Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): public libraries guidance

Published: 30 Oct 2020
Last updated: 18 Nov 2020 - see all updates

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

30 page PDF

439.2 kB

30 page PDF

439.2 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): public libraries guidance
Operational guide and checklist

30 page PDF

439.2 kB

Operational guide and checklist

Information about changing the workplace environment to protect your workforce.

Changing the workplace environment to protect your workforce

As a minimum we expect:

  • Clear instructions for staff as to what is expected of them at each protection level and suitable provision in place to respond flexibly as a result of this;
  • enhanced health and safety measures to be in place before staff are asked to return to work, including physical distancing guidance and hygiene measures, generally and at bottleneck situations and;
  • safe travel to work arrangements to be considered as part of a risk assessment, with any relevant adjustments adopted.

Safe workplace planning and communications

It is vital steps are taken to ensure a safe working environment and related workforce confidence. This is best done through early, regular and ongoing engagement between public library services and trade union or workforce representatives. As it will take time to complete the necessary risk assessment, identify the relevant mitigation measures and put those measures in place, the engagement between employers, trade union or workforce representatives must started well before a planned restart date (or ramp-up where production of essential goods or delivery of essential services have continued at less than full capacity).

It is important everyone understands the measures taken to establish the safe working environment as this is likely to have a significant impact on workforce confidence. Being and feeling safe will play an integral role in supporting a recovery in productivity levels.  Provide clear visual signage on physical distancing and hygiene to staff, volunteers and library users upon arrival, throughout the venue, and before arrival, for example by phone, on the website, or by email.

Enhanced hygiene

Enhanced hygiene measures should be a key plank of workplace-specific measures to create a safe working environment, including:

  • promote good hand hygiene for all staff, volunteers and visitors. Ensure that adequate facilities are readily available for hand hygiene, including handwashing facilities that are adequately stocked and alcohol based hand rub (ABHR) at key areas, including entry and exit points, reception desk, staff break areas, PCs/study areas, in home delivery vehicles, and on mobile libraries. Employees, volunteers and visitors should be encouraged to use these facilities when entering and exiting the library.
  • provide a separate location for returning books so they can be quarantined. Public Health Scotland have advised that books should be quarantined for 72 hours upon return to the library. The amount of infectious virus on any contaminated surface is likely to have decreased significantly after this time. Libraries should develop quarantine procedures for returned books and resources. Book drops and book trolleys can be used as they are easy for staff to wheel into a dedicated quarantine area and can be easily labelled.
  • transfer of stock between libraries is permissible as long as strict hand hygiene and physical distancing measures are in place. Stock is subject to quarantine for 72 hours before transferring to another library. If stock is being transferred via a box the handles must be considered a touch point and hand hygiene measure must be in place before and after handling. It is advised that cardboard boxes are used as preference to plastic. Returned books should be collected separately from delivery of new books, to avoid cross-contamination.
  • consider discouraging the handling of books by users, for example through different display methods, new signage or the rotation and quarantine of high-touch stock. Ensure that adequate facilities for hand hygiene are available throughout the premises and in any vehicles used.
  • demand for IT equipment may increase due to the increased number of people seeking work and benefits. Libraries should manage the risk by moving computers two metres apart and/or installing screens. Libraries should consider providing appointments for access to IT equipment, with space between appointments to allow for the cleaning of work areas and equipment between users. At levels 2 and 3 we highly recommend that access to PCs is provided on a pre-booked basis only. Asking users to sanitise their hands on entering and leaving the building and cleaning the desk or PC after use will reduce the risk of transmission.  Self-service photocopiers, scanners and printers should have their touch-points cleaned between users and, if possible, should be restricted to staff use to limit the number of people touching the control pads and therefore reducing the risk. These should be cleaned regularly by staff in line with risk assessments. 
  • ensure environmental cleaning is done regularly. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces (e.g. telephones, keyboards, handles, desks, steering wheels, etc.) at least twice daily. Ensure that regular detergent cleaning schedules and procedures are in place using a product which is active against bacteria and viruses.  Minimise the use of touchpoints throughout the library, including exploring where possible how digital processes, such as self-issue, may replace the need for face-to-face interactions. Asking visitors to sanitise their hands on entering and leaving the building or mobile library, and cleaning the screens will reduce the risk of transmission. In particular in level 2/3, consider set cleaning times between bookings for PC usage.
  • work vehicles can be issued with plastic sheeting to line boots when collecting returned books and resources and each vehicle should be provided with appropriate cleaning materials. Cleaning should occur between different passengers or shifts as appropriate.  Returned books should be collected separately from delivery of new books, to avoid cross-contamination.
  • ensure good ventilation (e.g. keep windows open). Check whether you need to adjust ventilation systems, for example, so that they do not automatically reduce ventilation levels to due lower than normal occupancy levels. Guidance on ventilation in the work place.
  • consider the risk posed by physical newspapers and magazines. The virus can survive on any contaminated surface for up to 72 hours which will impact the ability to offer daily newspapers to users. Libraries should consider encouraging use of their digital offering and offering physical newspapers and magazines again only once we enter later phases of the route map.
  • there is an increased risk of Legionnaire’s Disease when buildings have been out of use, or not running at full capacity. This is because water systems may become stagnant when not in use, increasing the risk of legionella within water supplies. Many public and office buildings have been closed during the COVID-19 crisis, making legionella a legitimate concern as lockdown restrictions are eased. The Health and Safety Executive have published advice on the risk of Legionella in buildings which are closed or running with reduced occupancy during the COVID-19 crisis. This can be found on the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS) website. Building owners or operators should undertake a health and safety check of buildings, and deep cleaning prior to reopening where necessary, to mitigate risks. More information can be found on the HSE website .

