Blogger Abby Johnson

Libraries During COVID: Scenes from the Empty Library

Who would have thought this is where we’d be right now? Libraries all over the US are in varying stages of opening or closed depending on their communities. It’s a weird reality of libraries during COVID. And it feels so, so strange to be working in the mostly-empty library day after day, week after week. I’m having some major feelings about it all right now. Are you, too?

A librarian wearing a cloth face mask pulls a cart of books.
Wearing masks at work is necessary in libraries during COVID

My library is very slightly open right now. We’re still running on reduced hours, with staff split into two teams and working from home every other day to reduce risk. We’ve moved computers near our front lobby of our main location and only the lobby and a limited number of computers are open right now. Patrons can come in the lobby to pick up holds, browse a few book displays we’ve moved to the lobby, use a computer, or use services (via staff) like printing, copying, and faxing. Our tiny branch remains completely closed to the public, only offering curbside pickup. Libraries during COVID are looking a lot different than they do at other times.

A librarian I admire greatly tweeted something last week about the cognitive dissonance of working in a helping profession with coworkers you like, but feeling anxious about getting too close to people, too exposed. It really hit home with me that that’s what I’m feeling. I want to help people, but I still feel really nervous about the idea of the library reopening fully. As much as I do not like working in the lonely, dark library, I’m glad our director and Library Board have been taking their time to reopen gradually. For every thought I have about how much we could be working on if our staff was back in the building full time, I am also grateful that we’re still distancing because I know it decreases my risk. Libraries during COVID = cognitive dissonance.

I could go through the tasks I’m doing each day to try to help our patrons. Things like working on Book Care Packages, ordering e-books, replacing grubby copies of our most popular titles and series, and creating displays to help people browse in the lobby. But that isn’t the spirit of this post (I’m sorry). I mostly want you to know that if you love your job, but you don’t love it right now, or if you have mixed feelings about whatever stage of opening your library’s in (or your neighboring libraries or your state’s libraries), or if you’re struggling: you’re not alone.

Well, you may be literally alone.

But just know that, despite the positive spin we may put on our social media posts, there are other librarians struggling, too. And it’s okay to not be okay right now. If you’re feeling that, I’m right there with you in spirit.

PS: If you’re looking for more practical advice on how to adapt libraries during COVID, maybe check out these recent ALSC Blog posts that share some amazing ideas:


This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group and VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.

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