Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): public libraries guidance

Published: 5 Mar 2021
Last updated: 16 Jun 2021 - see all updates

Information and advice to help public libraries re-open safely.

43 page PDF

577.7 kB

43 page PDF

577.7 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): public libraries guidance

43 page PDF

577.7 kB


This guidance is for public libraries in Scotland. It came into effect from 15 July 2020 and applies until further notice. The guidance sets out the protection levels for Public Libraries, in line with the revised Coronavirus (COVID-19):Strategic Framework published on 23 February 2021, following the initial Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scotland's Strategic Framework of October 2020.

The frameworks set out our approach to outbreak management based on five levels of protection, providing graduated protections locally and/or nationally. This system  was originally introduced on 2 November 2020.

Guidance will be reviewed on a regular basis as our priority remains containing the spread of the virus, saving lives and safeguarding the NHS. 

We have considered what additional measures we can advise to reduce the increased risk of transmission of the strains of coronavirus and further reduce opportunities for infection. One of the key areas we can focus on is the workplace.

Working from home as a public health measure has been a crucial factor in mitigating the transmission of the virus in the general public and is an effort we must continue.

Our current position is that anyone who is able to work from home, must do so. See the “Continue home working” section of this guidance for more information.

Subject to progress in suppressing the virus, Public Libraries will operate within protection level guidance of their local authority area, in compliance with this and all other relevant Scottish Government guidance. The remaining travel restrictions within Scotland are lifted and travel within the UK is permitted for any purpose.

We are keen to build confidence and create the right environment for supporting safer work as we continue to live with COVID-19.  We have worked with organisations and trade unions from across the public libraries sector to ensure that this guidance is evidence-based, fair and ethical, clear and realistic. As each workplace is different it is for individual businesses to work with trade union or workforce representatives to determine how best to apply this guidance in their circumstances.

This is provided as guidance only and does not amount to legal advice. Public library services may wish to seek their own advice to ensure compliance with all legal requirements.

Safer workplace planning in public libraries must align with wider local authority planning based on local priorities. This is also the case for contracted arm’s length external organisations (ALEOs), as the statutory responsibility for libraries remains with the local authority. This will ensure consistency of mitigation measures across the library service and other local authority services.

This guidance emphasises the importance of undertaking robust and regular risk assessments with full input from trade unions or workforce representatives, and to keep all risk mitigation measures under regular review so that workplaces continue to feel, and be, as safe as possible.

Easing restrictions will not mean returning to how things were before the virus. Physical distancing, hand hygiene, increased cleaning regimes and risk reducing measures will be essential in each area to ensure public and workforce confidence and reassure service users.

Public libraries in Scotland range in size and are often situated within different work environments, including office working, museums and archives, and schools. Host or co-located organisations need to be involved in the library recovery planning to ensure plans are aligned and integrated. There are a number of strands of work currently underway looking at guidance for safer workplaces. This document is designed to be relevant for organisations who provide and for people who work in public libraries.

Links to related guidance can be found at the end of this guidance. Please also see our publications page for the latest information.

This guide is underpinned by a spirit of collaborative working between organisations and their workforce. Throughout, the term trade union or workforce representatives is used in that context, recognising that public library services have a legal responsibility to maintain workplace health and safety and must consult with the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union or, if there is not one, a representative chosen by workers. Public library services cannot decide who the workforce representative will be.

This document is one of a set of documents about how to work safely in different types of workplace. It emphasises in particular the importance of undertaking a robust and ongoing risk-based assessment with full input from workforce representatives, and to keep all risk mitigation measures under regular review so that public libraries continue to feel, and be, safe. Each public library service will need to translate this into the specific actions they need to take using this document as a guide.

Publication of this guidance does not signal an immediate change in Scotland’s lockdown policy. A surge in infection would cause further harm to our health, society and economy. To judge whether and when restrictions can be changed we will consider a range of evidence on the progress of the pandemic in Scotland using the principles set out in the revised Coronavirus (COVID-19):Strategic Framework and our long established commitment to fair work.  As Scotland continues to consider lockdown restrictions, organisations including the Institute of Directors (IoD), SCDI, STUC, COSLA and SCVO have signed a fair work statement underlining the collaborative approach needed between employers, unions and workers to ensure workplaces can operate safely.

The remainder of this guidance sets out our minimum expectations across five key areas public libraries will need to consider as part of their planning for a restart and ongoing production while minimising the transmission of the virus:

  • assessing risk - involving the workforce in a risk-based approach to a safer workplace
  • workforce planning - supporting those who should come to work, and those who should not
  • operational guide and checklist - changing the workplace environment to protect your workforce
  • deliveries, distribution and visitors -  protecting your workforce and those who come on-site
  • training and compliance

The regulator for health and safety at work is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who will utilise the powers under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure people at work or possibly enforcement of this legislation is undertaken by Environmental Health and Trading Standards local authority staff in agreement with Police Scotland.

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First published: 5 Mar 2021 Last updated: 16 Jun 2021 -