Protect the People: Close all libraries in Massachusetts & keep staff home NOW

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Right now, when public officials and public health experts urge social distancing as a life-saving measure, no service any library--academic or public--can provide is more important than protecting the lives of both our patrons and our workers. That means libraries need to close and staff need to be home. Keeping the library open sends a message that it is safe to come in. People trust librarians and keeping library doors open at this time is a betrayal of that trust.

We demand Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to do the following:
1. Close all library locations to the public and keep staff at home IMMEDIATELY.

2. Guarantee in writing that all library workers and affiliates will be fully compensated during the crisis. This includes, and is not limited to:

  • no docked sick, personal, vacation days
  • all hourly workers paid for full workdays
  • Health coverage for all employees

All library workers and affiliates include (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • All union employees
  • Security guards
  • Cafe workers
  • Contract / At-Will workers
  • Part time workers

3. Provide comprehensive housing, shelter, and food to the thousands of residents impacted by the closure of libraries and schools.

NOTE ON PUBLIC LIBRARIES: We understand intimately that cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth are facing a displacement crisis and that public libraries have historically been the social safety net to capture the shortcomings of a failed system in this city. Solutions for such are as follows:

We are in a public health crisis and our response is social distancing. That means we need to reconfigure and redistribute what public space is right now.

4. Ensure better communication avenues and infrastructure between the libraries and the community which the library serves. All Massachusetts citizens (documented and not) should be supplied with, at the very least, a mobile device that allows them access to credible information and their friendly neighborhood public librarian. The internet is a utility and in this critical moment, librarians are equipped to battle the disinformation crisis virtually.  

Our world is gripped by the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic, and a vast array of institutions and organizations have closed or cancelled events in response. Massachusetts is in a state of emergency. Numerous local organizations, from Harvard University to state offices to the Archdiocese of the Catholic Church, are taking dramatic steps to prevent the spread of the virus. Schools, restaurants, bars, salons, and retail stores are closing, yet library workers in many communities are still expected to go to work as if nothing's changed, threatening themselves and countless patrons with exposure, increasing their risk exponentially each day their buildings remain open.

In under a month, Italy went from 3 cases to a country of 60 million in complete shut down. In Massachusetts, medical professionals have warned that we are on a similar trajectory. We need to act now to protect our most vulnerable citizens, and the provision of that protection cannot and should not fall exclusively to library workers. This means keeping people off of buses and trains, out of public areas in large groups and in close quarters, and, put bluntly, preventing people from interacting with each other unnecessarily. Furthermore, all library workers should NOT be expected to come in for any reason and need to be guaranteed that they won't be forced to pay for this crisis out of our own pocket: salaried workers should not be docked sick days, and hourly workers should be paid as if they worked full days during each day of any closure.

We are aware that public libraries are the last vestige of a civil and public society we have left in the United States. If they’re closed, it becomes readily apparent to people how unprepared we are to support and protect our most vulnerable neighbors during this crisis. It should not be the sole burden of library workers to provide essential services to people experiencing homelessness and children in need of safety and shelter. The closing of the libraries by librarians should be seen as the canary in the coal mine.

Libraries are not to be held solely responsible for the protection of people failed by countless underfunded public services. The state must do everything possible to ensure that children in Massachusetts are fed and cared for. Governor Baker must urge all private employers to provide their employees with paid sick days during the crisis so that they can care for children and other family members. He should act to stop all home evictions during the crisis.

The time has come to stop forcing libraries to fill the gaps created by governments that have long denied or ignored the critical importance of social infrastructure.

#FlattenTheCurve #KeepMASafe #CLOSETHELIBRARIES