Decision yet to be made on whether returned books need to be quarantined
June 17, 2020
Ealing’s libraries will not return to full service from the Government’s proposed July 4 date but will open subject to a “cautious approach” over a longer period, council leader Julian Bell has said.
The borough chief was quizzed by trade union representatives in a joint committee meeting last week, who raised concerns over safety for staff and library users.
Library services are currently included in step three of the Government’s reopening plans of “no earlier than July 4”.
The union also urged council bosses to consult with them on the plans.
Chairing the meeting on June 10, Sukminder Kalsi, said: “I certainly know it’s very difficult to social distance within libraries, the buildings don’t often lend themselves to social distancing in terms of their layout.
“Libraries are one of the last services…to actually stop their service so people were very anxious and concerned when the issues of Covid-19 were around in terms of infection etc…
“We’ve got a number of people from the BAME group, people with medical conditions that work for libraries and it’s quite a mature work group as well. All of those factors need to be taken into account.
“We don’t want managers running off left, right and centre thinking what the Government has said and ‘we must do this straight away’, and forgetting about what needs to be done.
“That also causes anxiety and stress for staff thinking, what’s happening?”
He added that plans such as whether returned library books should be quarantined for certain time periods will need to be considered before reopening the doors.
But responding to the concerns Cllr Bell said: “You don’t need to worry about us rushing back on July 3 or 4 with a full service, it ain’t going to happen.”
He said risk assessments will be done particularly for vulnerable members of staff and BAME workers, adding, “The discussions, which have been limited, that I’ve heard have been talking about a very cautious and phased approach in terms of returning and reopening library services.
“That it would be phased over three to four weeks as a minimum, but could well extend longer than that in order to make sure that all of the mitigating measures that would need to be put in place to ensure social distancing and safety were done.”
Five out of the borough’s 13 libraries were due to reopen under community management in April, but this has been postponed due to the crisis.
Virtual activities have been taking place online during lockdown, such as community-run Northfields Community Library offering storytime sessions and guided meditation online.
In a newsletter on June 15, the Northfields group said it was working with the council looking at what future restrictions will need to be in place.
It read: “Trustee meetings are taking place fortnightly in order to keep pace with the ever changing Covid situation and council plans for reopening the libraries.
“Last week two of our trustees had a meeting with Ealing Council officers to discuss the implications of the delay in opening our library and the restrictions on what we’ll be able to offer once we are allowed to open.”
According to the Government’s roadmap to recovery from coronavirus, the third phase is also aiming to reopen businesses such as hairdressers, pubs and cinemas, as long as they meet “secure guidelines” over Covid-19.
The document added: “Some venues which are, by design, crowded and where it may prove difficult to enact distancing may still not be able to re-open safely at this point, or may be able to open safely only in part.
“Nevertheless the Government will wish to open as many businesses and public places as the data and information at the time allows.”
Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter