Letter from Debbie – Johns Hopkins Report Response

April 23, 2020

When the Governor releases libraries to reopen our doors, we want to be ready. We want to make sure that reopening plans are in place and that we have thought of every contingency for keeping patrons and staff safe from a resurgence of the coronavirus. We recognize that our services and workflow will need to change; that our cleaning will need to be performed more often and with deeper, longer-lasting techniques; that our staff will need access to PPE and to explore new ways to serve patrons in a way that is safe for both; and that we need to prepare for differing patron behaviors in light of the coronavirus including updating all of our existing room and use policies. From all that we’ve heard, Michigan libraries will be ready when the time comes to reopen our doors.

In light of that, MLA has reviewed the Johns Hopkins University report: “Public Health Principles for a Phased Reopening During COVID-19 Guidance for Governors” and we believe that their assessment of low contact, low risk for our nation’s libraries needs to be immediately reassessed. It Is this type of misrepresentation in analyzing true and real circumstances in our public, academic, and school libraries that will cause great harm and will continue the spread of COVID-19 to our patrons and library staff members if not updated immediately.

What they have missed in their analysis, however, is that libraries are vibrant and robust places to gather socially. Libraries are not quiet spaces, low contact, or low risk as they have alluded. While libraries are still places to find a book or two within the stacks, over the years, they have turned into the heart and soul of their communities. Many, if not all, serve more like community centers having expanded their programming and their spaces to accommodate the myriad needs within their community.

Kristin Shelley, MLA President and Director of the East Lansing Public Library summed it up this way:

As a public library director in a university town, I am concerned and dismayed about the Johns Hopkins reopening report that characterizes libraries as low risk for transmitting COVID-19. Libraries are community gathering spaces, especially in times of an economic downturn. We provide services from large and small meeting rooms, programming for all age levels, free wi-fi, free computer access, copiers, technology training, readers’ advisory, and space for community members to connect with books and with each other. On an average day, we easily see upwards of 1,000 visitors in a public space that is just over 20,000 square feet. There is a tremendous amount of interaction with patrons as we provide exceptional, personalized customer service. Our programs cater to all ages—storytimes can easily bring in 50 plus children and caregivers three times per week. In short, libraries are very busy public entities that welcome all members of the community through our doors and into our buildings. We are not low-risk for COVID-19 transmittal.

To help set the record straight, we have sent them a letter from MLA and have included normal everyday photographs from a number of libraries throughout Michigan to highlight our points. While we agree to the premise of the phased-in approach they have suggested, we vehemently disagree with how they have characterized libraries as low risk, low contact. We requested that they reassess and correct their findings so that our Governors, municipal leaders, and others who will likely take this study verbatim and use it to execute reopening strategies are not misinformed about the nature of library patron behaviors.

Photograph from the University of Detroit Mercy library. This photo shows a typical day for students who use the library.

Photograph from the University of Detroit Mercy library. This photo shows a typical day for students who use the library.

We hope that you too will send a photograph through Facebook or Twitter, tagging them and us, and point out to them the flaw in their findings. My favorite emojis came from Riti Grover the new Director at the Farmington Community Library, and I quote: “Libraries and low risk facepalm emoji imageFlush face emoji image"

You can tag Johns Hopkins University on Facebook @johnshopkinsuniversity and on Twitter @JHSPH_CHS

Debbie Signatiure

Deborah E. Mikula
Executive Director

East Lansing Public Library – “Bubble Boy” family program. These programs happen 4-5 times a week in the community room, all year long.

East Lansing Public Library – “Bubble Boy” family program. These programs happen 4-5 times a week in the community room, all year long.

Back to news

 

 


Uniting the Michigan Library Community

MLA is proud to partner with organizations serving the library community.