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
Workforce planning and support

30 page PDF

439.2 kB

Workforce planning and support

Information about supporting those who should come to work, and those who should not.

Planning should be based around risk assessments and safe systems of work, emphasising physical distancing, hand washing and surface and equipment cleaning and fair work principles. Plans should aim to allow organisations to restart whilst protecting worker health and wellbeing.

There are other issues that employers need to consider to ensure workplaces are inclusive. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Scotland can provide advice on a range of issues such as:

Close the Gap, through their Think Business Think Equality toolkit, have produced guidance on employers supporting employees affected by domestic abuse during the pandemic and a more general online self-assessment resource for employers on domestic abuse. The  RNIB  also provide information on employing partially sighted and blind workers during COVID, and a COVID risk assessment tool

Supporting those who should come to work, and those who should not 

As a minimum we expect:

  • working from home to continue or to be offered to employees, where possible
  • health factors to be considered in any phasing of who returns to work, with employees living in high risk or shielded households only expected to return when new safe working environment measures have been implemented and a return to onsite work is consistent with individual medical advice. Those identified as being at the highest risk from Covid-19 should follow the most up to date advice
  • Employees who are not shielding but identified as at increased risk from COVID-19 are able to attend work in person but should strictly follow physical measures
  • new public library arrangements to be tested and modified through collaboration between employers and employees
  • public libraries to take travel to work and childcare considerations into account in decisions around a phased restart, noting the disproportionate impact that these consideration have on women
  • the health, including mental health, and well-being of workers to be considered

Continue home working

Minimising the spread of the virus will remain important in ensuring the overall protection of public health. Therefore planning for a safe return to work should assume that those able to work from home will continue to do so. Public libraries should plan for the minimum number of people needed on site to operate safely and effectively, with a phased return necessary for many businesses. Home-working is the default, where possible.

Full home working guidance provides more information on this.

Please also see the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advice on home working for further information.

Pilot measures 

As implementing new enhanced safety measures may take time to embed it is good practice to pilot measures, either within part of a facility and / or with a proportion of the workforce at lower risk from the virus, before rolling out across the workplace as a whole. Travel to work and childcare considerations for individual employees should be taken into account by public libraries, in discussion with trade unions or employee representatives, before deciding which individuals to involve in pilots and a phased restart.

Each time you make any changes or when you intend to open your business more widely, you should re-visit you initial analysis to identify what further/new changes are required. In other words, repeat the process above for the changes you have made.

Mandatory face coverings

Physical distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene are the most important and effective things we can all do to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The wearing of face coverings must not be used as an alternative to any of these other precautions.

People must by law wear a face covering in shops, on public transport and public transport premises such as railway and bus stations and airports, and in certain other indoor public places such as shops, restaurants/cafes including workplace canteens (when not seated), libraries and places of worship, except where an exemption applies.

A face covering must also be worn by all people when in indoor communal areas, where people mingle or gather to, for example, socialise or transit such as passageways, stairs, lifts, staff rooms, training rooms, changing rooms and entrances, except where an exemption applies, or where there is a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear a face covering such as eating or drinking. Exemptions also apply if you have a health condition or you are disabled, including hidden disabilities such as autism, dementia or a learning disability.

It is important to note the difference between face masks and face coverings. Where HPS guidance refers to face masks this means surgical or other medical grade masks that are used in certain health and social care situations. Face coverings are made from cloth or other textiles that cover the mouth and nose, and through which you can breathe (e.g. a scarf). It is recommended that it be made of cloth or other textiles and should be two, and preferably three, layers thick and fit snugly while allowing you to breathe easily.

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 on their own.

Face covering exemption cards

Where an exemption applies you may find that some individuals have an exemption card. To find out more about exemption cards and how to request a card please visit:

Employee health and wellbeing 

Employers should ensure the organisation culture is inclusive, with the aim that every employee should feel that they are returning to a supportive, caring and safe environment. The pandemic has had an unequal impact across the workforce, as different employee groups, and individuals, will have been affected in diverse ways according to factors such as their job role, and demographic/personal circumstances. Therefore, it is important organisations foster a fair and inclusive working environment that does not tolerate discrimination. There is also a risk of victimisation of those infected, suspected, or more vulnerable to COVID-19 which should be addressed. 

The following guides from the Health and Safety Executive provide useful sources of information:

Individual health circumstances should be considered and discussed with employees and volunteers before prioritising who is asked to return to work and when. This should recognise the protective measures required to minimise health risks to high risk or shielded workers. Employees in the shielding category should not be expected to physically attend work and every effort must be made to explore how they can work from home.

Pay for workers who are sheltering, self-isolating, sick or balancing care responsibilities is likely to be a source of concern for employees. Public library services should work with trade union or workforce representatives to provide early guidance to workforces on processes and support for individuals affected by these issues. Again opportunities to facilitate home working where feasible should be actively pursued and maintained. 

Public library services should also acknowledge the range of factors likely to cause stress or anxiety amongst employees and volunteers, ranging from living with lockdown arrangements to concerns about travel, schools, caring responsibilities and relatives impacted by the virus, amongst others. This may have implications for mental health with managers encouraged to be conscious of how these factors may impact on the well-being of individual staff members. Public library services and trade union or workforce representatives should be alert to this and direct anyone experiencing mental health issues towards available support.


The shielding category consists of those who have been identified as being at the highest risk from severe illness from COVID-19. See NHS Inform for further information.  People who live with someone who is shielding are not advised to stay away from work; however, they should be supported to stringently follow physical distancing guidance.  Companies should explore measures such as suspending the normal application of sickness or disciplinary procedures related to attendance in these cases.  

Shielding was paused on 1 August.  Since then we have been advising those who are at highest risk should they contract coronavirus, including those who were formerly asked to shield, to follow the same guidance as the rest of the population stringently and with extra care.  The best protection for people who are most at risk from the virus is to stop its spread in our communities.  Building on the support we put in place at the start of the pandemic, we are providing the information, advice and tools people need to make choices about their day-to-day activities and interactions, including work.

The Strategic Framework introduces enhanced advice at each protection level to protect people with the highest clinical risk, setting out clearly how advice will change depending on the rates of infection in local areas.  As the levels in a local area change, the protection advice for people on the shielding list in that area will change as well. People at highest risk should still follow the advice for the general public as a minimum, but these levels provide additional advice for areas like work, schools, shopping and contact with others.

The majority of workplaces can be made safe.  We are not advising people to stop going into work if you cannot work from home, but advise them to ask their employer to use the workplace risk assessment tool found at to support discussions with their employer so that the necessary adjustments to their workplace can be made. If their workplace cannot be made safe, at Levels 2 and 3, we are suggesting they can discuss whether they need a fit note with their GP or consultant.

At Level 4, the Chief Medical Officer will issue a letter to people on the shielding list which is similar to a fit note and which will last for as long as the individual’s area is under Level 4 restrictions. This letter can be used in the few cases where it is not possible to make their workplace safe.  This does not automatically mean they should not attend work.

We are also asking people on the shielding list to sign up to our text message service to get updates to your mobile. To sign up they need to send their Community Health Index (CHI) number to 0786 006 4525.

Test and Protect


Test and Protect, Scotland’s approach to implementing the 'test, trace, isolate, support' strategy is a public health measure designed to break chains of transmission of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community.  The NHS will test people who have symptoms, trace people who may have become infected by spending time in close contact with someone who tests positive, and then support those close contacts to self-isolate. That means if they have the virus they are less likely to pass it on to others.

Test and Protect – Contact Tracing App

Protect Scotland is an entirely voluntary app that is an additional part of NHS Scotland’s Test & Protect service.  Having the app should never be a requirement for any workplace.  The app complements but does not replace manual contact tracing.  It enhances contact tracing and quickly alerts app users that are at risk as they have come into close contact (less than 2m for 15 minutes or more) with an app user that has since tested positive for COVID-19. Further information about the contact tracing app for employers, workers and customers is available.

Organisations will play a vital role in ensuring that their workers are aware of and able to follow the public health advice.

Organisations should follow public health guidance if a worker becomes unwell with coronavirus symptoms at work, see further information below. The person should leave work to self-isolate straight away and, if possible, wear a face covering on route and avoid public transport. 

Organisations should direct workers to NHS Inform or, if they can’t get online, call 0800 028 2816, to arrange to get tested.

Until they have been tested and told if it is safe to leave home, organisations should make sure that staff do not have to, or feel that they have to, come in to work.  Workers can request an isolation note through NHS Inform.

People who have tested positive for the virus will need to self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days. NHS contact tracers will interview them and get in touch with people they have been in close contact with, and tell them they must self-isolate for 14 days.  If your employees or volunteers are informed by a contact tracer that they should isolate, you should help them to do so straight away.  They may feel well, as the virus could still be incubating when they are asked to isolate. Some people who are asked to isolate may not become unwell, but they must stay at home and self-isolate for the full 14 days.  Organisations can ask them to work from home if they are able to and they are not unwell. Organisations should not ask someone isolating to come into work before their period of isolation is complete, in any circumstances.

Where Infection Prevention Control measures have been utilised such as protective screen or use of PPE the contact tracer will conduct a risk assessment to identify contacts at risk. The priority is to public health in order to break the chain of transmission of COVID-19.

See Scottish Test and Protect website and NHS Inform for further health advice and information including on duration of self-isolation.

A close contact is defined as:

  • Those that are living in the same household as a case.
  • Face to face contact with a case for any length of time within 1 metre of a case.
  • Extended close contact within 2 metres for more than 15 minutes with a case.

Planning should recognise that ongoing physical distancing measures required to reduce the spread of the virus may mean that the number of employees and volunteers able to be accommodated safely in the workplace is limited. The workforce may have questions or concerns about returning to work. Public library services are encouraged to work with trade union or workforce representatives to enable individuals to work from home while self-isolating, if appropriate. If able to work from home, employees should continue to do so after a period of self-isolation has ended.  

We do not recommend the use of temperature checking employees as a means of testing for COVID-19 due to the low efficacy rate of this method.

Apprentices can return to work at the same time as their co-workers. For specific concerns regarding the safe return to work for Apprentices there is information and support and Apprentices can speak to an advisor directly on 0800 917 8000.

It is important to ensure there is a functioning training infrastructure to support economic recovery and the sustainability of apprenticeship programmes. For those Training Providers and assessors that are providing continuity of contracted services for apprentices, learners and employers in the workplace during the pandemic must adhere to the applicable sectoral guidance.


As of Monday 8 June, residents and visitors entering Scotland from outside the Common Travel Area are subject to new measures due to coronavirus



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