Physical distancing

Physical distancing is the other key plank of workplace-specific measures to create a safe working environment. If a service is not able to maintain physical distancing while being delivered then public library services should consider removing them until a later phase in the route map. Areas to consider include:

  • public library services should continue to promote their digital and online offering to reduce the number of in person visits.
  • physical distancing of 2 metres should be adhered to whenever feasible, including at breaks. Look at how staff, volunteers and users walk through the library and how you could adjust this to reduce contact between people, for example queue management or a one-way flow system to manage traffic through pinch points. Consider library layout and clear signage, including using floor tape or paint to mark areas of help people keep to a 2 metre distance. In particular in level 2/3, library occupancy should be limited to ensure adherence to the 2 metre distancing.
  • managing library occupancy levels can assist in maintaining distancing. Consider discouraging users from turning up in larger groups. Consider staggering entry and exit times to prevent bottlenecks arising as people arrive or leave. If possible, reduce congestion by having more entry points to the library. Consider using outside premises for queuing, for example car parks. Outside queues should be managed to ensure they do not cause a risk to individuals or other businesses, for example by using barriers and having staff direct users. If queueing outside, libraries would need to consider emergency evacuations whilst maintaining physical distancing. Consider limiting capacity numbers in mobile libraries. It is highly recommended that during level 2/3 booking is required for browsing and PC usage to limit library occupancy and adhere to 2 metre physical distancing. It is advised that there should be a preference for click and collect during level 3.
  • libraries attract a wide range of people from across the community, many of whom may be in high risk or high risk groups. Libraries can consider having opening times set aside for particular groups such as families or high-risk groups.
  • to create more space and allow for physical distancing, consider removing non-essential public furniture, such as tables and chairs for children’s activities and soft chairs for reading, to reduce customer time in the branch and to reduce the number of surfaces and associated risk. If possible, move shelves further apart. Rethink demonstrations and promotions to minimise direct contact. 
  • where possible, ensure that desk sharing and hot-desking is minimised amongst library staff and volunteers. If it is not possible to assign desks to a single user, then high hygiene standards must be maintained with users cleaning the workstations before and after use with the appropriate cleaning materials. If workspaces need to be shared, they should be shared by the smallest possible number of people. If it is not possible to move workstations further apart, arrange people to work back-to-back or side-to-side working whenever possible. Only when it is not possible to move workstations further apart, use screens to separate people from each other. Staff sharing workspaces over different shifts should have access to their own keyboard etc. when reasonably possible. This will reduce the risk of the virus living on IT equipment.
  • there may be areas that are common to staff, volunteers and users. In these cases, public use can be limited or removed, while considering the needs of disabled people. Changing places and disabled toilets should be kept publically accessible if possible. Scottish Government have published guidance on opening of public and customer toilets during the coronavirus pandemic. Encourage storage of personal items and clothing in personal storage spaces, for example lockers, during working hours. Face coverings must be worn in all common areas throughout the library at all levels.
  • similarly, consider reducing the maximum occupancy of lifts, providing hand sanitiser for operation of lifts, and encouraging use of stairs wherever possible. Make sure that disabled people are able to access lifts.
  • where libraries have reception desks, consider installing screens and changing staff work practice from floor walking to being stationed at the desk and making the library as self-service as possible. Have clearly designated positions from which colleagues can provide advice or assistance to customers whilst maintaining physical distance.
  • consider how to minimise contacts around transactions, for example using cashless payments by accepting card and online payments if possible. Alternatively public library services should consider suspending all payments until later phases in  the route map to reduce the risk to staff.
  • Libraries deliver a wide range of daily events and activities that requires close contact with library users. We expect public gatherings will not be permitted for some time and will be subject to public health advice at that time. The Scottish Government has provided guidance on organised activities for children where restrictions and physical distancing can be followed it may be permissible to have some organised unregulated children’s activities during levels 0 and 1, dependent on risk assessments.  The guidance is not an instruction for all services and activities to open up at this time, since this will be based on the requirements that need to be met, relevant to each individual delivery setting. Libraries should continue to develop their online alternatives such as digital Bookbug sessions. 
  • providing additional parking or facilities such as bike stands to help people walk, run or cycle to work where possible. Bike stands should be regularly cleaned.
  • physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene are the most important and effective measures we can all adopt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Therefore the wearing of face coverings must not be used as an alternative to any of these other precautions. Library users should consult the up to date advice on wearing face coverings which states that people must by law wear a face covering in indoor public spaces, including libraries and public reading rooms, except where an exemption applies. From 16 October the wearing of face coverings in a workplace canteen, when not seated at a table, such as when queuing, entering or leaving the canteen is mandatory. It is also mandatory to wear face coverings in indoor communal spaces, such as corridors and social spaces from the 19 October. A face covering can be a covering of any type, except a face shield, that covers the mouth and nose. We would encourage the use of re-usable, washable face coverings, rather than single use masks to minimise plastic waste. Face shields may be used, but only if they are worn in addition to a face covering underneath, as the evidence shows that they do not provide adequate protection. Face coverings should be worn in the library, except where an exemption applies, at all protection levels.

