Library of Croatia has set a 200 person limit, with an app available to allow people wanting to use the library to see if there are spaces available, and the Russian State Library also planning to set a limit of 100-150 people, also by appointment. Meanwhile, in Guangzhou, China, figures have been set as a percentage of normal user numbers.
Tokyo Main Library (part of the National Diet Library of Japan) is limiting access to previously registered researchers, rather than handing out day passes for the moment, as has the National Library of France in its first phase of re-opening. Similarly, the National Library of Ireland only plans to start issuing in-person reader passes from 20 July.
For the National Library of Luxembourg, the number of people admitted to the library will also be increased as the threat level falls.In order to allow more people to access the library, people can only make up to 3 reservations a week, subject to availability of space, and also limit the number of books that can be pre-ordered to 10 for any one visit. The Library has also set out how many items of different types of collections can be reserved at any one time.
The focus on encouraging (or obliging) pre-ordering of materials is a common theme, in order to allow libraries (including national libraries) to be ready for when readers are there, and so avoid waiting or last-minute searches, as for example in Ireland, which will even deliver books to a pre-allocated desk.
Public libraries in Geneva, Switzerland, as well as in at the Library of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information in Shanghai, China, and at Fuehuki Library in Japan, are also using a reservation system for spaces in reading rooms (with, in China, options both through WeChat and telephone for readers who may be less comfortable with social media), and the same is recommended in the Flemish (Belgian) guidance. Libraries in Milan are even developing an app to facilitate booking visits. Tokyo Main Library (part of the National Diet Library for Japan) is allocating places through a lottery, while the National Library of France is encouraging users to consult an app which indicates how busy the library is before visiting.
The Dutch library system has recommended providing baskets or bags (which act as 'entry tokens', making it easy to count up to a maximum number of people - see the links below), others have suggested other means which involve less disinfection. The Dutch have also suggested that groups of no more than two people at any one time can enter the library, as have the Estonians, who suggest a 2+2 rule with groups of no more than two people, at least 2m apart. The State Library of Liechtenstein proposes to use an automatic system, with ‘stop’ and ‘go’ signs depending on whether there is enough space in the library.
Given that numbers wanting to use the library may be unpredictable (from smaller numbers in one Finnish example at first to rapid over-subscription in Shizuoka/Namazu in Japan), others are discussing options to book visits in advance in order to manage the number of people coming to the library at any one time – a practice already implemented by the German National Library and the National Library of China. Similarly, other library services – such as printing, scanning or other support – can also be made appointment-only, as is proposed in West Virginia, or digital printing from mobile devices is encouraged, as at the National Library of Portugal.
In order to allow more people the opportunity to visit, the Czech Library Council has suggested that one option could also be to limit time in the library, a point echoed by other guidance. Hong Kong (China) also plans to re-open for periods of no more than 1h (followed by short breaks) in order to limit stays, with Shanghai also setting a limit of 1h, as is the National Library of Malta.
Other options being considered in Chicago, United States, for example include providing services outside where possible, and limiting certain opening times to particular groups, such as older users (an idea also explored by the Czechs). In Portugal too, the idea of giving priority to vulnerable groups is set out in the official guidance (also in the Libraries Connected guidance in the UK), with the need to help people who do not have home internet access highlighted, both of which points are also highlighted in the Belgian guidance. Libraries may also need to plan for personal protective equipment when it is necessary to be close to someone in order to assist them, as in Japan. The National Library of Ireland, for example, is only allowing groups particularly affected by COVID-19 to visit its exhibitions for the first two weeks of opening. Others, such as Qatar National Library, have opted to set minimum and maximum age restrictions, in order to manage risks to both users and staff.
Elsewhere, where the design of library buildings themselves does not permit social distancing, governments have sought to keep libraries closed until the overall risk level falls. For example, the National Library of the Netherlands is offering click-and-collect, as well as reproductions of valuable materials. The same can also apply to mobile libraries or busier central libraries, as suggested in French guidance, and as already adopted by Vancouver Public Library. In Korea, some libraries have been using remote lockers in order to allow for access without contact, as has the University of Tartu in Estonia.
There are also efforts to reduce the need to come to the library. For example, Macao (China) has sought to do this by continuing to extend loan periods and encouraging people to use online services as far as possible (also at the University Library). Hong Kong (China) has also allowed for unlimited renewals and waived fines at its academic libraries, while Guangzhou public library (China) has increased the number of times books can be renewed online.
Others are planning to provide services digitally for the coming months at least, or to continue – or restart – delivery services, as in France, or to give users specific times when they can come to the library to collect books, as in Geneva, Switzerland, or through using the library catalogue from (more spacious) classrooms as proposed in the United Kingdom (see below). Indeed, the Flemish advice focuses strongly on the value of continuing to innovate in online provision, especially in anticipation of summer reading clubs needing to adapt to the new situation. Especially for risk groups, remote services may be desirable for some time to come, as the Norwegian Guidance indicates. The State Library of Liechtenstein has also reduced the cost of its mailing service in order to encourage people to keep using this rather than visit the building.
Calculating the right number is a key current issue. Many libraries have sought to follow the guidance given to the retail sector, although this also varies, from allowing 20m2 per person in Ireland, Portugal and Slovenia to 15m2 in Poland, Slovakia and Belgium, 12.6m2 in the United Kingdom, 10m2 in the Czech Republic and Austria, 10m2 for adults and 5m2 for children in the Netherlands, 15 per 100m2 in Croatia, and 4m2 in Australia, Estonia, France, Qatar and Romania, and 3m2 in Mexico. Some of these restrictions have started to be lifted, however, with the Netherlands ending limits on numbers of people in buildings from 1 July, while the National Library of China uses a moving maximum, depending on the wider public health situation.
Libraries may need to deal with information requests from governments in order to facilitate contact tracing, for example the National Library of Croatia and Library of Congress of Argentina, which is measuring temperatures of visitors, and times spent in the library. The guidance prepared by Libraries Connected in the UK also notes a practice of collecting logs of users and keeping this data for 21 days.
This may raise issues around privacy, as highlighted by the Japanese Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. The American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee has indeed produced guidelines around relevant aspects of re-opening, and measures that may be proposed as part of contact-tracing or other elements of pandemic response efforts. Similarly, CILIP in the United Kingdom has prepared an advisory note, underlining that any schemes introduced should not be a deterrent to library use, impact people from marginalised groups or those subject to safeguarding, or damage the right to privacy. Moreover, data should be kept separate from other data collected, be done with sufficient capacity (including to delete data), and offer clarity over volunteers’ status.
