Some Thoughts on Reopening: An Open Letter to My Fellow Directors | Opinion

As we begin to reopen more and more libraries across the country the pressure you will feel as a leader is going to increase. You are crucial to your organization’s future right now. It’s okay to be nervous; it’s okay to be scared. Those emotions will not stop you from doing what you need to do. We can do this. You can do this.

Christian Zabriskie with megaphone at library rallyAs we begin to reopen more and more libraries across the country the pressure you will feel as a leader is going to increase. You are crucial to your organization’s future right now. It’s okay to be nervous; it’s okay to be scared. Those emotions will not stop you from doing what you need to do. We can do this. You can do this.

Nobody is coming to rescue us. State libraries, professional organizations, and library schools, are all scrambling just as much as you are. If you have been waiting for clarification before acting then you must now act immediately.

FAST, FLEXIBLE PLANNING

You do not need to recreate the wheel. There are a lot of sample plans and procedures out there. If you don’t already have a plan at this point, do NOT try and assimilate a dozen plans and then write your own. You don’t have time. Find a plan you like and can adapt to your institution and stick to it.

Communicate constantly. You do not need to have every answer but your team will feel better knowing that you are looking for them. Keep your teams fluid and make sure that there are people at the table from every department and work assignment of your organization. Meet with key staff twice a week for the next six months. Do not be afraid to repeat or replicate information for the same work groups repeatedly to drill in new habits. Hold frequent town halls and allow staff to ask questions of leadership anonymously.

All plans must be flexible. Staff should not have to “get used to” an awkward or ineffective workspace or solution. Change should be encouraged as best solutions are sought. Staff at all levels of the organization must be empowered to make recommendations.

Your plan now will not be your plan in a month. Don’t get hung up on it being perfect, just make sure that your staff understand it and are kept up on changes, including ones which do not directly impact their work day-to day.

MAKING YOUR SPACE SAFER

You can quickly, easily, and relatively cheaply reconfigure your physical space using stanchions and gaffers tape. Stanchions can create flexible barriers and demark space around points of service. Gaffers tape is an effective way to lay out lanes, directions, and “no go” zones on the floor (check your surfaces).

While unpopular with people on both sides of the library reopening debate, curbside service provides an important middle step to reorient staff back to work and give you time to set up the physical changes you will need for staff and patron safety. It should last no less than two weeks to get the benefits of both warmup and stopgap.

You cannot reopen your library without personal protective equipment (PPE) and space modifications like breathguards at points of service. Clear plastic can be extremely difficult to work with even if you are able to source it. If your staff do not have training and experience working with this medium, they may not be able to fabricate what you need no matter how talented and hard-working they are.

The best sources for pre-made breathguards are large restaurant equipment vendors. They have long-established supply lines from manufacturers and a lot of buying power. Don’t waste time trying to get a bulk discount. These items are flying off the shelf and you could potentially burn a lot of time for little savings. These large suppliers should also be able to give clear information about order fulfilment and time needed to process potential backorders.

STICK TOGETHER

Please help your staff and colleagues stay focused on the issues we have ahead of us. Concerns about who created what problem will not, ultimately, solve that problem. While we may disagree with one another professionally, there are probably other people who would disagree with both of us. Together we can be stronger. Let us trust the best intentions of our colleagues and offer willing and gracious support wherever we can.

Act now. Act ceaselessly. Be resolute. You may not know exactly when your library is slated to reopen, but if you have plans in place then you can control the pace and the process of that reopening, and get your organization the time it needs to support the safety of its staff and patrons.

Be patient with one another. Be kind to one another.

I believe in you.


Christian Zabriskie, MA, MSILS, is Executive Director of the Onondaga County Public Library and Urban Librarians Unite. He is one of LJ’s 2020 Librarians of the Year and a 2012 LJ Mover & Shaker.

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