Why You Shouldn’t Do Curbside During COVID-19 | Backtalk

The more people are coming into contact with one another, and the more people who are coming into contact with a surface (for example, a library book), the higher the risk becomes.

Katelyn Attanasio head shotViews in this piece are my own, and do not represent the views of my employer.

I recently received a message from the director of a small library system, who decided to close their branches after seeing my #CloseTheLibraries posts on social media. Three weeks after deciding to close, they found out that the literacy center near them was an outbreak site. Had they not closed, they likely would have had an outbreak as well. After tweeting about this, I received a dozen direct messages and replies from library staff asking about providing curbside service as a stopgap measure until they are able to fully reopen. At this point, I do not believe that libraries should be providing curbside service. The more people are coming into contact with one another, and the more people who are coming into contact with a surface (for example, a library book), the higher the risk becomes.



Libraries have two options when offering curbside pickup. The first is providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to library staff, to protect them and the public. Given the nationwide shortage of PPE, libraries using PPE take that equipment away from health care and essential workers. The second option is not providing PPE for staff, which means putting staff and patrons both at risk of getting ill and even dying.

I’ve also had questions about staff using fabric masks while handling materials and working with patrons. Fabric masks may help prevent people who are already infected from spreading it to others, and everyone leaving the house should be wearing them. However, wearing masks will not prevent staff members from getting it from a patron not wearing a mask, or from the surface of a book or door handle.

I also caution against relying on staff to make their own PPE, or depending on in-house Maker spaces for mass production. As the Maker Team Lead for my system who runs our Maker space and is fielding requests across county departments, for health care workers, and for vulnerable populations who cannot social distance, this is an unrealistic expectation. I have five staff members making masks. Each is making 12–15 masks per week, which is a fairly high production rate. However, I had requests for over 1,000 masks just last week, not including requests from individual community members. Even if we had more people sewing—which we are working hard to do—supplies are hard to find. Most of our staff are using materials they already own, not only because many stores are closed, but because materials such as elastic, bias tape, and suitable fabric are in very high demand and often sold out.



I have seen arguments that curbside pickup for libraries is similar to that of restaurants. However, having to not only deliver but receive items makes doing curbside pickup for libraries much different. When folks are getting curbside meals, they aren't eating the food, then returning the container to the restaurant to be used by another person. Moreover, food workers are trained in and regulated on avoiding contamination, and their workplaces are set up to prevent it. None of those things are true of libraries. Finally, restaurants are not doing delivery and pickup because there is no risk, but because the risk is outweighed by the daily need to eat. That simply isn’t true of access to physical library books. Books and other media are incredibly important, but they are not a priority right now—keeping people alive, safe, and at home is.

I believe libraries are essential, especially in times of crisis. However, libraries provide many resources, and our reach has always gone beyond lending books. Of course there are many people negatively affected by shutting our doors. However, the idea that library staff should put themselves and their patrons at risk is misplaced and dangerous. Libraries can provide many services remotely: virtual and phone reference, ebooks and audiobooks, streaming movies, newspapers, databases, online programs, and more. We can use our research skills to find what areas have limited access to high speed internet, and use our networking skills to address it. Ultimately, offering curbside pickup isn't serving our most vulnerable patrons.

Part of libraries wanting to implement curbside is to demonstrate our value to our county boards, administrations, and managers, because budget cuts are here and more are coming. But we need to figure out new ways to demonstrate our value without putting peoples' lives at risk. If there's one thing that most libraries are good at, it's adapting to change. We're going to be in this for a while. Finding ways to serve the public while keeping everyone safe is going to be a challenge, but it is one I think libraries are especially well suited to address.

Katelyn Attanasio is a librarian and the Maker Team Lead with Arlington County Public Library (VA)

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Doeni Onco

I was wondering if your view about curbside delivery for libraries has changed as the months have passed and we continue in the midst of COVID-19 with no end in sight? I ask, because my school district is considering doing curbside. While I do want our students to have access to books, I value their safety and my safety most. Thank you for your feedback.

Posted : Aug 18, 2020 04:56

M T.

I WISH the library system I worked at would be more mindful of things that you had mentioned in the article. But as of right now- it's not. We had PLENTY of time to figure a plan for curbside- but the administration didn't do it. When they finally made a plan- it was bare minimum already and well past the "official curbside date". So with the state governor implementing that we are allowed to open 25% in the next week- everyone is scrambling because we know we have minimal PPE for the staff let alone bare minimum safety meausure- especially with most of the staff are high risk. Also, there is no way we can enforce mask-wearing or social distancing.

It's also pretty bad when during whole staff online meeting- the admins were purposely ignoring safety questions and concerns... This is how much the system cares for the staff.

Posted : Jun 25, 2020 08:41

Bill Sampson

People can make masks that work like PPE at home so they aren’t taking it from healthcare workers. And there can be what people call no contact service where they don’t touch what they’re delivering

Posted : May 23, 2020 12:19

Yu Min Chen

I totally agree with the librarian! Now, Ontario still is facing with the peak time of the virus, every day still have hundred and hundred new cases appear, the major concern is stop the virus spreading! Not just economic and political concerns! Live safe and healthy is our basic human right, the government should focus on this first! Not just rush to reopen without well prepared!

Posted : May 21, 2020 12:52

Janice King

Excelent Article. Thank you.
Janice King
Library Assistant
Gafney Library
Sanbornville, NH

Posted : May 15, 2020 02:01

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