Limiting concentration of users
A further step being taken by some is to limit the number of sections of the library open to people. Importantly, even if there may be enough space in theory for people to respect social distancing, the use of certain facilities may make this more complicated, as highlighted in the guidance provided by French library associations.
This has been the case in Hong Kong (China), as well as in Macao (China), which has kept a number of areas (children’s reading areas, meeting rooms, self-study areas) inaccessible. The Czech Library Council has also recommended potentially limiting services just to loans, at least at first, and some school libraries in Geneva are doing the same. Meanwhile, Dutch libraries are planning to open for use by groups of children, but not at times when the library is open to other users, and with gathering points outside.
Further means of limiting the time people spend close to others include removing some furniture (to ensure that people sit further apart), allowing just one table per user (as in some Geneva school libraries), marking some as being not for use, as in Chinese Taipei, or allocating specific places per user as at the National Library of Croatia. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia is using Libcal and facial recognition technology to do the same, limiting human contact. In Sweden, only one in two public computers can be used, and the length of time allowed on there is restricted. Others have sought to space computers out, for example using different parts of the building for computers in anticipation of demand for use (as in Topeka, Kansas), or will aim to reserve use for those who do not have internet at home (as in Belgium).
Other steps involve keeping areas used for socialising closed (as proposed in France), coffee corners (as in Austria), play corners (as in the Netherlands), display sections highlighting ‘books of the week’ (that risk then being touched by many people) (as in Flanders), rearranging spaces so that people do not need to be sitting or standing face to face (as at the University of Macao). Others are establishing one-way-systems (including different routes for staff and users, as in Portugal), removing obstacles, and encouraging separate entrances and exits where possible, as in Germany.
There are differing approaches to access to books – some suggest allowing this but recommending not touching books unless users definitely plan to borrow them (as in the Netherlands). Most plan to keep shelves inaccessible at first, and only allowing librarians themselves to fetch works (as in Slovenia, Portugal and Russia). The Danish guidance notes the importance of avoiding opening the library without staff, given difficulty in enforcing rules.
There are already interesting efforts, bringing together service providers and architects, in order to think through how to adapt spaces to make them both safe and welcoming, as in the COVID-19 Safer Spaces project.
Organising events and activities
In those countries where re-opening is more advanced, there are already plans on how to make events possible again. To a large extent, this has been made possible by falls in rates of infection, and, in some areas, a lack of infections altogether.
In Austria, for example, it is already possible to hold events with up to 100 people indoors, and from 1 July, the limit will be increased to 250 people indoors and 500 people outdoors. In these situations, rules about social distancing (1m) continue to apply, except for people living together (groups of up to four), and with an obligation to wear face masks when entering and leaving, as well as during events when it is not possible to maintain distance.
The Slovak guidance also allows for events of up to 100 people, but with 2m distance between people not living in the same household, and also provision of gloves. The Flemish guidance, for now, recommends groups only of up to 20, and only if social distancing can be maintained, with further relaxation planned from 1 July, but big events still forbidden until 1 September. One option, at least where the weather permits, may be to hold events outside where risks are lower, as suggested by the Czech guidance (see below), as well as in the guidance released by the National Library of Poland, although in the latter case, there is still a limit of 150 people.
In organising events, the National Library of Poland guidance stresses the need for full training of staff and volunteers, and rapid planning if someone is found to have symptoms. In line with the Ministry’s guidance, safe spacing between participants, careful management of entries and exits. Meanwhile in Myanmar, classes to teach local languages and cooking have started up again, with extra precautions to allow for safety and distance.
There are also some steps to look at the practicality of offering training. Flemish (Belgian) guidance suggests that some courses could resume from 1 July, but only those where there was no possibility to do things remotely, and where graduation is imminent. It may be better – as the Flemish guidance also underlines – to support initiative already launched by others. The Polish official guidance suggests the same, as well as strict limits on the numbers who can be in a space for artistic learning, and extra care around materials. The National Library of France already plans to re-start its sessions for speakers of other languages, limited to 8 people, a week after re-opening to the public. The guidance from Libraries Connected in the UK also includes an annex with a list of considerations for events.
As throughout the pandemic, the importance of high standards of hygiene is a key theme, for example ensuring that staff have the possibility to wash their hands frequently, access to materials such as gloves and facemasks, and that hand sanitiser is available at the entrance (and potentially next to equipment such as computers). In particular, regular handwashing by staff continues to be strongly recommended (both before and after contact with materials), as well as the provision of bins for tissues or other potentially contaminated material (pedal bins may be ideal, as suggested by the Flemish guidance). As noted in the Andalusian guidance, it may be necessary to employ more cleaning staff, or to extend hours. They can be supported in identifying the surfaces at most risk, and give these the attention necessary.
Macao (China) has implemented strict rules for users on wearing facemasks, and is both carrying out temperature checks at the entrance and requiring a health declaration from users (a measure being considered in the US as well, and which is mandated by the South African regulations, but which will need to reflect cultural norms as well). In academic libraries in Hong Kong (China), users are also subject to temperature checks and mask requirements. Elsewhere, guidance from the Japanese Library Association encourages those with symptoms of the disease to use remote services. The same goes for those living with people with symptoms, or who have recently visited high-risk areas. The National Library of China has set up isolation areas where users with high temperatures looking to enter the library can be tested more quickly.
For activities that may require more direct contact – such as support with using computers, where this is allowed, best efforts should be made to maintain distance. Kaslik Holy Spirit University in Lebanon has recommended that both the user and staff member in this case should wear masks.
Some libraries have increased efforts to encourage use of automatic options - such as self-service machines - in order to limit contact, while Canadian urban libraries are encouraged to see whether such machines can be made touch-free. Others are setting up spaces to collect books without person-to-person interaction, as in Australia, or via drive-through or kerbside pick-up (as at the National University Library of Croatia). Billerica Public Library, Massachusetts, has developed a protocol for this, shared with users, as has Scappoose Public Library, Oregon. Guangzhou public library in China has even set up five self-service book sanitisation machines.