Shift patterns

Public library services may develop plans to change shift patterns to both protect the workforce and optimise productive capacity. This could include considering opportunities to reduce the need for travel at peak times and opportunities for flexible working patterns. This will require proper negotiation with trade union or workforce representatives if it involves a change in employee terms and conditions.

Splitting the workforce into specific teams can avoid cross-team contamination and provide a level of operational resilience in case someone in one team develops COVID-19 symptoms and must self-isolate.  Consider returning the number of people each member of staff or volunteers has contact with by reducing location rotation.  Consider reassigning staff to a branch that is easiest for them to travel to safely, promoting active travel where possible.

Dealing with emergencies 

Protocols for dealing with emergencies, evacuations and accidents will be impacted by the need to maintain physical distancing while individuals who would normally lead or coordinate site responses in such situations may be amongst those working from home. Emergency, evacuation and accident response processes therefore need to be considered to ensure effective arrangements are still in place. Everyone onsite should be familiar with new processes.

If public library services are managing occupancy levels by requesting users queue outside, libraries will need to consider emergency evacuations whilst maintaining physical distancing.

Travel to work and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Health Protection Scotland (HPS) have provided COVID-19 information and guidance for general (non-healthcare) settings which reiterates that people should not travel if they exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms. The HPS advice and any subsequent safe travelling advice should be factored into decisions on planned returns to work.

Transport Scotland  has produced Guidance to assist the public to travel safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It is important that the latest version of the Guidance is read.  

After careful consideration of the medical and scientific evidence and taking into account the representations of transport staff and the views of the public, the Scottish Government have concluded that people must wear a face covering on public transport and in public transport premises such as train and bus stations from 22 June. 

The HPS guidance also offers advice on the use of PPE, confirming workplaces should use PPE consistent with local policies and in line with measures justified by a risk assessment. Both the Scottish Government and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommend a risk based approach focused on a hierarchy of control which seeks to eliminate risks, combat risks at source, adapt workplaces to individual needs, ensure adequate staff training around processes to manage the risk and then use PPE where required. Where PPE is deemed necessary, an adequate supply and quality must be maintained which is provided free of charge to workers and which must fit properly. Services may wish to consider providing face coverings and instructions on how to adequately clean/maintain face coverings as part of PPE to staff who need to travel via public transport.

