UNISON nationally has made its position on public libraries in England clear to both DCMS and Libraries Connected, both prior to the Government issuing its new national
restrictions and again following the announcement. UNISON’s statement can be found here:
UNISON believes that libraries must be closed for the four week lockdown to halt the rise in infections and keep library workers and staff safe. A number of branches have been successful in negotiating the full closure of their libraries as well as agreements on restricted hours and access. With the short notice given to library authorities, some authorities are still considering their lockdown policy and Plymouth has reduced its offering to select and collect and PC use by appointment. Members should contact the branch if they are unhappy with this move of if they have safety concerns.
The Government’s position
The new national restrictions for England can be found here:
Under the restrictions, library services must close their buildings for general public access but are allowed to operate these services:
Home Library Service (doorstep delivery, no-contact service)
School Library Service (doorstep delivery, no-contact service)
Order & Collect services (may take place inside the library, as close to the entrance as possible)
Access to PCs for essential purposes
Digital and remote services including eLending, online events and activities and keep in touch calls
Digital access to public services, including the UKVI visa application service.
DCMS have informed the libraries working group (a consultation body on which UNISON sits) that the decision about what services local communities most need,
and whether they can be delivered safely (from the point of view of users and the people working in libraries to provide them) will need to be taken at a local level. If
library authorities wish to provide these, then they must be managed in COVID-secure ways.
The Library Service Recovery Toolkit produced by Libraries Connected has been amended and can be found here:
UNISON will back members arguing for closing libraries completely on the basis of health and safety and reducing the risk of transmission. We must keep staff,
library users and the public safe and protect our communities, care services and the NHS during this second lockdown.
Opening libraries for exempted services is optional. Government advice is to limit unnecessary travel and only to go out if absolutely necessary, to stem
transmission of the virus. Staff, user and public safety is of paramount importance.
Local authorities have a responsibility to protect communities. They also have a duty of care for their staff. UNISON considers the protection of all public service
workers a priority. Libraries should also close to protect our colleagues in care services and the NHS.
UNISON is concerned about the risks posed to vulnerable workers and library users, and the people they live with, particularly due to the risk of transmission
through the use of public transport.
Libraries are a much-respected public service. They should be a model of good practice regarding reducing virus transmission.
Other workplaces are deemed COVID-safe and are closing for the period of lockdown. Claims that a library is COVID-safe is no excuse for library services to
remain accessible to the public during lockdown. COVID-safe practices and the Library Service Recovery Toolkit should be used to protect services as they
recover and re-open after lockdown.
Library staff may be redeployed to non-public facing roles e.g. keep in touch phone calls for vulnerable residents as they did during the lockdown in Spring.
Branches can also find information on library provision during lockdown via Public Libraries News:
While this page is the most comprehensive and up to date list publicly available, it must be stressed that this list has no connection with UNISON.
Where library services do remain open, they must be subject to review and full risk assessments. The decisions about whether to offer these services, and via which
library branches, will be taken locally in light of local needs and circumstances but they must be done with the full consultation of UNISON branches. In line with
government guidance, risk assessments must be shared with local trade unions and published publicly. In addition, due to the heightened risk of infection for Black staff,
UNISON continues to call on all employers to offer individual risk assessments to Black staff before they return to any workplace.