Where this is not possible, some libraries are installing screens in order to protect both users and library and information workers. Similarly, where payments need to be made for services, contactless has been recommended, such as in Switzerland, or charges have simply been scrapped, such as for printing. Nonetheless, it may be important to reflect on how to ensure that this move does not exclude vulnerable groups who may not have access to cards, as highlighted in Canadian guidance. Similarly, the Libraries Connected guidance in the UK sets out equalities considerations for any re-opening plan.
Meanwhile, staff are using stylus pointers to indicate which computers visitors can use in Helsingborg, Sweden, while in Portugal it is recommended to leave doors open as far as possible in order to avoid the need to open them each time.
Additional steps include closing toilets (as in the Czech Republic), restricting their use or intensifying cleaning schedules, closing the library as a whole for short periods throughout the day in order to clean (as in Macao, China, Slovakia, or at the National University Library of Croatia and Qatar National Library), or once for a deep clean (as in Alberta, Canada), and regular cleaning schedules, especially of surfaces which are regularly touched. It may be useful to carry out an audit of which surfaces are at highest risk, as done by the National Library of China. In some cases, it may be possible to adapt parts of reading rooms in order to permit safe access, as was promoted early on by the National Library of Luxembourg.
Materials that may be touched frequently, such as magazines and newspapers, may need to remain inaccessible until the risk is low enough, or only be accessible to people with gloves and masks (as in some Estonian libraries). Similarly, the Kaslik Holy Spirit University in Lebanon suggests preventing use of manuscripts, rare books and other older material for the time being, while the Flemish guidance suggests that it may be legitimate to focus permissions on the most necessary consultations (for example for legal processes, rather than local history or genealogical study). Public libraries in Shanghai, also, have prioritised in-person access to particular collections, while keeping others online-only for now. It may also be necessary, as the Portuguese guidance explains (see below) to provide extra training for cleaners.
A further question is around how much library users should bring in from outside of the library. The Dutch guidance, for example, suggests that users should bring their own pens and course material for small group activities, and try not to leave it in the library. The CILIP School Libraries Group and UK School Library Association suggests that as far as possible, materials such as coats should stay outside in order to reduce contamination risks.
It may also be worth ensuring that libraries have a plan for how to deal with situations where someone displays symptoms, for example by having relevant phone numbers accessible, and setting aside a room where it is possible to isolate a suspected victim, as set out in the Japanese and Polish guidance, and identify which surfaces may have been contaminated. Similarly, the South African regulations mandate that a relevant space should be identified.
Throughout this, clear communication with users is important, in order to ensure that they understand the rules in place. Where users cannot be expected to understand – for example, children or those with cognitive impairments – alternative approaches may be necessary, as set out in the French guidance.
As time has gone on, libraries in some countries have been able to lift some restrictions, with, for example, libraries in the Czech Republic no longer requiring users to wear face masks or practice social distancing from 1 July.
A further emerging issue is the need to ensure that authorities and experts know how libraries work, and in particular, how much contact they see, in order to avoid assumptions and mistaken recommendations, as has happened in the US.
Keeping Staff Safe
Clearly a priority is to ensure that staff are fit, well, and comfortable in providing services – indeed, this may also be a legal obligation. Ways of doing this include the hygiene measures mentioned above (indeed, the National Library of Poland has suggested that no library should re-open unless librarians can be properly equipped), as well as clear consultation and explanation of decisions and plans, and regular briefings and reminders (as for example in Roskilde, Denmark). The Danish official guidance underlines the need to engage staff associations and unions in re-opening decisions. The National Library of China is in regular contact with staff to ensure that they are healthy and well looked-after, while West Virginia puts a strong emphasis on mental health, and coping with the situation of being around others again. Canadian guidance also underlines the need for special attention to stress, given the uncertainty still faced.
As libraries re-open, many are doing so only for limited hours every day, and are allowing staff to work in shifts, as has been recommended by the Czech Library Council, as well as limiting meetings and staggering breaks (as suggested in Poland), or limiting meetings as far as possible or only allowing one member of staff to use kitchens, toilets or common areas at a time, as at the Library of Congress in Argentina. In Helsingborg, Sweden, libraries are timing these to ensure that librarians can avoid rush hours also, and in Portugal, the Directorate General for libraries has recommended staggered shifts. In some cases, staff are being welcomed back at work before libraries are open to the public, as has been in the case in Cologne, Germany, in order to carry out some of the tasks necessary for re-opening to happen safely and efficiently, as well as at the National University Library of Croatia.
Nonetheless, the National Library of China, amongst others, has continued to promote home working as far as possible. Staff are only called to come in if really needed, and then work in shifts to minimise contact, ensuring that no more than 25% of the usual number of personnel are at work at any one time. The National Library of Albania, in its re-opening strategy, passed from having 30% of staff working in the office to 70% in a second phase. In Croatia, the guidance is, where possible, to run two shifts, with an hour between them in order to allow for cleaning. In Switzerland, for example, it is suggested that ideally, staff should sit one to an office, and in Cologne, Germany, no more than two, with common areas, for example, transformed into office spaces to provide more room. Cologne is also looking to keep different teams apart by continuing to use digital meeting tools. In Western Australia, it has been suggested that staff should stay with a single computer throughout their shift.
Similar rules will apply for other areas where staff work – for example, the Slovak National Library (see below) has also made suggestions about how to keep use of official vehicles safe. The guidance for Alberta, Canada, suggests also that staff should have their own space or locker to keep their things as a further step to limit risks of infection.
Countries will have their own approaches to the health measures that can be required of staff, although the general recommendation is not to come to work if symptoms are experienced. The National University Library of Croatia suggests that staff should all check their temperature each morning before coming to work. The Library of Congress of Argentina sets out a protocol for how to respond if a member of staff shows symptoms, and the actions for other staff members present to take.
Still, it has been noted in the United Kingdom, for example, that many libraries are also likely to need to work with a reduced staff, given sickness, family obligations, or self-isolation, for some time to come. Volunteers too may not yet be ready to return to work, especially if they are older or have underlying health conditions, which may cause delays to re-opening in some countries (and indeed, West Virginia has suggested they should be the last).
