I Will be Better Prepared for the Next Pandemic


A Guest Blog Post by Mary Kelly 

As I come into work every day, I take my temperature and fill out a form with some basic health questions. Fever? Sore throat? Etc. I then wash my hands, straighten my mask and get to it. This is my new routine.

I have been a library staffer for over 20 years. I have felt confident that I could handle most stuff that our civilian friends in the regular world probably never deal with. Two old men fighting over the newspaper? Handled. Customer screaming at me about a 25 cent fine. No problem. A dad scratching his nether regions during storytime. Ewww, but I’ve got this. My colleagues across the country have also handled the same in their careers. If you have been around libraries, particularly public libraries, you already know that the ability to roll with the unexpected is probably one of the most important skills a librarian needs.

Along comes COVID-19. Libraries had to close. Even when opened, there were lots of rules about social distance, masks, and new protocols for sanitation. Overnight, libraries changed significantly. Our patrons also had their lives and jobs upended. How do libraries serve a population that is tired, frustrated, and scared? How do we serve our patrons when we are also tired, frustrated, and scared? This is a global level disruption and a “business as usual” mentality hasn’t been seen in months.

Library leaders and experienced personnel, a lot of this is on you. Even if you don’t have supervisor or director as part of your title, leadership is still important. I could breakout a bunch of leadership qualities that would be worthy of an article in the Harvard Business Review, but let’s stick to some basics.

  1. Right now, no one feels that there is any value in predictions about what will happen. The reality is that no one knows what will happen. Science is just starting to get a handle on this virus. There will be many starts and stops along the way. The best we can do is make educated guesses and be ready to jump when the next problem shows up. Acknowledge that you cannot solve all the problems at once. When you are experiencing anxiety about this whole pandemic mess and how much work needs to get done, focus on easily defined tasks that make you feel productive. Don’t overthink.
  2. Assess your resources. Usually, this is the time to get seriously involved with your balance sheet. Control your cash flow. Work to identify those items that can be delayed/cancelled, along with ensuring ROI remains clear for important programs and systems critical to functioning during closings or reduced patron access.
  3. Communicate constantly and listen. Communicate with staff and patrons. Give staff some talking points, and make sure that staff can speak to what is happening at the library. Talk to patrons. Find out what has happened to them. What do they need? Listen sympathetically.
  4. Be flexible. As long as safety is not compromised, let some of the “rules” go. Extend due dates, forgive fines, give some extra breaks to staff. This is particularly important for part time staffers who aren’t often covered under work rules for full time staff. Front line staff dealing with customers also need some extra breaks from the action. This isn’t a supervisor “being nice.” This is good for productivity and good for mental health.

This is an unprecedented time. Keep a journal or write out your frustrations. Make notes on things that worked and did not work. I have been a journal keeper (on and off) for the last couple of years. Granted, I have many pages that start like “this is why today was awful” or “things I like about my cats”, but I am not writing for posterity, I am writing to make sense of a world gone crazy. Veteran staffers, you can do this. If you have been around long enough, you can handle crazy. Just remind yourself, that this too shall pass. Newbies: welcome to library service. Hold on.


“Journaling isn’t just good for mental health. It might also help your physical health.”, F. Diane Barth, , NBC News, January 18, 2020,  https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/journaling-isn-t-just-good-mental-health-it-might-also-ncna1114571 (Accessed September 7, 2020)

ALA has some great resources to tap when you aren’t sure where to start.

“COVID-19 Recovery”, American Library Association, June 10, 2020. http://www.ala.org/tools/covid-19-recovery (Accessed September 7, 2020) Document ID: 1ae84955-db22-49f3-a0bb-d6ba7442b5ad


“Help Your Employees Manage Their Reentry Anxiety”, by Sarah Clayton and Anthea Hoyle, Harvard Business Review, June 24, 2020, https://hbr.org/2020/06/help-your-employees-manage-their-reentry-anxiety   (Accessed September 7, 2020)


About the Author

Mary Kelly received an MLIS and an MBA from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Mary’s day job is Digital Services and Emerging Technologies Librarian at the Plymouth District Library in Plymouth, Michigan where they use Innovative SkyRiver. When not serving her customers at the reference desk, she is often seen trying to wrestle e-books and the Internet into submission. She is passionate about collection quality, library management, and loves a good reference question. Mary is co-creator of the popular blog “Awful Library Books.” along with her long-time co-worker, Holly Hibner.