Dear Realist Librarian,
How has the pandemic affected you and your library?
Dear Worried Patron,
Like most of us living on planet earth for the last two years, the public library has been through a crazy journey since the first announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the initial lockdown in March 2020, we closed our doors to the public along with everyone else in observance of the global health emergency. Keeping the staff paid and/or working from home during that time was up to each individual system. Most public library staff reentered their buildings after 3-6 months and worked together, masked and socially distanced. The public couldn’t come in, but we delivered books, DVDs, and activities to their trunks and backseats during curbside service. When we were finally able to reopen our doors, it was with a strict capacity limit and non-negotiable mask mandate. Next, we reinstated storytime after a generation of “pandemic babies” had been born and never met anyone but their parents. The mask and distancing rules are even stricter during storytime because our target audience—children under 5–cannot get vaccinated and generally find mask-wearing difficult. Even now, when the majority of our patrons seem to be vaccinated (we don’t collect the data but many people volunteer their vax status in an effort not to have to wear a mask), a mask is required inside the building.
These are the quantifiable facts. They’re all things that are happening, absent of the human element. Similar to what the people who make the most important decisions for the public library (usually city council, the library board of directors, or the city librarian and their deputies) see each day, you have just seen a factual report of public library building operations. The people who make those decisions make them from closed rooms on a high floor of a downtown building or from the comfort of their laptop in a private home office. I, on the other hand, have noticed that the homeless man who spends open to close sitting against a wall in Nonfiction is coughing a little more than usual today. But I only earn 3.5 sick hours per paycheck, so I’ve just been double masking and hoping for the best. Then again, I have access to very nice masks and I have a house to quarantine inside if needed. I don’t think he does.