As a result, libraries in a number of countries are running shorter opening times, and looking to increase efforts to promote staff wellbeing, an activity recommended for example in the guidance from Libraries Connected in the UK, alongside a range of other issues to bear in mind in order to ensure safety. In other cases, as mentioned in Andalusia, Spain, there may simply not be enough staff to open safely. The Norwegian guidance indeed suggests that running libraries under restrictions may take more staff than usual, and so it could be helpful that staff placed on temporary assignment elsewhere should return.
There are ongoing questions about the chance of contagion through air-conditioning systems. The World Health Organization has indicated that it does believe that these pose a threat, a point echoed in the French and Italian guidance, although the latter suggests that keeping too a regular maintenance schedule will be helpful, while in the United States, increased ventilation is recommended. The Polish guidance, for example, also suggests ventilation of spaces as often as possible, as does the Czech Library Council guidance (5min per hour). As the Portuguese guidance suggests, this may be preferable to air conditioning (as well as greener!).
Overall, as the Portuguese guidance states, a key way to keep staff safe is to keep them informed, in particular when guidance changes. This will also leave them better placed to help users respect the rules too.
Please see the section above.
Given current uncertainty, and often the complexity of the process of lifting restrictions, libraries planning for this have also tended to include a focus on communications – indeed, this is part of the recommendations set out by the German Library Association (see below). As the Australian guidance notes, there may indeed be more questions than usual from users unsure about what is possible or not. The Canadian guidelines echo this, stressing the need to explain the changes to services, and to help users adjust to the fact that things may not be the same as before.
The new rules are the first thing users see when visiting the website of Macao (China)’s public library system, while outreach to users is a key section of the checklist produced for German libraries. In the UK, one suggestion is to create a ‘User Charter’, alongside one for staff. Arapahoe Library in the U.S. is surveying users to identify which services they miss, in order engage them in the process, with the Libraries Connected guidance also looking to take the user perspective. The Canadian guidance emphasises the need to take care with signage and communication to consider those who may not be first language speakers, and to use diagrams if necessary to help, or to make public announcements (as in the Japanese guidance).
Channels outside of those owned by libraries can also help, for example using local radio stations or TV, or posters, as in the Guangzhou metro.
A number of libraries have, in addition to being clear about the rules needed for safety, nonetheless worked to make users feel welcome. The Australian Library and Information Association has launched its ‘We’re Back’ campaign, while the library at the University of Tartu, Estonia, has produced a video underlining how happy they are to see users return. This can also work the other way – as featured in an IFLA article, the Australian Library and Information Association and the Library Association of North-Rhine Westphalia have looked to collect testimonials from users on how they missed libraries when they were closed, in order to support future advocacy.
Plans for re-opening around the world
Below are some examples of plans emerging. You can also consult the overview prepared by IFLA dated 6 June.
Argentina: the Library of Congress of Argentina has published its protocol for safe re-opening in an English version, including useful infographics for use with staff and users.
Australia: the Australian Library and Information Association has provided a useful checklist, setting out steps to take around communication, social distancing, safety precautions, staff support, community support and operations.
Austria: the library association has developed guidance on how to re-open safely, drawing on international experience and practice.
Belgium: the Flemish Library Association has produced a page on re-opening, drawing together relevant information from a range of sources into a set of guidance (translated into English by IFLA). This has been updated as of 9 June (Dutch, translated into English by IFLA). Meanwhile, the government of French-speaking Belgium has published a circular (translated into English by IFLA), and the library association has developed an infographic for use in libraries to help inform visitors. There is also guidance for adult education (which also applies to libraries).
Canada: the Canadian Urban Libraries Council has produced a full checklist of issues to consider, reflecting the fact that details will need to reflect the situation at the provincial or local level. This covers questions around governance, communications, collections, staffing, services, programming and spaces. The Government of the province of Alberta has also shared guidance.
China: A number of details about the process followed for the re-opening of libraries in China are available in the article published by IFLA’s Asia-Oceania Section.
Croatia: the National University Library has shared an update on how it is managing re-opening, which also includes links to advice for other libraries (which we will work to translate). IFLA has translated this, alongside earlier guidance providing suggestions on how libraries can operate while still closed.
Czech Republic: the government has shared guidance on hygiene in re-opened libraries, with the Library Council offering further suggestions on how to re-start services while keeping staff safe. Further information is available on the Library Council webpage. IFLA has translated the latest guidance (18 May) into English, as well as the basic guidance already shared on 24 April (original, translation).
Denmark: the Ministry of Culture posted guidance in May on the next stage of opening for libraries, including around working with staff, providing support to users, and lending. This has since been updated (20 June). IFLA has translated this new guidance into English.
Estonia: the Ministry of Culture has provided guidance (translated by IFLA into English) for how to re-open library spaces – many libraries had stayed open for kerbside pick-up and delivery – including how to deal with staff or visitors falling ill.
Finland: the Libraries.fi site, maintained by Helsinki City Library, incudes an overview in English of the different approaches taken in Finnish libraries, as well as links to key resources and a forum where librarians can ask questions about how to provide services during the lifting of lockdown restrictions.
France: library associations in France have collectively produced a statement to government warning about premature opening of libraries, and guidance (translated into English by IFLA) on what services may be offered at different stages of the lifting of restrictions, and how to minimise risk. The government has also issued guidance (dated 4 June, translated into English by IFLA). There is also an infographic to explain the phases. The National Library of France has also published instructions to visitors on its re-opening plans on its website.
Germany: the library association has produced a checklist covering the steps that libraries can make around personal hygiene, limiting contact and situations where people are too close together, how to stay safe when providing services, management of staff, handling of materials and communication. We have translated this into English. See also the Association’s webpage on re-opening. Meanwhile, the German National Library has re-opened its reading rooms, with further details available in English here.
Hong Kong (China): the Hong Kong Library Association has shared information about plans for re-opening in academic libraries. Information about plans for public libraries is available on the Hong Kong Public Library website. Further insights are available in the article prepared for IFLA’s Asia-Oceania Section.
Hungary: the Hungarian Library Institute has produced an overview of efforts on re-opening around the world.
Iran: the Iranian Public Library Federation has published guidance for libraries which are starting to re-open, including suggestions on alternative means of providing services, and care for staff and users.
Ireland: the National Library of Ireland has published its plans for re-opening safely, with visits on appointment since 29 June, and a planned return to normal service from 31 August.
Italy: the Italian Library Association has published a review of the literature and its suggestions for rules to follow as libraries re-open.
