Although the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has not yet fully abated in the United States, most states have begun a process of reopening, allowing businesses and other organizations to resume public activities with varying levels of restrictions. Libraries are part of this movement, striving to provide services to their communities in ways that assure the safety of library workers and their patrons.
During the crisis libraries have put great effort into their digital services. Even though physical branches may have closed, libraries have looked to creative ways to fulfilling their roles. Most public and academic libraries have remained very active in promoting and operating their digital services, especially ebook lending, enhanced access to other electronic resources, remote reference, or virtual programs.
In the current environment many questions remain without definitive resolution, such as how long the coronavirus remains on materials and how easily it can be spread in indoor and outdoor settings. These unresolved questions lead to uncertainties in procedures that libraries might follow to safely resume services. In the interim, many libraries are working to identify a subset of services to enable at least some level of access to physical collection materials.
IFLA is monitoring responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by libraries in many global regions and countries. The organization recently released an overview of how libraries in 30 different countries are approaching the crisis.2
OCLC, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and Battelle are collaborating on REALM (Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums) project. This project will produce a toolkit of resources to assist organizations in developing procedures and strategies for reopening their facilities and services during the COVID-19 crisis. This project will select, collect, and disseminate existing relevant resources during its first phase (May – August 2020).
Phase One of the project also includes laboratory testing that will be conducted by Battelle to investigate key issues such as how long the coronavirus persists on collection materials. The materials to be tested include hardcover book covers, buckram book covers, paperback book covers, internal book pages, plastic protective book covers, and plastic DVD cases. Battelle has issued the document “Test Plan for the Natural Attenuation of SARS-CoV-2 as a Decontamination Approach,” which describes the methodology that it will follow in its laboratory research. The document includes a statement of the objective of the research project:
The overall objective of this project is to gather data for OCLC and IMLS on the efficacy of ambient environmental conditions (temperature and relative humidity [RH]) against SARS-CoV2 pathogenic virus applied to representative materials found in libraries, archives and museums. OCLC and IMLS will select the materials and number of organisms to be tested, and Battelle will obtain and experiment with the agents.3
Battelle's laboratory research will provide important information regarding the persistence of the virus on collection materials. According to the timetables outlined in the REALM project website, the research will be carried out during the phase that concludes in August 2020. Since many libraries have reopening activities underway as of the beginning of June 2020, they will need to rely on more general research on the potential risks involved, rather than this specific research on library materials. Once the project's results are published, libraries will be able to make any needed adjustments to their procedures. Subsequent phases of the project will study additional types of materials and address issues not resolved in the earlier phases, producing additional resources for the toolkit. The project will remain active through September 2021 and will monitor any new research relevant to the stakeholders, updating toolkit resources as needed. The project description notes that “as the rate of transmission for the virus changes over time and communities continue to adjust to those changes, the policies and practices of libraries and museums may also warrant a change.”4
Selected Vendor Responses
All the ILS vendors are working with their customers through formal and informal channels to provide assistance in configuring or customizing products as needed to adjust to new workflows and procedure. Several library technology vendors have announced products or services to assist libraries as they implement reopening activities.
Patron Point Helps Libraries in Messaging
Patron Point announced that its customers have been able to use its automated messaging environment to facilitate reengagement with community members and to measure results. The system is able to identify patrons that have not been active in recent months and promote digital services such as ebooks and virtual programs. Patron Point can generate sequences of messages promoting relevant services to new or re-engaged lapsed-patrons. Patron Point offers a number of options for managing circulation notices. It can be programmed to customize the text of pickup messages. Libraries can schedule pickup notifications according to any necessary quarantine delays, allowing staff to avoid handling materials for specified intervals. Patron Point also selectively filters the generation of pickup messages for facilities that remain closed.
Curbside Feature for Evergreen
One of the common procedures implemented by libraries involves setting aside any returned materials for a specified interval before they are handled by library workers for checkin or processing. This quarantine period is typically set for three days, which studies show is the period that the virus can survive on surfaces.
Many libraries have implemented curbside service where patrons select materials they want to borrow through the online catalog and pick them up in their cars without the need for personal contact. This style of service has become popular for grocery and retail outlets.
New features for the open source Evergreen ILS are underway to support curbside pickup. This capability is being developed by the Equinox Open Library Initiative, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Integrated Library System consortium. The curbside pickup workflow will enable patrons to select materials in the catalog, place desired items on hold, and specify a time for pickup, and finally notify the library once they are on site. Staff functionality includes new displays for holds scheduled for pickup, the ability to view or modify pickup times, and real-time notifications upon patron arrival for materials.
Baratz Creates Features for Quarantined Materials
AbsysNet 2.2.5 from Baratz, includes several new features to help library workers manage items in quarantine. These include the capability to automatically set the status of returned items to “Temporarily out of Circulation” and to reset materials to active status once the specified quarantine interval expires. This Q-Quarantine feature can be configured by the library, with customized delay intervals and policies regarding the locations and materials for which it will be invoked.
Biblionix Creates Tools for Apollo
Biblionix has rolled out 18 new features for its Apollo ILS for smaller public libraries, facilitating changes in procedures related to the COVID-19 crisis. Apollo's catalog supports patron self-checkout, enabling patrons to sign in and charge materials to themselves using the camera on their phone. Since the Apollo catalog is already fully responsive, no special mobile app is needed. Other self-service features include online self-registration, or in-library signup using a dedicated kiosk. Libraries using Apollo can also opt to boost the placement of electronic items in search results since physical materials may not be available. Apollo also enables libraries to manage due dates, holds, or patron expirations in bulk to accommodate library closures.
Soutron Redirects Resources to its Clients
Soutron Global, which serves mostly legal and corporate libraries, has responded to its current or potential clients facing the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis by offering discounted pricing for its ILS products and free access to its Discovery platform through the end of the year. Its clients can apply for these programs via its website.
- “Library Re-Opening Strategies Around the World: An Overview of Current Proposals (6 June 2020),” International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), https://www.ifla.org/files/assets/hq/topics/libraries-development/documents/overview_of_re-opening_plans_6_june.pdf
- “Test Plan for the Natural Attenuation of SARS-CoV-2 as a Decontamination Approach” Battelle, prepared for OCLC and Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), 2020, https://www.webjunction.org/content/dam/WebJunction/Documents/webJunction/realm/test-plan.pdf.
- REALM Project, https://www.webjunction.org/explore-topics/COVID-19-research-project.html.