A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Blurred Line Between Safety and Service

by on January 4, 2021

At the inception of COVID-19 safety precautions, institutions were
faced with the obligation to close their doors to the public for the
overall safety of themselves and their community.  In the first four
months of reopening, the lines of precaution and safety were clear at
my library:

*hours were adjusted from 10:00 AM-5:00PM
*no more Saturday hours or evening hours
*six public computers were available out of twenty-four
*Wi-Fi was available for parking lot use
*no in-person programming
*no helping patrons directly
*one-hour time restraints for library use
*no faxing, no copying, nor guest passes
*fines were waived
*books were quarantined for 72 hours.

By October 2020 as the state of Florida moved into phase three, we slowly
extended our services: we bought a new, simpler copy machine that
patrons could operate on their own; we opened twelve of twenty-four public computers; books were quarantined for 48-hours; fines were
implemented; six chairs were provided throughout the library so patrons
could sit for up to two hours; we allowed donations for the bookstore
again; and library workers are doing their best to indirectly assist patrons.

On the front line, I have helped landlords and tenants find the
necessary documents to settle or articulate their claims in the midst
of a housing crisis. I have assisted patrons urgently seeking to print living wills, powers of attorney, and FMLA forms, so that children and caregivers can legally look after their ill loved ones when time was of the essence. I have helped patrons figure out how they can receive COVID-19 payments
from the government. We provided voter registration forms and
personally sent in applications for patrons in a very important
election race. The county supplied our branch 6,000 masks to
distribute for free.

As the days pass, I realize that the community needs the library,
always. Members of the community are on the phone line before our
doors open. They are at the door waiting on us at 10 A.M., and they
are leaving here when we close the doors at 5 P.M. At this moment, the
free masks have run out and it is truly up to the patron to wear a
mask to stop the spread. In the event a patron does not have a mask,
the chances of emission will increase between staff and user and user
to user. How much longer can we deny patrons the help they need while
protecting our own lives in the process?

We have decided to purchase a number of new laptops in order to be
able to increase and improve the user experience through
demonstrations. The world is moving more and more
into digital spaces, but there is an alarming number of the
population who still do not know how to confidently open their email
from the desktop or have never used Microsoft Office. How do we
increase the population’s information literacy now more than ever?

As the pandemic continues, how do library workers stay safe and still
provide the services desperately needed in our communities?