Japan: the Japanese Library Association has shared guidance (updated on 26 May) on re-opening which highlights approaches to risk assessment, user and staff safety, services, events and how to deal with potential cases. A private company, Calil, is also monitoring numbers of libraries open or otherwise. The National Diet Library is also sharing information regularly about its progressive re-opening.
Lebanon: the Kaslik Holy Cross University in Lebanon has published its plan for re-opening, including for handling materials, providing services, and for the safety of users and staff.
Liechtenstein: the State Library has set out its instructions for users following its re-opening.
Luxembourg: the National Library has set out its own five-stage plan for re-opening on its website.
Malaysia: Some details on processes followed for re-opening feature in the article prepared by Malaysian librarians for IFLA’s Asia-Oceania Section.
Malta: the National Library has published its regulations for use of its two sites, highlighting a requirement to wear masks throughout, and limited access to equipment.
Mexico: a group of university libraries has produced an infographic covering key elements of how to operate libraries safely post-COVID-19. The National Autonomous University of Mexico has published its own re-opening protocol, offering instructions for the sanitisation of libraries as a whole, the re-organisation of spaces and the protection of users and staff, as well as detailed guidance for dealing with returned works. IFLA has translated this document into English.
Netherlands: a set of protocols (addressing lending, activities with primary school-aged children, groups of up to ten people, and computer use, translated by IFLA) have been produced, as well as a checklist (translated into English by IFLA). The National Library has also set out its rules for users returning to the library.
Portugal: the Directorate General for Books, Archives and Libraries has produced guidance in Portuguese (translated by IFLA) for public libraries including suggestions on staffing, hygiene and services, and a four-phase opening approach. The National Library of Portugal has also released plans for re-opening (also translated into English by IFLA).
Qatar: Qatar National Library has organised a webinar, primarily in Arabic, about safety measures to be taken at the time of re-opening libraries, and is working wtih UCL Qatar to develop tools for use across the region and beyond. The Library has also published its rules for re-opening on its website.
Romania: The Association of Romanian Librarians has shared a guide from the National Public Health Institute (in Romanian) about re-opening, made available on 17 May. IFLA has translated this into English, alongside broader guidance for all institutions re-opening.
Russian Federation: the Russian government has released guidance (in Russian, translation into English by IFLA) on re-opening. The Russian State Library has also set out its rules for users online (in Russian).IFLA will provide a translation of this shortly.
Saudi Arabia: The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology has published instructions to users for its re-opening, including, at first, limiting access to graduate and post-doctoral students and staff, and forbidding meetings and other gatherings.
Serbia: The National Library has started to re-open, sharing a report about initial steps being made to promote hygiene and limit contact.
Slovakia: the National Library has produced guidance (dated 20 May) covering borrowing, use of space, use of library vehicles and disinfection (original, translation by IFLA). It also notes rules around events, with Slovakia deciding to move already to an advanced stage of lifting its lockdown rules. See also the wider resource page of the National Library.
Slovenia: The National Institute for Public Health has published guidelines for libraries including recommendations on social distancing and handling of materials (translated into English by IFLA). The Library Association itself is tracking the situation, and the experience of libraries, in particular, in the phase of re-opening.
South Africa: the South African government has published regulations for re-opening libraries, underlining in particular maximum capacities (30% for reading rooms, 10% for computer areas) and the need for distancing and spaces for symptomatic cases.
Spain: official governmental guidance sets out the rules for reopening, including around cleaning and hygiene and wider operations. The Andalucian Association of Librarians has produced a protocol for re-opening libraries, including consideration of staff, spaces and materials. FESABID, the Spanish Library, Archive and Museum Association, has a collection of links to sources to help libraries plan for re-opening, and through its cluster with partners, has developed a set of ten principles for the re-opening of libraries. The Network of Spanish University Libraries (REBIUN) has also developed extensive guidance (in Spanish) for the re-opening of academic libraries..
Switzerland: the Library Association has produced guidelines complementing broader information produced for all establishments. IFLA has provided an English translation of these.
Trinidad and Tobago: the National Library and Information Service has published a short overview of its plans, including rules on wearing masks, and when ISBN services can re-open.
United Kingdom: the CILIP page on COVID-19 includes resources to help prepare for re-opening as a formal plan is developed with the relevant government departments, with suggestions already posted for school libraries. The page includes suggested checklists for school libraries to use before opening. CILIP has also already sent a letter to employers highlighting the need to assess and minimise risks before re-opening. Libraries Connected has also now produced detailed guidance aimed at library directors, considering risk-assessment, who should come to work, social distancing for workers, keeping users safe, cleaning the workplace, personal protective equipment, workforce management, and inbound and outbound books and other goods.
United States: The American Library Association has brought together a wide range of resources on re-opening on its website, including plans and other materials. At the state level, New Mexico State Library in the United States has set out plans for a phased re-opening, and a table and comprehensive blog from Idaho looks at what the stages of lifting restrictions could look like in libraries with lots of helpful ideas. Public libraries in the state of Georgia in the United States have also published a sample plan for libraries in taking decisions about staffing and services in different phases of the lifting of restrictions, as has West Virginia and Indiana. The State Library of Montana has shared three examples (here, here and here). The coordinator for public libraries in Alaska has also set out the issues in a presentation, as has the Colorado Library Consortium, the Connecticut Library Consortium, and the Massachusetts Library Association. The Idaho Commission for Libraries has shared a range of examples of re-opening plans from libraries of different sizes, which may be helpful. There are also specific guides for kerbside pickup from Illinois and Vermont.
Actions by Associations, National Libraries and library partners
Associations and Library Authorities
Library associations themselves are doing great work to inform their members and support them in difficult times. Many have set up pages with lists of reliable sources and guidance at the national level – complementing advice at the global or regional levels – and encouraged communication and coordination between library directors in order to share ideas and practice. Others are providing useful support for planning, both for the management of staff and buildings, and for the development of online services, through useful checklists and courses.
See in particular the following association pages:
Argentina: the Association of Qualified Librarians of the Republic of Argentina (ABGRA) has published a report on the response of libraries to the COVID-19 pandemic (in Spanish). This highlights in particular how important building a profile and providing services over social media became, and the need for national platforms of digital materials.
