Like most things, from private homes to public spaces, Vernon Area Library looks much different now than it did before the pandemic. Closed to the public since March 13, the building’s inside spaces have been changed to comply with COVID-19 guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health and other authorities. With patrons now picking up library materials curbside, few people other than library employees have seen the extensive changes that have taken place since spring to protect the health and well-being of staff and the community.
The changes that library employees see each day include one-way aisles through shelving, reconfigured workspaces and protective dividers between desks. When the building was renovated in 2013, only the public spaces were updated. The workrooms remain as they were when the library was built in 1994, which means that pre-pandemic, the staff worked in close quarters. To comply with 2020’s social distancing requirements, some workstations have been moved to public spaces.
Additionally, all staff must follow a strict new entry process when they arrive for work. They may only enter on their schedule, must wash their hands after clocking in and put on the PPE (personal protective equipment) needed for their particular job. The staff break room is off-limits to minimize group gatherings. In-person work shifts have been shortened to minimize each employee’s exposure risk and to avoid the need for a meal break without a break room. (Work schedules for staff working remotely remain unchanged.)
The public meeting room, previously the site of most library programs, is now being used as a staging area for quarantining returned books and other materials. A study conducted by the global library cooperative OCLC, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the research firm Battelle found that the coronavirus may persist on library materials for five days or more. This library quarantines returned materials for seven days before checking them in — a move that improves safety for both library employees and the public.
Additionally, the library exposes returned materials to a blast of ultraviolet light for 60 minutes before they are checked in. Multiple studies have shown that UV light kills the coronavirus, providing employees with further assurance that the books, DVDs and magazines they handle are safe to touch.
Other changes are visible only to library maintenance staff. These include improvements to the heating and cooling system that allow it to take in up to 400% more fresh air than previously, installing ultraviolet sanitizers in air ducts and outfitting the heating and cooling system with highly effective air filters — MERV-13, which catch a variety of irritants like pollen and dust mites, but also trap virus carriers.
Vernon Area Library is a beloved destination for all members of the community. It is for this reason that the building remains closed to best prevent transmission of disease. “We do what we do because we love serving the public,” said library Director Cynthia Fuerst. “And we look forward to seeing patrons again. Right now, we’re working hard to provide every service that can be provided safely. With the daily case rate in the Chicago suburbs rising, we’re confident that keeping the building closed is the right thing to do.”
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