Collaborate to Innovate: library assistants work with librarians to plan for a safer library

During the many months of lockdown, we always kept one eye on our return to work. At each virtual library get-together, we’d swap stories of our experiences in shops and supermarkets, things we’d read about other libraries, how we were supporting students, what we thought about coming back to college, how a covid-safe library service would look.

During these early discussions, a plan began to form. Firstly, how would we capture all the information and ideas that were sharing? We wanted to keep track of the guidance from government and our professional organisations such as CILIP and Libraries Connected. We took part in webinars, discussion lists and training sessions. We talked to lecturers, managers, and other librarians.

And secondly, how would we turn all the knowledge gained while sitting in front of our computers, into practical guidance for our return to work? Our first step was to set up a Padlet that everyone could access, add ideas or links, comment on other posts, link ideas together.

We then asked each of our library assistants, working closely with a ‘project sponsor’ – a member of the Library Management Team – to design and deliver a project focusing on a particular aspect of the return to work. Each library assistant identified an area of interest to them, produced a project initiation document which outlined their aims and what they hoped to deliver. They then researched independently, meeting regularly with their project sponsor to discuss their findings. Projects were: how to ensure staff safety at the information desk, setting up a ‘triage’ service and creating a guide to the ‘reference interview’, handling acquisitions, marketing our new click&collect service, and how to arrange the physical library.

Some of the library assistants have kindly offered to write for this blog about these projects and how they were able to plan from a distance. I’m sure many of their ideas will be useful to other library staff in similar situations.

Ensuring Staff Safety – Ashley Choudry

In my Library Project, I set out to find appropriate ways of protection from Covid-19 for the library assistants when working throughout the Library and dealing with students and other staff. To complete my project, I conducted research on the methods of protection used by various libraries in colleges and universities throughout the world, looking at three main methods: perspex screens at the desk; 72-hour book quarantine; and separate collections of equipment for use by each staff member. I looked on their websites specifically for protection methods, whilst also looking at the overall UK protection guidelines that libraries needed to follow to be allowed to open once again.

In my research I found that many libraries had decided to use perspex screens to protect library staff at help desks from students and other staff. The majority had also implemented a 72- hour book quarantine to ensure any traces of the Covid-19 virus would have disappeared from recently returned books before they could be shelved again.However, I could not find much information on the use of equipment throughout other libraries and protection against Covid-19 when using it.

At the conclusion of my research and when presenting my findings to my colleagues, I recommended that we continued with the 72-hour quarantine while marking out a specific area to hold the books (there hadn’t been one before) and making collections of equipment for each individual library assistant with name labels on each piece. The perspex screens had already been added to the help desk, however I did recommend we add a couple more to cover all computer stations. 

I enjoyed doing this project as it gave me not only an insight into how other libraries operate but also a chance to have a vital say in the protection for my colleague’s and my own roles in this uncertain time, overall making me feel more satisfied and safer to be back in work.