We can learn from the experience of others and adopt shared principles of safe space planning and user interaction. And we can seek out the support of our leading providers of design services, technology and equipment who have committed their resources to helping libraries globally reopen safely.

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Here to help

Designing Libraries spoke with the two leading library design and furnishing specialists, FG Library & Learning and thedesignconcept, to get an update on this shift in focus. “Social distancing guidelines are the most important to adhere to in a library environment,” said Josh Hughes, general manager of FG. “So for existing spaces, reconfiguration is important whilst also maintaining a reasonable customer journey to ensure access to all areas. There are two options: walkways made wide enough for two people to cross at a safe distance, or a one way flow using adequate floor, wall or ceiling signage to guide users.”

Mobile shelving will give libraries a lot more flexibility to adapt to the current situation, and both companies are set up to advise on the positioning of study spaces and IT, the use of dividing screens and the reconfiguration of counters and pods for safe face-to-face contact between staff and users. FG is offering an anti-microbial fabric recovering service for study chairs.

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Carol Valentine, business development manager at thedesignconcept, says: “We have been working hard to give libraries the resources they need to protect staff and visitors alike with products that offer information, promote safety and ensure social distancing guidelines are adhered to.” That includes bespoke space reconfiguration design services – see the link on the right of this page to download a typical example. Both thedesignconcept and FG are fully committed to planning and implementing solutions for safe reopening.

Technology can help, as bibliotheca has described in a very comprehensive survey of the phased reopening of libraries across the world. bibliotheca also offers advice on how its own products come into their own in the ‘new normal’. “To reduce risk to staff and users alike, libraries should encourage users to borrow and return items through self-service kiosks, eliminating the need for unnecessary human interaction. Hand sanitiser stations at self-checkout can reduce contamination of surfaces. However, bibliotheca selfChecks can easily be configured for a completely touchless experience. Additionally, users can borrow materials directly from their own mobile devices with cloudLibrary checkout, reducing fear or anxiety for library users.”

Listen to the world

Andrew Finegan of ALIA writes that libraries will need to carefully consider the risks associated with reopening, and the measures which will need to be put in place when the time comes for libraries to reopen. To make this process as smooth as possible, the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) communications team has prepared a strategic checklist which includes information on staff support, services that need to be phased in (or out), communications planning, and safety precautions.

The Secretary General of IFLA has communicated IFLA’s role in providing advice and guidance. IFLA has continued to update its COVID-19 resource page. With over half a million views and links to activities in all world regions, it has looked to provide examples of how libraries are responding to the pandemic globally. Increasingly, it also features plans developed by library associations, authorities and public health agencies in order to resume services safely, offering a bibliography that can help in developing programmes suited to each library service’s own situation.