Library COVID-19 Solidarity Network Advocates for Closing Libraries

On March 17, the American Library Association (ALA) released a statement recommending that libraries be closed to the public, after considerable outcry on social media at earlier statements that failed to take a position on the issue. Days before, Alison Macrina—librarian and founder of the Library Freedom Project—had begun work organizing the Library COVID-19 Solidarity Network, bringing together public and academic library staff to advocate for full library closure throughout the United States. 

As organizations and institutions across the country shut their doors to help flatten the curve of coronavirus transmission, the issue of safety for library staff—and the people they serve—has become a rallying cry.

On March 17, the American Library Association (ALA) released a statement recommending that libraries be closed to the public, after considerable outcry on social media at earlier statements that failed to take a position on the issue. Days before, Alison Macrina—librarian and founder of the Library Freedom Project—had begun work organizing the Library COVID-19 Solidarity Network, bringing together public and academic library staff to advocate for full library closure throughout the United States. Hours after ALA’s statement appeared, Macrina convened more than 150 library workers in a Zoom conference to discuss how to persuade library leaders and other decision makers to close their facilities during the critical period of the pandemic.

“I called this meeting because I felt like we couldn't wait any longer for an official directive from ALA,” Macrina told LJ shortly after it ended. “Prior to that, all their statements had been very weak, not making any official recommendations—certainly not about closing. Earlier statements from the association “were pivoting it to ‘whatever your local health department says.’”

The Solidarity Network has put together a Google doc listing libraries that are still open, along with instructions to tweet the appropriate decision makers and influencers using the hashtag #closethelibraries. The document provides sample messages, as well as listing potential contacts—students and alumni, faculty council members, and the institution’s provost or president for academic libraries; Friends of the library and boards of trustees, city councilors and mayors or the municipal equivalent, and the local department of health for public libraries.

Many of the libraries listed are open to the public, said Macrina; some are only requiring staff to come in, “which is still unacceptable as far as we're concerned.” In addition to those who hoped to close their facilities, she noted, “We heard from a bunch of librarians on the call who have been successful in getting their libraries to close, and it's all over the map. Some of them had library boards that recognized the immensity of the situation, and made the decision right away. Some of them had to get their unions involved. Some of them had to write statements to decision makers.”

Based on the information from those who had helped convince their libraries to close, participants broke out into two virtual groups. One discussed internal pressure strategy, getting the message to leadership through workers, and the other worked on developing external strategy, talking to decision makers outside the library and determining who they were.

The internal strategy was tasked with coming up with a template of points to send to decision makers, Macrina said when LJ spoke with her shortly after the call, and coming up with a strategy for organizing a staff phone tree to bring in as many people within those libraries as possible.

The second group was in the process of finalizing an external pressure statement. Once participants have the information and list of open libraries, she said, “We need you to tweet up these people, we need you to push on all the different pressure points, contact their board, contact their director.” Those may also include town council members and mayors, Macrina noted.

“What we're saying is: first step is tweet at them, second step is call whoever the [library] director is, but be ready for them to tell you that they're not the decision maker, and get the contact for whoever is.” In Oregon, she added, library workers are talking about calling the governor.

 

ONGOING, URGENT WORK

While the group’s messages are a work in progress, Macrina noted, the work is ongoing and urgent. Meanwhile, a number libraries remain open to the public, sending them the message that the library is one of the few safe spaces in their community—and resulting in patrons gathering in the building at a time when social distancing is critical for workers and library users alike. “Every hour that ticks by is another hour that we're putting people in serious jeopardy."

Among other concerns, she added, “We need to make sure our people are getting paid. We don't want them to use their sick time. We want to make sure they have jobs at the end of this. What happens to the sanitation workers who are responsible for cleaning those buildings right now? What about making sure that the buildings are safe for us to go back in later?”

"Libraries and institutions can't move too quickly on this but they can move too slowly," Emily Stenberg, an academic librarian in St. Louis, MO, who joined in the Zoom call, told LJ. "Everyone is trying to figure out a new normal but that should not come at the expense of patrons or staff who are still working. Staff need to be able to work remotely or be paid if they can't and not have to use personal time. If not now, then when? I would not want to risk my health or anyone else's."

On March 17 the Urban Libraries Council issued a Statement on the Need for Public Library Closures During the Coronavirus Pandemic, as did the Association of Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). The day before, LJ Editor-in Chief-Meredith Schwartz called for libraries across America to close in an online editorial. But Macrina is particularly disappointed in ALA’s lack of guidance. Libraries need “a functioning advocacy organization unequivocally saying that we should close last week, and here are the steps that you can take to make that happen.”

Even without a firm set of steps on ALA’s part, she told LJ, more timely communication would have been beneficial: “ALA at least showing up and saying we see that this is completely serious; step one, close down, and step two, we're going to tell you when we figure it out, but we're working on it.”

If your library is still open and not on the list, contact Macrina, she advised. “We'll add you to it, and we'll just keep at it.”

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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Ron Schermacher

Here in southwest Colorado we are under a stay at home advisory. Essential businesses are to stay open. This includes hardware stores but not libraries. I do not think anyone should be forced to work with public if they do not want to but I believe the library provides a service at least on par in importance than some of the essential businesses. If some library workers want to continue service while taking precautions I would support the effort. I feel I am letting my community down when they need our service the most.

Posted : Mar 24, 2020 08:28


Karen Beckman

Jacksonville, NC (Onslow County Public Library) is still open. This is a threat to public safety and is putting their staff at risk. They need to close to the public now. They are not listening to the experts that are asking us to do our part. Flatten the curve! They need to get on board to contain this virus. I’ve very worried, especially for our seniors. Let’s get through this together.

Posted : Mar 19, 2020 11:35


ronaldo perez

Practicing "social distancing" in a library setting is nearly impossible; library cards and books change hands and keyboards, counters and restrooms are all potential conduits for infection.
Moreover, Library staff are not being provided with gloves, masks and cleaning agents to mitigate the risks. In light of the carnage caused by this pandemic, taking risks with the health of library staff and the public is irresponsible. All Libraries must be closed immediately.

Posted : Mar 18, 2020 10:43


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