Chicago Public Libraries, one of the last major public library systems to close amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, sent an email to it's employees on May 14th setting June 1st as its target reopening date with employees expected to report next week Book Riot has reported. Staff members, who had already experienced working in a library system well after they felt comfortable, spent the evening in tears, anger, confusion, and outrage.
In the email from Andrea Telli, Commissioner of the Chicago Public Library, announced only vague details about what the library's safety precautions would look like upon the reopening of the library system and did not provide information about what will happen to employees that cannot access childcare or who rely on public transit to get to work that may not be available.
Also not mentioned in the email is how much protective equipment will be provided to staff. Workers are expected to wear cloth face masks and gloves but no information is given about how much PPE will be provided: gloves, for example, must be changed after every interaction in order to guard against cross contamination. Will enough equipment be provided for full time staff working their regular hours or part timers working 20 hours a week at the library?
Further questions continue to circulate around what it means to "limit" computer use or "abbreviate" reference, information, and circulation interactions.
With Illinois not expected to peak in confirmed COVID-19 cases until mid-June and with Chicago passing Queens, NY in terms of total confirmed cases on the same day Telli's email was sent out it is unclear why CPL is making the jump straight to a total reopening so soon.
Library workers deserve a safe, healthy space to work in. Libraries, while serving important functions, are not essential services and employees at libraries should not be used to make up for failures of the government to provide funding for services elsewhere... much less so in the midst of a public health crisis. The decision by the CPL to reopen is a reckless move that is putting unnecessary strain on its employees and will undoubtedly lead to many of them getting sick unnecessarily.