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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Melissa Elliott

If you read the data about the extremely low possibility of picking up the virus from a surface, then a big part of your argument goes away. Also, most libraries with which I am familiar are quarantining the returned books for between three and seven days, and/or wiping them down with disinfectant. Also, curbside service doesn't have to include direct encounters. People can call that they are at the curb, a librarian can place a bag of books on a table (or on the curb), and the patron can come over and pick it up after the librarian or staff has retreated from close proximity. There are ways to do this—it just takes planning and care.

Posted : Dec 30, 2020 08:19

mforde@nassaucountyfl.com mforde@nassaucountyfl.com

Thank you for sharing your perspective on this issue.

Posted : Dec 30, 2020 02:30

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

Kelley Moten

I disagree with many points in this article.
PPE is now readily available, including both fabric and disposable masks.
Every library's plan I have read is for contactless pick-up, meaning staff will not be accepting returns directly from patrons who arrive to pick up their holds; patrons will be directed to deposit their returns in a bin and all items will be quarantined for 72 hours.
While libraries are not as needed as grocery stores and healthcare facilities, many seniors and people with health issues rely on libraries and library books as their only refuge. There are still many people who lack either the technology or the ability to download books and other media.
Another reality is that libraries cannot continue to pay staff to stay home. Our communities and other entities that fund libraries expect libraries to offer services as soon as they can do so safely, and I believe curbside pick-up is a safe win-win for library staff and patrons.

Posted : May 13, 2020 08:39

Jeff Fielhauer

Definitely agree. Libraries keep telling everyone they need funding because they are essential to their community. Time to prove it.

Posted : May 13, 2020 08:39

Janet Porter

I think curbside pick up would be safe with PPE and disposable gloves. In this time of isolation it is imperative to have readers have access to library books. Maybe just wipe down surface of book with wipes especially if they are covered. I think maybe your post may be a little alarmist. Especially now things are opening up a little.

Posted : May 11, 2020 06:03

Jessie Tomren

An modified idea to the curbside presented in this article is to simply not accept returns until the branch has reopened. Pickup only, and hold onto all your items far longer than normal (no fines, no problem). That alleviates part of the issue or receiving potentially contaminated items. Also, I've heard of some stores providing "touchless curbside pickup" where you're asked to pop your trunk, stay in your car, & the store (or library) employee puts your items in your trunk and staff leaves...

Posted : May 11, 2020 04:53

Dennis Eickhoff

I run a small public library in a community with an aging population. Many of my older patrons do not have a kindle or a tablet and because our town does not have internet or wifi capabilities, these people are feeling isolated. They rely on books and magazines for their pleasure and this has been cut off since March 17, 2020. My board, along with myself are working on curbside services. We have a plan in place in which patrons may place a hold on an item or items and come up to a window that is situated next to our handicap entrance to pick the items up. I have set up a decontamination area with bins that will hold returns where items will be housed for 72 hours before cleaning and the check in of items can be taken care of. Unfortunately for us and the other 64 libraries in our system is the fact that we don't know where we fit in for opening even for this part of service. Not knowing what phase we fit in for sure is very disheartening. I have been purchasing ppe and getting some items through our town's safety officer. Oh, by the way I am a one person operation and do it all to keep our library going.

Posted : May 10, 2020 05:36

Jacquie Sewell

Curbside pickup can be done safely with reasonable precautions based on the science of how the virus spreads. The article I'm attaching a link to describes how the virus spreads and what factors are involved in acquiring the infection. As the article describes: one of the main factors in becoming infected is the amount of time spent in the presence of the virus particles. Eliminating or minimizing face to face contact will significantly diminish the chance of infection. Please read the article:https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them?fbclid=IwAR1BWI6aABmjcezDdc1PFhL4opeFR0t6KugyyIqq38etry5KMMEhgdmJDSs

Posted : May 10, 2020 05:04

Jessica Schwartz

Thank you so much! My library is getting ready to start curbside and I am 100% against it. I live in C), a state that is partially reopening. I know it's to try to prove our value in the face of budget cuts, but I am incredibly bitter over having to put my life and my family at risk for this. I appreciate how clearly you've articulated all the reasons why this is such a bad idea. I hope this post gets shared widely to library directors, city managers, and district admin.