Australia: Australian Libraries Responding to COVID-19. ALIA has also made its Professional Development Postings freely available for the duration of the crisis, has launched a page of activities continuing during the pandemic, and is preparing a relief fund. ALIA has also published an interim report on libraries’ response to COVID-19. With libraries re-opening, ALIA has launched a ‘We’re back’ communications campaign, encouraging users to share what they missed while the library was closed.
Austria: the library association is providing valuable information to libraries about procedures for safe re-opening as well as sharing government advice, and has transformed its teaching activities into eLearning.
Belgium: Libraries and Archives Should Close for Visitors (in Dutch)
Brazil: FEBAB has created a resource page on COVID-19 (in Portuguese), while IBICT has brought together a range of sources on its page (both concerning COVID-19 itself, and scientific materials to support learning at all ages), and added COVID-19 data to its interactive map of the country – see the press release (in English) for more. The Institute for Scientific and Technological Information and Communication and Health (ICICT) in Brazil has produced a version of this page with greater detail in Portuguese, with a particular focus on the elements that could support women’s health and children’s libraries.
Bulgaria: Resources for Librarians in Responding to COVID-19 (in Bulgarian)
Cameroon: the Association of Librarians and Archivists of Cameroon has organised discussions between members using WhatsApp in order to identify future priorities, and is working with the Ministry of Culture and Bamenda University to coordinate archiving efforts around the Pandemic.
China: The Library Society of China and the National LIbrary have shared a full summary of all of the activities that the association and libraries across China have been undertaking to support communities, from government to citizens.
Colombia: the Association of Colombian Librarians prepared a webinar (in Spanish, working with the IFLA LAC Section) on ideas on how librarians can respond
Croatia: the Croatian Library Association has set up a dedicated page with information on remote services, a data aggregation point on COVID-19 for libraries, access to virtual meeting services and electronic resources.
Czech Republic: the Czech library association has prepared an information page which includes health advice, updates on the government's response, and ideas on how to work with copyrght and privacy laws at the time of the pandemic.
France:the French Library Association has published a story on Library Services and Public Health (in French), and is hosting discussion about staff management during the pandemic. The French University Librarians’ Association is also keeping track of the activities of university libraries.
Germany: Information page on Libraries and COVID-19 from the German Library Association (in German). See also the page on remote service provision, and the press release which likely inspired national media coverage of library services.
Ghana: Ghana LIbrary Authority is promoting registrations for digital library cards, and has made resources available for libraries and users through its resource page.
Korea (Republic of): Statement on the Coronavirus Situation.
India: both the federal and state library associations have been active offering online training both related to COVID-19 and wider professional development, with the Karnataka state association offering an ongoing series.
Indonesia: the Library Association of Indonesia has carried out a number of initiatives, including digital publications summarising relevant laws and regulations, scientific insights and analysis, rules in place on social gatherings, and a glossary on COVID-19, as well as continuing to support the profession in other ways throughout the pandemic.Iraq: The Iraqi Association of Libraries and Information has organised webinars focused on the role of digital libraries at the time of Coronavirus, as well as on broader digital transformation.
Italy: Where to Find Information (in Italian) offers an overview of national laws, sources of advice, and proposals on how to provide service while protecting privacy and health.
Malaysia: there is an extensive collection of examples of activities undertaken by libraries, and in particular the national library association, during the pandemic, presented on the pages of IFLA’s Asia-Oceania section.
Mexico: The Colegio Nacional de Bibliotecarios is running a series of virtual events and a social media campaign to stay home, as well as highlighting the experience of Mexican libraries in the crisis (including a webinar), promoting reading at home (also including a webinar), and sharing information resources (in Spanish). Meanwhile, the Mexican Library Association released a letter supporting the health professionals and health library workers during the crisis.
Myanmar: The Myanmar Library Association, in a successful cooperative effort, has run an active programme of online training and discussion for members, especially para-professionals, dissemination of information about COVID-19 and how libraries elsewhere are responding, and has developed its own guidance. The Association is also continuing to support a project to develop school libraries across the country.
New Zealand: COVID-19 Coronavirus and the New Zealand LIS Sector
Nigeria: the Nigerian Library and Information Science Students' Association has organised a series of lectures for its members over a series of days.
Portugal: the Portuguese Library Association has made its training webinars freely available online (in Portuguese)
Puerto Rico: The Association of Librarians of Puerto Rico has launched a campaign around misinformation about COVID-19 (in Spanish)
Romania: the Association of Romanian Librarians has organised classes, webinars and working sessions to help members deal with the pandemic, as well as starting a public campaign #thelibraryfromhome. The Association has also collected data about libraries and services, while the wider field has supported overall efforts through 3D-printed protective equipment, supporting research, and combatting misinformation.
Serbia: the national library association has chosen to focus the next edition of its journal on the work of librarians during the pandemic.
Spain: the Network of Academic Libraries has prepared a resource page (in Spanish)
United Kingdom: CILIP Coronavirus Information Service. CILIP has also written alongside others to the government to ask for relaxation of copyright laws, and has launched its National Shelf Service – a series of daily YouTube videos full of book recommendations for children and families. CILIP has also produced a statement on the privacy and ethical implications of COVID-19, highlighting the need for transparency and full use of evidence in government, and full regard for the importance of protecting private lives. Research Libraries UK has published its own report on how its members have responded, looking in particular at skills and leadership, scholarship and collections, spaces and places, and future possibilities.
United States: The American Library Association has brought together its resources on recovery from COVID-19 onto a single page, including sections on advocacy and policy, education, data and research, and guidance content and protocols. The association’s very useful Pandemic Preparedness toolkit is also still available. See also the resources gathered by ALA’s Public Programs Office, and the webinar on remote service provision, and in their eBook on disaster preparedness, which has now been made open access. There is also this resource page prepared by the American Association of Law Libraries and the one by the American Association of School Librarians, which includes snapshots of the situation in school libraries and links to other key resources, as well as , the results of the Public Library Association’s survey of how public libraries are responding, and this page on pandemic preparedness by the American Association of School Libraries.
Zimbabwe: the Zimbabwe Library Association has shared international experience, as well as looking to set up webinars, as well as to define points for advocacy around access to affordable e-libraries.
