An Open Letter to Other Library Directors | Opinion

We all know that libraries are under attack, especially in regards to funding, pretty much all the time. I think part of our collective fear at this moment is local governments thinking that because we closed that we aren't really that important. I believe some are feeling that tension without verbalizing this sentiment. We worry about the short-term as well as the long-term consequences that our closings will have on our libraries. However, I do not thinking rushing to reopen solves this issue.

Royce Kitts head shotDear Colleagues,

As I said to my library board last night, my library science degree and on the job experiences do not qualify me or give me the necessary education to be a hazardous materials specialist or an epidemiologist.

We all know that libraries are under attack, especially in regards to funding, pretty much all the time. I think part of our collective fear at this moment is local governments thinking that because we closed that we aren't really that important. I believe some are feeling that tension without verbalizing this sentiment. We worry about the short-term as well as the long-term consequences that our closings will have on our libraries. However, I do not thinking rushing to reopen solves this issue.

As I explained to my library board, I will not reopen the library until I can ensure the health and safety of our staff. I will not reopen the library just because the governor cancels the stay at home order. We will be slow and deliberate, because for the first time in my 20 years of being a librarian, the decisions I make mean the life or death of my employees. (Yes. I said that last part. A bit of hyperbole, but honestly, not that much.) Safety will be the top priority. As I explained, the very thing we strive to achieve—engaging the community and filling up the library—is exactly what makes our library vulnerable. I will say that I am glad they back me on this. I feel better for my people, and about the months ahead.

To more emphatically state my position in regards to the health and safety of all library workers:

If your plan is to begin reopening as soon as possible, or engaging in curbside soon, then I want to see the library director and administrators on the front lines of service. I want them to be the ones to take books out to the cars, handle materials, and empty book drops.

Remember, when people say "That's why you make the big bucks" (they don't say that too often in libraries), this means you. Our lower-paid employees are often our most vulnerable in terms of being able to handle sickness and unplanned financial setbacks. Is your desire to reopen worth that risk? Are you certain that giving into pressures (both real and imagined) to reopen, versus your duty to protect the health and safety of your employees, will be in the long term best interest of the library?

I encourage all of us, no matter what your opinion, to participate in discussions at the local and county levels, and especially in library-based discussions around this topic. This is our biggest test yet; we will need each other more than ever.

Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Respectfully,

Royce Kitts
Director
Liberal Memorial Library
Liberal, Kansas

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