Though many libraries have sent workers home, with pay, several systems in states like Texas, Massachusetts and Colorado have required at least some staff members to keep coming to work. This has prompted criticism from some librarians, including those whose systems have made different arrangements.
“People get into librarianship because it’s a service profession and we want to help people but we’re not medical professionals or emergency personnel,” said Sara Slymon, the director of the Public Library of Brookline, Mass., where branches closed on March 13 and employees were sent home with pay. “To say people should come into closed buildings seems to be a violation of the very concept of this quarantine.”
The office of the Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, said in a statement that the city “understands some employees may be anxious about going to the office during a public health crisis” but that city employees are considered essential. Some city employees have been allowed to work from home, if they can effectively do their jobs that way, the mayor’s office said.
“If an employee is not approved for telecommuting, they can speak with their supervisor or director about taking a vacation, accrued sick time, or time without pay, to remain at home,” the statement added. “Otherwise, the City cannot pay employees to stay at home if they are not working.”
Workers at shuttered libraries have reshelved books or prepared social media content, library employees in several systems said. In Eagle County, Colo., some are involved in one of the many curbside pickup programs that library systems are continuing to operate. The governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, has ordered residents of the state to stay home unless they work in an essential industry like health care or law enforcement.
The director of the Eagle Valley Library District, Linda Tillson, said its locations were “providing educational resources” consistent with an April 6 county order designating libraries as essential. She added that library employees are given gloves, libraries are cleaned, books are disinfected and that there was no direct contact between patrons and staff.