|Weekly News Digest
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COVID-19 NEWS: 'Librarians Alarmed About Coronavirus Safety at D.C.'s Reopened Public Libraries'
Julie Zauzmer writes the following for The Washington Post:
When the District’s public libraries began gradually reopening in late May, many residents rushed to check out books for the first time in six weeks. By mid-July, the library was opening its doors for six hours a day, five days a week, for patrons who could come inside to borrow items and spend time using public computers at 14 locations.
But librarians say the reopening has been poorly handled, exposing both staff members and the public to potential coronavirus risks. They also say library managers have kept staff in the dark about colleagues who come down with the virus and have struggled with cleaning protocols and mask requirements.
‘We want people to use our services, but this is one of those things where we just don’t think it’s safe yet,’ said one library staff member, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared losing their jobs. ‘We think this has been rushed. We’re here. We’re still showing up to work. We want to help people. But it’s not safe.’
The head of the library system, Richard Reyes-Gavilan, said in an interview that he understands workers’ concerns, but he believes residents should feel they can check out books without fear.
‘We are being very cautious,’ he said. ‘Our staff, in most cases, are front-line workers now, and they’re delivering a crucial service for residents who want libraries and need libraries. But I get it. This is a situation that was unfathomable to us just a few months ago, so I think some anxiety is perfectly natural. … That’s why, I think, we’re taking it as slow as we have been.’
Many library systems regionally and nationwide have reopened slower than D.C. Montgomery County is still only checking out books curbside, not allowing patrons in the building as D.C. libraries are. Prince George’s County began offering only curbside checkout this week. Richmond’s public libraries announced Thursday they would end the in-person services that they had resumed, returning to curbside pickup only until at least Sept. 8.
The frustration among D.C. librarians, shared on employee email lists and in conversations inside the 14 open branches, prompted a planned demonstration outside the Northeast branch on Wednesday evening to warn neighborhood residents about what they say are the risks of visiting the library. It was canceled due to severe thunderstorms.
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