Posted : May 10, 2020 04:06

Zephyr Kendzierski

Hello! We developed a process for contact-free curbside pickup and worked with our local health department to ensure we're minimizing risk of spreading the virus. Instructions are listed on www.apl.org/curbside if anyone's interested. I'm happy to answer any questions.

Posted : May 10, 2020 01:37

Kathe Wilson

If books were lent, but not returned until the crisis were over, would that be safe enough?

Posted : May 10, 2020 04:05

Kathe Wilson

How do you feel about curbside lending without returns?

Posted : May 10, 2020 03:47

Raajel Morton

There are still to many unknowns about how this virus is transferred to know what is a safe level of contact or if disinfecting materials will be effective.

Posted : May 09, 2020 04:30

Abe Listrom

While I understand her safety concerns, i think this is a very narrow, short-sighted viewpoint from someone working in one of the richest areas in the country, where the Library system is well funded and rarely has faced budget reductions. For most systems, we are asked yearly to reduce our budgets by 3-10 percent and with next years budgets now thrown into mayhem, those cuts could be even deeper. Libraries do need to show their worth and we are doing it every day during this crisis, with phone reference, virtual programming, and increased access to digital materials to name a few things. But the sooner we can put physical books into peoples hands the better - our customers (and our Library Boards) are getting antsy and enough time as passed for us to develop ways to implement curbside pickup safely. There are many ways to introduce pickup of holds in a 'contactless way' and most libraries have already introduced a book quarantine for returned items. Libraries need to start transitioning back to our bread-and-butter of getting books in customers hands, especially while parents are still struggling with having to play teacher. As we all start (or have already started) making plans to reopen our buildings in a safe way for all our staff and customers, curbside pickup is a great way to start transitioning and let our customers know we are there for them.

Posted : May 07, 2020 05:26

Simon Peacock

After we polled 277+ senior library staff on Wednesday 29th April 70% of them responded the idea of a curbside pick up service was be considered as a way of maintaining social distancing after the library had re-opened, not during any lock down measures

Posted : May 04, 2020 07:39

Buda Kajer-Crain

My local library has a wonderful and safe "curb-side" system that works. First, the patron puts in a request on the library's web site for books to be reserved.. When the books become available, the library informs the patron via email. The library has a long table outside of its front doors, with a security guard present. Upon arrival, patrons phone the library to inform the librarian of a book (s) pick-up. The librarian opens the front door, and places the books on the table without leaving the building. Social distancing between the guard and patrons is always maintained. When I pick up my books, I use a box to carry them, and I leave this box in my car for 3 days before bringing the books into my house. The return date for books I picked up in February is April 30 - which I think might very well be extended. I don't know how the librarians will deal with the returned books. There is a book drop (currently closed) outside of the building that possibly might be used to transport books to a quarantine site. I believe it's possible for other libraries to offer creative "curb-side" services to their patrons. It all depends on finding new ways to ensure the safety of both the librarians and the patrons.

Posted : May 01, 2020 11:41

Ron Schermacher

I am sure Librarians can be trained as well as any other worker in any other conditions given the right equipment. We are doing curbside service as we feel the reward is greater than the risk for our particular situation (small town, small numbers served). We have implemented several procedures to insure the health of our staff and the few patrons needing services. These include voluntary customer service, UV sterilization, bleach, time, PPE, bagged books and lots of hand washing.
Some folks do not have access to computers, need to fill out government and employment forms, need copies made, need notary service, etc. As is usually the case the least served are the hardest hit and need there public servants to step up and fill the need. We are not demonstrating our value to anyone other than our patrons, especially those most in need.
I would most likely take a different view if I lived in a big city but after considerable deliberation for our specific situation we are striving to serve without adding any burden to the EMS and Hospital heroes.

Posted : May 01, 2020 06:06

Bonni L

Thank you for expressing your thought regarding curbside library service. As an employee of a public library, I have many fears of reopening too soon, of curbside service, especially when we don’t know how long the virus can linger on surfaces. Yes, libraries are essential, but safety measure must come first when dealing with the public, especially in this situation.
Thank you,
Bonni L.

