The following blog post is intended to provide general information and should not be construed as legal advice.The author relied on federal law and Indiana law, but did not research any other jurisdictions. Due to the rapid changes of this evolving public health emergency, the most appropriate information and recommendations will likely change daily. The information below is up-to-date as of March 18.
Libraries throughout Indiana are now embracing the dual challenge of meeting community needs while protecting the safety of staff and patrons during the current outbreak of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, as well as other pandemic diseases in the future. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
The COVID-19 outbreak provides an opportunity for local public libraries to educate the public using reliable and accurate sources for medical and public health information. See the National Network of Libraries of Medicine’s webpage A Guide to COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) for Public Libraries for a list of resources. The geographic spread of the virus also creates an opening to reinforce libraries’ traditional values of inclusion and non-discrimination.
Libraries are asking about their obligations to staff and patrons during a pandemic. The Indiana State Department of Health advises public facilities to take “every day preventive measures” to help contain the spread of COVID-19. These include:
- Ensuring adequate hand washing facilities and supplies are available.
- Posting signs encouraging proper hand washing and respiratory etiquette.
- Encouraging sick employees to stay home.
- Encouraging patrons not to enter the building if they are sick.
- Performing routine environmental cleaning (cleaning all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace).
See the health department’s COVID-19 Information for Public Facilities and Organizations information sheet for more details.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that employers create an infectious disease outbreak plan in order to be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from COVID-19 while ensuring continuity of operations. See CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers for more information.
The U.S. Department of Labor suggests employers review their leave policies and consider providing increased flexibility to employees and families. Because flexible policies can open the door to discriminatory practices, DOL reminds employers they must administer flexible leave policies in a manner that doesn’t discriminate against employees because of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age (40 and over), disability or veteran status. Read more here: Pandemic Flu and the Family and Medical Leave Act: Questions and Answers.
Some of the measures that libraries are already taking include:
- Increasing the frequency of sanitizing public computer keyboards.
- Cleaning public contact surfaces twice per day.
- Making hand sanitizer available in numerous locations (e.g., public computers, circulation desk and staff area) with signs encouraging use and encouraging patrons to use hand sanitizer both before and after using the computer.
- Encouraging staff to wash hands frequently and thoroughly.
- Cancelling programs; either some or all for a temporary period.
- Removing toys or other touch-heavy objects from children’s areas.
- Curbing outreach to at-risk populations, such as retirement communities.
- Temporarily suspending requirement of a doctor’s note for an extended staff absence.
- Closing temporarily, reducing services or changing the services provided.
The following resources provide additional suggestions and information:
Indiana Library Federation: About COVID-19 and ILF Response
Every Library: Resources for Libraries on Coronavirus
Library Journal: What Public Libraries Need to Know about the Coronavirus
National Libraries of Medicine: Coronavirus: Library and Business Operations Planning
OSHA: Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic (Steps Employers Can Take)
Libraries do not need to start from scratch in designing new policies and procedures to address COVID-19 or other pandemic diseases. We urge you consult your library’s attorney before proposing changes or additions to your library’s policies, but the following resources can serve as templates to help you get started:
- The U.S. National Library of Medicine offers the following free, self-paced course, during which you develop a one-page plan for continuity of operations: In Case of Emergencies: Continuity of Operations (COOP) Planning.
- The ALA’s Pandemic Preparedness page highlights topics to include in an individual library policy.
- The Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthcare Planning Checklist is geared toward health care providers, but page one contains some general steps for safety and protection and the format could prove useful to some people.
As we move through this ever-changing public health crisis, it is reassuring to discover so many organizations sharing freely of their time and resources to help us all figure out what we need to be doing.
Written by Cheri Harris, certification program director/legal consultant at the Indiana State Library