We believe that UVa Library should immediately close all Library buildings both to the public and to workers and staff. It must do this in order to ensure the safety of all workers and users. The Library can follow the example of MIT, CUNY, and other universities in relying on virtual services, which it is well-equipped to do, during the duration of the pandemic. Physically reopening libraries prior to the availability of a vaccine creates a false sense of safety and that things are close to “normal,” but the costs are too great to bear.
UVa Library workers perform important functions for the university, but are not sacrificial workers. UVa Library staff are trained experts in helping meet users’ information needs. They are not trained in sanitizing or disinfecting materials and spaces. Library workers should not face the avoidable risks of confronting unmasked users to enforce safety regulations during a misguided attempt to reopen public spaces. The “paging and pickup” system a.k.a. “library takeout” is preferable to opening spaces, but presents its own problems. It requires library workers to physically report to work, even after a staffer contracted COVID-19 this summer. That positive case created a ripple effect of quarantining co-workers and a “deep cleaning” of the workspace. A new REALM study result showed that coronavirus can live on common library materials for up to six days.
Library workers showed incredible flexibility in accommodating the administration’s decision to reopen two libraries, but should not be forced to sacrifice their health and well-being during this pandemic. The chronically understaffed library already lost more positions due to the hiring freeze, so there is plenty of work for all employees to perform as part of the Library’s mission to support research, teaching, learning, and service across the University. Library workers have spent decades curating digital collections, online resources, and establishing virtual reference services that should be relied upon in order to keep each other safe and until a vaccine is widely available. UVA treats library workers differently in terms of employment status and job security, and these inequities are highlighted by their parallel in terms of which staff have been asked to work on grounds during the pandemic. We refuse to give into these divisions or leave any of our coworkers behind. To do right by our whole community, those in Library contract, temporary, and student roles must have their contracts extended and be allowed to continue to work remotely.
We recognize that many other members of the University community are affected by the closure of library spaces and limited access to physical materials despite the best efforts of library workers to provide electronic alternatives. Some of those affected, such as graduate students, are already vulnerable due to the precarious nature of their positions in the university. Therefore, we call on the University administration to enact measures that alleviate the pressure on the Library to open and provide access to physical materials, such as extending funding and completion timelines for graduate students.