Furthermore, the Chinese Library Society has worked with the National Library to provide online learning while the Latvian Library Association has turned its conference into an online event combined with a social media campaign. The National Diet Library of Japan, as part of its support to the profession, has been monitoring and publishing update on the situation, as has saveMLAK (an organisation focused on helping libraries, archives and museums in times of crisis). The School Libraries Network in Portugal has both guidance and a platform to support school librarians in continuing to deliver on their missions, while the Information and Communication faculty at the University of Uruguay has collected examples of what libraries of all types across the country are doing in response to the pandemic
Other associations and organisations are active. CLIR has organised resources on COVID-19 on a special page, while the Association of Research Libraries has analysis of what academic and research libraries in the US and Canada are doing. The African Library and Information Association (AfLIA) is collecting examples of what libraries are doing in Africa and has a page on how libraries can respond plus a resource page, as is Infotecarios in Latin America (working with the Colombian Librarians’ Association (ASCOLBI), LIBER for academic libraries in Europe and EBLIDA has developed a checklist of actions members can take. NAPLE in Europe has produced a valuable report highlighting the situation across 20 members as the pandemic arrived and took hold. This has since been updated with a review of measures being taken as libraries work to re-open, covering in particular safety measures and quarantining. READ has shared an overview of what its 107 centres across Bhutan, India and Nepal are doing in response to the pandemic.
The Association of Library and Information Science Educators has also published its own resource page, and the Federation of Health Science Libraries of India has organised webinars looking to the future of libraries post-COVID-19, as has the library at the Panjab University, Chandragarh, India, and the library of Alkafeel University, Iraq.
Meanwhile, Turkish public libraries, under the Directorate General for Libraries and Publications, have also boosted electronic services, allowing citizens to join libraries electronically, and access thousands of eBooks, request the purchase of new ones, and download these to their devices. The Dutch Reading Foundation has a page with resources and ideas on how to support literacy and reading at home, including podcasts, meetings with children’s illustrators, and of course access to eBooks through libraries. In Hungary, the Library Institute has produced an information page including advice on disinfecting books, coping with copyright, and international good practices, and through the libraries.hu page is sharing stories from across the country and around the world.
Meanwhile, the Association for the Promotion of School Documentary Services in Quebec has provided members with tools they can use to ensure that libraries are integrated in plans to provide remote learning, while the Every Library Institute has set up regular chats and an emergency fund to help libraries in difficulty.
National libraries can also play an important role in providing access to content, both as key institutions in their countries, and as leaders in their national library systems. An overview is available through the information collected by the Conference of Directors of National Libraries. A follow-up survey, looking at re-opening, sets out broad trends in the way that libraries are looking to protect users and staff, as well as providing insights into how digital services and uses have been expanded throughout the crisis. Others have worked to bring together information about experiences, both nationally and internationally, such as the Russian State Library.
In China, for example, the national digital library has been reinforced in order to deal with the increase in demand and has waived fines for borrowed materials which cannot be returned, as well as providing support to libraries and librarians across the country. In Korea, too, the national digital library has seen a major increase in use, and in Malaysia, the National Library has promoted its own digital library strongly on social media. The role of National Library resources in supporting the effort to combat the pandemic has been recognised by the British Library in its own resource page.
Some libraries have been able to negotiate the possibility to give wider access to legal deposit content for researchers and schools in Norway, and for researchers in the Czech Republic (alongside university libraries). Meanwhile, the National Library of Aruba has given access to the first eBooks in Papiamento (the local language), and will for the first time offer a Dutch-language eLending service, also for the first time, alongside working with the Internet Archive to offer a version of the National Emergency Library.
Others are putting activities online. The Library of Congress for example is organising a virtual transcribathon in order to engage people at distance, while the Bibliothèque nationale de France is organising virtual exhibitions. The National Library of Estonia has established means for giving people access to books without contact (with resulting major increases in demand), while the National Library of Spain is promoting its digital content that can be used to support education, as is the National Library of Hungary, whose staff have also been producing videos on learning to dance and popular science.
The National and University Library of Croatia has continued to offer consultation, reference services and access to resources – including virtual exhibitions – and, in addition, is providing advice and guidance to libraries of all types affected by the earthquake. The National Library of Indonesia has promoted its existing app, and joined the national Work from Home initiative to provide means to avoid people having to travel to work. The National Library Board of Singapore has drawn on its collections to provide an exhibition about past pandemics.
The National Library of Luxembourg, is making it possible to obtain a library card for three months by email, without the usual ID checks, in order to facilitate access, while the National Library of Morocco is maintaining both online inscriptions alongside ISBN and legal deposit services. The National Library of Lithuania is working with the School of Robotics to promote printing of personal protective equipment in public libraries across the country.
Others are working to support national library fields in general, with the National Library of Sri Lanka for example preparing and sharing guidance with libraries across the country, while the National Library of the Czech Republic has produced an infographic on handling returned works. The Directorate General for Libraries in Portugal has a page full of information and resources, under the umbrella of #BibliotecaNaSuaCasa. The National Library of India has continued to run webinars for interns and others in the library field, as well as organising digital resources for users.
Meanwhile, some national libraries with a role in supporting parliamentary decision-making have continued to produce legislative dossiers providing an overview of what is going on, such as in Argentina and China. Dedicated parliamentary libraries too have been working to support the work of their institutions, while a group of Spanish-speaking law librarians have been collecting and sharing information about the legal response to COVID-19 across Latin America, while the Health Knowledge and Information Network in Sao Paolo, Brazil has been doing the same in tracking health legislation, as well as running a clinical information portal and a broader portal sharing knowledge about COVID-19 through the Virtual Health Library.
There have been very welcome moves by publishers, vendors and others working with libraries to facilitate access to content even when library buildings are forced to close. As set out in the statement by the IFLA President and Secretary-General, it is to be hoped that such steps are generalised as we all look to work together to allow learning, research and access to culture to continue.
A key step has been to allow remote access to content which normally would be restricted to on-site users. VitalSource has worked with its publisher partners to broaden access to materials using only an email address to log-in, as has ProQuest through eBook Central and Springer through extended log-in periods and Emerald through remote access possibilities, , while the Journal of the American Medical Association is also allowing for much more off-site access, as are sites such as ancestry.com. Michigan University Press is allowing read (but not download) access to much of its content. Children’s publisher Collins in the UK is making content previously limited to on-site access available remotely. There are also positive examples from Latvia and Kenya.
