As the third lockdown comes into force in England, library workers again find themselves being asked to maintain library services. This time in the face of a highly transmissible COVID-19 variant.
UNISON’s position is that public libraries should close completely. However, Westminster guidelines state that libraries can still provide some library services such as access to IT and click and collect.
UNISON believes that even these limited services expose library workers and users to unnecessary risks and should be halted while national restrictions remain in place.
UNISON head of local government Jon Richards said: “When the UK is going into lockdown our priority must be to reduce any unnecessary risk of transmission, and avoid any further burden to our buckling care and health services.
“We recognise how important libraries are to local communities but for the moment we must focus on what is best for the health and safety of the public and library workers.”
There are already COVID-19 cases occurring among the library workforce. Many library staff are off sick or isolating and fearful of exposing vulnerable family members to the virus.
With some staff likely to be redeployed again to other roles, such as delivering food parcels to the vulnerable, there will be still fewer staff available to deliver even limited library services.
Libraries will play a fundamental role in supporting communities as the country recovers from the crisis and society re-opens. But right now, library workers are scared and stressed.
Library staff are dedicated and passionate about public libraries. They love what they do. But they are also exhausted by the constant demands to re-open library services alongside staff shortages. They deserve the certainty and protection that closing their doors to the public will bring during lockdown.
UNISON believes these measures are vital to keep everyone safe and beat this virus.
Where employers refuse to close libraries we urge them to ensure that staffing levels are kept to an absolute minimum. It makes no sense to bring in library staff who are not needed as this exposes them to greater risk and also goes against the government instruction to stay at home and not to undertake unnecessary journeys.