Consult the up to date advice on wearing face coverings as this may change with each review stage.


The interpretation and use of any guidance should be considered in line with normal protective security operations and practices. Organisations should consult with, and involve, their security departments in the interpretation and implementation of the guidance.  In particular, security should be considered in any revised risk assessment.

Under no circumstances do we advise the removal or alteration of, or reduction in, existing protective security measures without providing clear recommendations (e.g. from the National Technical Authority/police CT specialists) on how to maintain effective protective security. 

This should extend to measures not primarily intended to provide a protective security benefit, but nonetheless doing so, for example removal of street furniture that could make moving or queueing pedestrians more vulnerable to vehicle-as-a-weapon attacks. Security staff should remain focused on security duties. Where COVID-19 creates additional staffing requirements, e.g. for queue management, employers should ensure additional suitable staff resource is made available. Employers should ensure security staff feel safe, e.g. having access to appropriate PPE and hand-washing facilities, and that they are able and confident to raise any concerns.

Read further detailed guidance on security:

COVID symptoms within the workplace

The virus is expected to remain in the population for some time, even after lockdown restrictions have been eased and people begin to return to work. This will cause anxiety for people who will also want to understand how any outbreaks in the workplace will be handled. As part of risk assessments, public library services should explore with trade union or workforce representatives how to respond should anyone develop symptoms while at work, including whether it is possible to identify any particular parts of the site the individual may have accessed or equipment used while symptomatic. As part of this, consideration should be given how best to monitor health of all individuals in a workplace.

Employees and volunteers have a responsibility to ensure they adhere to general COVID-19 advice which says people with symptoms should remain at home and self-isolate. Public library services and employees and volunteers should remain in regular communication throughout any period of self-isolation with public library services encouraged to work with trade union or workforce representatives to enable individuals to work from home while self-isolating if appropriate.

Organisations should suspect an outbreak if there is either:

  • two or more linked cases (confirmed or suspected) of COVID-19 in a setting within 14 days - where cross transmission has been identified; or
  • an increase in staff absence rates, in a setting, due to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

If a library service suspects a COVID-19 outbreak, they should immediately inform their local NHS board Health Protection Team (HPT). The library service may be then contacted by them, as they may get information from NHS Test & Protect or other sources.

In the event of an outbreak:

  • continue to follow 'General Guidelines' to reduce risk, as detailed above.
  • the local Health Protection Team will undertake a risk assessment and conduct a rapid investigation. They will advise on the most appropriate action to take.
  • Employees and volunteers who have had close contact with case(s) will be asked to self-isolate at home. In some cases, a larger number of other staff may be asked to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure. Where settings are observing guidance on infection prevention and control, which will reduce risk of transmission, the local health protection team will take this into account in determining whether closure of the whole setting will be necessary.
  • depending on the risk assessment outcome, the Health Protection Team may establish an Incident Management Team (IMT) to help manage the situation.
  • the Incident Management Team will lead the Public Health response and investigations, and work with the organisation to put appropriate interventions in place.

To control an outbreak the Health Protection Team and Incident Management Team will work with the library service to put appropriate interventions in place. These will generally include ensuring that the preventive measures described in 'General guidelines to prevent spread of COVID-19' (detailed above) are fully implemented. Other measures may include:

  • cleaning in the setting: for cleaning and waste management, refer to guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings for maintaining hygiene.
  • consider wider testing of affected population and staff:

information: ensure that employees and volunteers (and other relevant people) are aware of what has happened and the actions being taken.

  • closure: may be done following advice from the Health Protection Team and Incident Management Team or the business may make their own decision on closure ahead of this advice as a precaution or for business continuity reasons

The Health Protection Team or Incident Management Team will declare when the outbreak is over.

Safe home working

Home working will be new to many and may have been implemented at pace, without normal health and safety planning to ensure people have suitable working arrangements and equipment. Public library services should consider that, and how to best support working from home (for example, provision of laptops, mobile phones, video conferencing services etc.). Read more advice on home working


A checklist to support public library services implement this guidance has been developed in response to initial sector and trade union feedback. 

 The checklist can be found as an annex to this guidance.   The checklist should reflect the minimum expectations outlined in the sectoral guidance document.

Public libraries who wish to increase workforce or public confidence are encouraged to display the checklist to help to communicate actions being implemented or undertaken.



First published: 30 Oct 2020 Last updated: 18 Nov 2020 -