Others are simply making more content openly available, or are reducing prices. Project MUSE has announced that materials from 9 university presses will be freely available for a number of months, while Cambridge University Press is offering access to textbooks in HTML format and the Biochemical Society has made its journals open access until further notice. Two Romanian publishers have worked with the National University of Political Science and Administration have agreed to offer free access to books online.
For public libraries in the United States, Macmillan has suspended limits recently imposed on library access to new eBook publications. Penguin Random House is offering specific discounts for public and school libraries. Overdrive and RB Books are also making it possible to have more copies of a single eBook on loan simultaneously. Also in the US, Booklist – a collection of book reviews and other resources which help in teaching and other engagement around books – has also been made available to all. Responding to another frequently encountered challenge, Libraries Connected in the UK has produced a list of publishers who are allowing online storytimes.
Some publishers have also been ready to take account of the fact that some libraries may simply not be able to make payments at the moment, for example Bristol University Press.
IFLA’s acknowledges its own publishing partner – SAGE – which has announced interventions including removing the subscription gateway to a number of articles and created and committed to the Wellcome coordinated statement on COVID-19-related materials, and is promoting its free online course on ‘How to Get Published’. A key sponsor – OCLC – has also released a resource page.
Like others (for example, APA, EBSCO, Emerald, Frontiers, Springer Nature, Elsevier, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, ZB MED, and MIT Press), SAGE is also concentrating and sharing resources on COVID-19 and managing pandemics through a microsite. The White House has taken a major step to facilitate text and data mining to help find solutions by releasing 29 000 papers for analysis. Emerald is also boosting support for creating and sharing publications around how libraries have responded to the pandemic through making volumes open, and planning thematic issues.
A key question currently will be how long extraordinary measures last. Where these are withdrawn before libraries are able to return to normal operations, there is a risk of harm to library users.
Finally, a key IFLA partner – OCLC – has held a town hall meeting bringing together over a thousand librarians in order to share stories and build understanding of the needs of the profession.
Communicating with users in different languages
IFLA’s Library Services to Multicultural Populations Section is working with the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) to develop translated signage and text to support libraries communicating with their linguistically diverse communities, particularly in relation to library closures and accessing online information. These resources are available in MS Word format. Libraries are welcome to adapt and use this content as best meets their needs to communicate with their community. Translations will be made available in more languages as they are developed.
IFLA is aware that the pandemic has brought up a number of wider issues which we are following closely. In addition to copyright – mentioned above – there are concerns around the impacts of the crisis on the broader culture, education and research sectors, privacy, and ensuring democratic norms are protected. We continue to monitor these issues closely and will share information and views as appropriate.
We are already active in advocacy around these issues, notably through helping to shape and then joining a UNESCO statement on documentary heritage and the COVID-19 pandemic. This stresses the potential that documentary heritage has both to instruct and comfort at times such as these, and calls on governments and others both to recognise this potential and support the work of our institutions. We have further underlined this in a joint statement with members of the Culture 2030 Goal coalition. The importance of heritage is also highlighted in our blog on the role of heritage in storytelling.
IFLA has also led in the preparation of a letter to the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization calling for action to ensure copyright laws and practices are supportive. This underlines the challenges created by the combination of the current situation and the risk that current laws create rigidities that make responding harder. In the case of libraries, this is the case when non-digital uses are permitted but digital ones are not, for example. In his response, the Director General underlined the role that exceptions and limitations can play in ensuring access during times such as the Pandemic.
IFLA has also highlighted the challenges faced in particular by university libraries in accessing eBooks, and explored where there may be the grounds for a competition investigation. We have signed the ICOLC Statement on resource access and COVID-19, and produced our own set of principles for use by library associations in negotiations with rightholders. Through blogs, we have also explored how library values are being affected and potentially put at risk, and how libraries can support freedom of expression.
We have also produced a first blog looking at overall trends that may result from the pandemic, from a variety of policy perspectives, as well as a follow-up piece identifying specific potential advocacy points in the short, medium and longer term, and a set of ideas on how to build advocacy capacity, even while under lockdown. In particular, we have highlighted the importance of preserving the idea of core government funding for libraries so that they can maintain their public focus, and set out five suggestions, based on existing ideas, for how libraries can be included in economic stimulus packages.
IFLA’s work to strengthen and unite the global library field continues, not just in spite of the COVID-19 Pandemic, but because of it. We are determined to maintain the momentum created by the Global Vision process and the launch of our Strategy last year, and believe strongly that the mission it sets out is as relevant now as it has ever been.
As set out in our FAQs about IFLA and the COVID-19 pandemic, we have already worked hard to ensure that our volunteers and staff can continue their crucial work, and have seen a series of successful mid-term meetings by our Professional Units organised over the past weeks. The above also contains a number of examples of what IFLA is already doing.
Beyond this, our Section on Health and Bioscience Libraries, and Special Interest Group on Evidence for Global and Disaster Health held a webinar on 23 April on the subject of digital health inequality at the time of COVID-19. The Section on Libraries for Children and Young Adults has dedicated a newsletter to how its members have experienced and responded to the pandemic, as has the Section on Libraries Serving Multicultural Populations (with examples from Brazil, Macao, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, , and the Section on Libraries Serving Persons with Special Needs is calling for examples relevant to their work.
IFLA’s Asia-Oceania Section has also gathered examples from countries in the region, with the Latin America and Caribbean section doing the same. The Section on Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning is holding a webinar on managing stress.
We are also already preparing articles and posts about how different parts of the library field are responding, starting with a piece on health librarians for World Health Day, on librarians managing heritage collections,an overview of the work of libraries to archive memories of the present, and a guest blog looking at the situation of prison libraries. As underlined in the previous section, we are also focused on advocating for both the short and longer-term changes libraries need. We have also created a special COVID-19 edition of our popular How To Spot Fake News infographic.
Meanwhile, IFLA’s Document Delivery and Resource-Sharing Section has launched a new service to support the sharing of resources across borders as a way of relieving some of the disruption caused by the pandemic.
However, this is just the beginning. We are also looking forward to announcing exciting new services and opportunities to build a stronger field powering literate, informed and participatory societies into the future. In this, we will be working closely with our Professional Units – the biggest brains trust in the global library field – in order to help inspire, engage, enable and connect the global library field. We look forward to sharing more.
Last update: 4 August 2020