Posted : May 01, 2020 05:46

Rebecca Kilde

I appreciate this perspective, and I think it’s very valuable information.
Another strength of libraries is that they are embedded in their communities. The issues for libraries in densely populated areas are very different from what is faced by small rural communities, for instance. Just in our library system we’re seeing different responses based on each library’s situation.
The information that is going to make this much easier to navigate is some real research on transmissibility from library materials. IMLS and the CDC are working on this now, and I look forward to that information. At this point, the libraries that are participating in curbside are quarantining returned material for 24-72 hours, and eliminating in-person contact.

Posted : Apr 29, 2020 04:28

Heidi Smith

Thank you for these perspective; your work was very helpful with our consideration of this service at this time. Please keep sharing your practical comparisons and calling out the reasons for some of these considerations!

Posted : Apr 29, 2020 02:59

Roberta Davis

I think this makes a lot of sense. Some very good points. Safety first for everyone.

Posted : Apr 27, 2020 11:46

Kirsten Heitz

Thank you! I am a manager at a public library and have been experiencing mixed emotions: from anxiety about staff and public safely adapting to a post-quarantine re-open, to guilt about letting down our "offline" patrons. This articulately puts a lot of what I've been struggling with into perspective.

Posted : Apr 27, 2020 05:16

Annie McConville

Excellent and fair points eloquently made. Many thanks.

Posted : Apr 26, 2020 03:30

Kathy Hale

I disagree. While I'm not an expert, the articles I have read indicate that the risk of contamination from a book or other item is minimal. I also believe that one size does not fit all. As a very rural small library, I have several patrons without Internet services at home and sought to meet their needs. Before our stay at home order, I delivered books to their driveway or set them outside my library door for pick up. No contact with persons. When returned in our book drop, I wiped the items down and kept them quarantined for at least a week before shelving. I have no other staff.. AND we have had no cases in our county, very few in a 50 or even 100 mile radius. I would like to resume curbside pickup. I agree larger populated areas have different concerns.

Posted : Apr 24, 2020 05:52

Becky Shull

Well said. The library I work at is an hour from Milwaukee WI, Madison WI, and Chicago IL. Clearly in a "hot spot"- or right next to 3 of them. We are opening for curbside, and I am very concerned and scared.

Posted : Apr 24, 2020 04:07

Patricia McClune

I disagree. In Pennsylvania local garden centers and liquor stores, among others, have devised no-contact pick up systems to safely distribute their wares. Surely the bright, innovative folks at the public library can do the same.
Fortunately a branch of our library system saw the need, thought it through and developed safe procedures to allow limited, call-ahead checkouts. Kudos to them!
Yes, digital resources remain an option, however with many students and adults on screens much of the day for school and work, physical books are a welcome reprieve.

Posted : Apr 24, 2020 03:54

Patricia McClune

I disagree. Local garden centers and liquor stores in Pennsylvania have devised no-contact pick up systems for their wares. Surely the bright, innovative folks at the library can do the same.
Fortunately a branch of our library system recognized the need and stepped up to offer a limited, safe means to get books into the hands of patrons. Kudos to them! Yes, digital resources are an option but with many students and adults on screens much of the day for school and work a physical book is a welcome reprieve.

Posted : Apr 24, 2020 03:40

Claire C

Your views very much align with everything I’ve been thinking. Libraries have the strong potential to become viral hotspots. I actually left a message on a state constituent line detailing how circulating materials and coming in inevitably close contact with patrons would only be contributing to a fast spread. Libraries aren’t serving anyone if the end result means people getting sick or dying. We have a responsibility to not take away PPE from our healthcare workers. In the end, we owe it to everyone to not do more harm than good. I hope more people read your piece and that it resonates with them.

I’d love to see how libraries can help the community in other ways like seed libraries, virtual or dial in book clubs/author talks, story times, reading radio services could really shine right now too, video shorts on sewing, knitting, gardening, building, how-to, or other hobbies would be great as well. Whatever librarians can think of to keep people involved in very safe ways.

Posted : Apr 24, 2020 03:55

New Librarian

I think the majority of us agree with your opinion... you don’t provide any potential solutions?

Too much talking, not enough action.

Posted : Apr 23, 2020 09:29

Doeni Onco

What do you suggest?

Posted : Apr 23, 2020 09:29

Doeni Onco

What do you suggest?

Posted : Apr 23, 2020 09:29



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