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UNISON members working in museums and public libraries in England from 30 November 2021.
1. New regulations on face coverings
UNISON knows that this will be an anxious time for many of our members working in public libraries following the discovery of omicron, the new coronavirus variant.
UNISON lobbied The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Libraries Connected for face coverings to be made mandatory in libraries as a precautionary measure until we better understand the new variant. However, while the government has brought in new regulations making it a legal requirement for the wearing of face coverings in shops, shopping centres, in transport hubs and on public transport, no such requirement has been made to cover public libraries.
The temporary changes to the regulations are expected to last at least three weeks. A list of the settings where face coverings are legally required can be found here:
With regard to library settings,
 face coverings will be mandated for any shop or retail space within a library but not in hospitality areas such as a library café
 it is illegal for employers to prevent or seek to prevent library staff from wearing face coverings
Plymouth City Council following requests from UNISON has gone as far as it is able in terms of strongly requesting all non exempt library users wear face coverings on the premises
2. Events
DCMS and Libraries Connected are urging library services to plan the delivery of any services or events with the safety of staff and users in mind; and in line with robust risk assessments involving staff and unions.
3. UNISON’s view
UNISON believes that the Government should have adopted a precautionary approach in our public libraries and made the wearing of face coverings mandatory for both staff and users, unless medically exempt. This would have ensured that staff would benefit from the extra protection that face coverings provide against transmission of the virus. Our members in libraries now run the risk of being placed in the difficult position of ‘policing’ the voluntary use of face coverings and increasing anxiety and stress levels at a time when staff are under an immense amount of strain.
It is also UNISON’s view that there should be no expansion of events or services under the current circumstances. UNISON advises branches to renegotiate any plans for this with the employer and a precautionary approach to be adopted with the postponement or cancellation of such plans. Fresh risk assessments undertaken in full consultation with all unions remains vital.
Unfortunately, it will again be up to branches to negotiate at a local level for the safe delivery of library services and to ensure that the employer conducts robust risk assessments that take into consideration the need for good ventilation in enclosed workplaces. Health and safety reps can see the link below for guidance on coronavirus and resources on issues concerning ventilation:
The new guidance published by the Government can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-covid-19

A recent outbreak among staff at the BOX has underlined all of the above points and again PCC have responded appropriately by reviewing safety measures and applying similar strong requests to wear face coverings onsite. Plymouth in UNISON will continue to monitor the situation there

Reports from Libraries indicate 80% compliance with face masks

2 meter social distancing remains in place

Computer use: length of time per customer increased to 2 hours; looking at Perspex screen between monitors to increase number (but will not do unless RA demonstrates safe to do so)

No use of meeting rooms for groups (insufficient ventilation)

Staff are encouraged to report any difficulties that have achieving customer compliance