Re-opening Library Spaces Safely

Your Planning Guide for Re-opening


The full library experience with a wide range of group events and unlimited access to library space may still be some way off, as it will not be easy to manage in a COVID compliant manner. Service recovery will not be an instant process of reopening the doors and resuming “normal service”.

However, the immediate task of reopening the doors is complex and daunting as schools and public libraries have never been faced before with a task of this magnitude.

As a starting point, the following can be considered:

  • Staff, student, user and volunteer safety is paramount. Risk assessments taking into account public health should be carried out and regularly reviewed.
  • Re-opening will be a phased process based on risk management, availability of staff and resources, and priorities of need.
  • Address the needs of vulnerable, disadvantaged library users and explore alternative methods of supporting them.
  • The practicalities and priorities for reopening will differ for each library service, and careful planning is needed down to individual establishments.
  • Planning should take into account preparation time for new procedures, spaces and workflows, and for staff training.
  • Clear communication is essential to manage expectations of the service and behaviour within the library space.
  • The situation is changing fast and detailed advice will also change over time, so any plans should be flexible and take account of updated guidance and context. Once in delivery, revised arrangements should be reviewed regularly.

Gresswell, along with our sister company Demco US, has produced the tips below to put together a planning guide for how you will adapt your services, your protocols, and your physical space to ensure everyone’s safety during the ongoing pandemic.

The implementation of any of these steps should be based on the direction of your local authorities, government and public health officials, and library leadership.

Your Planning Guide Begins with Your Staff

You’ve probably already examined your ability to offer some of your services remotely. Even before you open your doors, you may be bringing some staff members back to prepare the space. Provide on-site staff with appropriate personal protective equipment, such as gloves, masks, and face shields, as well as hand sanitizer.

Make sure your entire staff understands that they must follow the guidelines for disinfecting and preventing the spread of germs recommended by government and public health officials. You may wish to consider implementing a quick beginning-of-shift reminder of your new procedures and asking staff members to wash their hands before they start their shift.

Separate Staff Workspaces

Reevaluate your work stations to determine if you can separate staff by at least 2m. Taped guidelines or floor decals are good visual reminders to stay within a designated space.

You can also provide acrylic barriers between workstations and additional bar code scanners to reduce the number of shared touchpoints for your staff members. Other options include converting spaces such as meeting rooms into makeshift workspaces for staff members. For shared workspaces, schedule employees so there is enough time to clean thoroughly between shifts.

Phase Your Opening and Set Limitations

Consider a phased approach to opening your library doors. You may want to begin by offering click and collect services only. As public libraries open the physical space, consider designating specific morning hours for high-risk populations (such as elderly users) only.

As you continue to open your doors, use guest counters to limit the number of people in the library at any one time. You can also set time limits for users, letting them know that there is an hour limit per visit.

Do not allow the consumption of food and drink in your library for the foreseeable.

Be sure to post clear signage about your new hours, services, and policies throughout your library for both staff and library users, and communicate them through your usual promotional channels.

Explore products that will help you provide library services while ensuring visitor and staff safety and well-being.

Prevent the Spread of Germs

The best defence against spreading germs is prevention. Provide a disinfectant station at the entrance to your library, and conduct a regular and thorough cleaning of high-touch surfaces, such as shelving, doorknobs, light switches, railings, taps, computers, phones, and furniture arms, with a disinfectant or UV sterilizer. Display printed cleaning schedules in shared spaces to let staff and visitors know when these areas have been disinfected.

Place clear signage in bathrooms and other high-profile areas reminding library users to wash their hands frequently, especially after they cough or sneeze. Ensure there are wastebaskets available throughout your library.

If someone does become symptomatic while in your library, have a plan for how you will isolate them until they can leave your facility. You’ll then want to quarantine any areas they were in, if possible. After 24 hours, thoroughly disinfect the area.

Control the Flow of Traffic

Within the library, control the flow of traffic with traffic control posts, and place floor decals throughout to show users where to walk and stand. If you are only allowing people to enter one at a time, consider creating a traffic flow line with tape or floor markers and clearly posted signs asking library users to wait their turn.

Consider creating a serpentine flow through the stacks. Place arrow decals on the floor to help visitors understand the flow of traffic through the aisles. If you are concerned about materials being handled while browsing, place book trucks or bins at the end of each aisle for users to place any materials they’ve handled.

Offer Virtual Services

Consider other services you can provide virtually to limit the number of visitors populating your physical space at any one time, including library card signup and renewal.

For example, many libraries are planning appointment systems to provide essential access to IT in a managed environment, are looking at click and collect borrowing rather than browsing in the open library, and exploring ways to offer a home library service to isolated or shielded users.

Although it’s a difficult decision, you may need to suspend some services for a period of time if you cannot alter them for physical distancing or offer them virtually.

Provide Protective Barriers and Sanitation Stations

Limit close-contact interactions by placing clear pass-through health shields between staff and visitors at your reception desk.

Consider adding hand sanitizer stations at regular intervals around the space. Encourage their use with clear signage throughout the library.

Encourage Self-Checkout

If appropriate, implement a click and collect service to limit browsing and entry to the full library space. If your library has a mobile app, let users know that they can check out books on their apps and come to the library to pick upholds.

Separate Computer Stations

If barriers cannot be implemented between computers, considering removing some of your computers or moving them to different areas. Reconsider your time limits on them to ensure there is enough time to disinfect between uses.

Reconsider Your Room Layouts

Make a list of all the areas in your library that are set up for people to be in close proximity to each other, including meeting rooms, computer stations, zoned or children’s areas, etc. Evaluate whether these spaces can be made safer by separating them with barriers. Use partitions, sound barriers, or mobile whiteboards to cordon off or separate spaces into smaller areas and discourage gathering.

Next, look at the furniture layout in your spaces. Can you rearrange furniture pieces to ensure 2m of distance? If not, consider removing some pieces of furniture or moving them off to the side of the room. If furniture cannot be moved, use signage to discourage their use.

Focus on retaining the furniture that has antimicrobial coverings or is easily cleaned, such as vinyl or plastic pieces. Your flexible, mobile tables can be moved apart from each other or folded, nested, and stored to reduce the number of seating spaces.

Quarantine Your Circulating Materials

Disinfecting circulating materials may seem like a daunting task, however, research suggests that time is the best disinfectant. Create a plan to label and quarantine returned materials before they are placed back into circulation to help prevent the spread of germs.

Read our blog ‘Managing Returned Materials’ to see how.

Continue to Prepare for the Future

None of us expected to experience something like the COVID-19 pandemic in our lifetimes, and we have been forced to react to the best of our abilities. The good news is that we’ve gained valuable lessons from this experience and can apply them to our plans for the future.

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