Why Curbside Pick Up at Your Library Isn’t Safe

Libraries are essential. Libraries are a cornerstone of community health and wellness, whether that community is the general public, a school, or a campus. We want to help. That’s our jam. It’s what we do. We help. Right now, the most important thing any library can do to help is to flatten the curve.

There are now only two groups of Americans. Group A includes everyone involved in the medical response, whether that’s treating patients, running tests, or manufacturing supplies. Group B includes everyone else, and their job is to buy Group A more time. Group B must now “flatten the curve” by physically isolating themselves from other people to cut off chains of transmission. – How the Pandemic Will End

Libraries are Group B. I know it might be hard to hear this. Our main job for the foreseeable future (think months, not weeks) as individuals and professionals it to flatten the curve. The only sure way to do that is to stay home.

Our health care and research professionals are still figuring things out about COVID-19. The CDC recently reported that COVID-19 was found on cruise ships up to 17 days after cabins were vacated.  You are not as good at disinfecting as you think you are.

Our health care workers are wearing garbage bags as gowns and home-sewn masks for limited protection. There are not enough ventilators for everyone who will fall ill. There are not enough hospitals and staff to care for everyone who will need a ventilator.

Libraries have a chance to be community leaders right now by demonstrating appropriate behavior – staying home. The best way we can help our communities and ourselves is to encourage everyone to stay home. Everyone should act as if they are infected and work to reduce exposing others to infection.

I understand there is a digital gap in American. I’ve been talking and writing about it for over 10 years. Right now, flattening the curve is more important than any attempt to close that gap.

Two boxes side by side. Left box is red, it's title is "Less clear". "Practice social distancing" bullet pointed list: new term, unclear, not specific, conceptual. Right side box is green, it's title "More Clear" "Stay at home. Get Groceries once per week". Bulleted list: use known words, be clear, be specific, be concrete.

Here is what happens when you offer curbside pick up or any other physical service right now that requires staff to come into the building.

  • You expose staff to infection from each other and the community.
  • You transfer infection between households via books and staff and patrons.
  • If you use gloves or masks or hand sanitizer, you’re taking it away from health professionals, people in Group A.
  • You definitely should not do it without personal protective gear and see the previous bullet point.
  • You send a message to staff and patrons that it is ok to be out running errands. Don’t get me wrong I love books, but they are entertainment, and right now, social distancing trumps entertainment. No, that Ph.D. student does not need that book right now.


I know some of you think you’ve solved this with the pop the trunk trick here are some things to think about

  • Did the patron touch the trunk before they came to the library?
  • Did they wash their hands?
  • Did they cough in the trunk?
  • Are staff washing their hands before and after each trunk?
  • Did they cough in the trunk?
  • Can you fully prevent patrons from getting out of the car? Really?
  • Can you prevent them from rolling down the window?
  • Can you prevent them from coughing in the direction of staff?


Update 4/14/2020 I guess this needs to be said. Books are not food. Doing curbside pickup is NOT the same as takeout from a restaurant. No one is returning used containers or flatware to restaurants. When you get takeout home, you set it on the counter, remove the food from the containers without touching the food.Then throw away all the containers, wash your hands, and disinfect the counter. You don’t take a takeout container to bed with you at night and leave it on the nightstand. Up to 50% of COVID-19 carriers could be asymptomatic.


The best thing, the most important thing you can do is to support Group A. Any decision you make personally or professionally should start with the question – will this make things more difficult for Group A? And if what you’re contemplating isn’t staying home, the answer is yes.

Libraries are essential. Now is our time to show how innovative and creative we can be from home.

Screen Shot 2020-03-19 at 8.36.24 AM


At this point, your library should be closed. The American Library Association, The Association of College and Research Libraries, and the Association of Rural and Small Libraries have all issued statements.

Some of us are working from home. Some of us are just home. Staff should not be required to report to work to get paid.  All of us should be getting paid. Please do not ask staff to account for every minute they spend working at home.


Allain, R. (2020, March 24). The Promising Math Behind ‘Flattening the Curve’ | WIRED. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/the-promising-math-behind-flattening-the-curve/

CDC. (2020, February 11). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/disinfecting-your-home.html

Cloth masks don’t protect nurses. (n.d.). WSNA. Retrieved March 26, 2020, from https://www.wsna.org/news/2020/cloth-masks-dont-protect-nurses

Domonoske, C. (2020, March 25). Ventilator Makers Ask U.S. Government To Manage Distribution. NPR.Org. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/03/25/821536130/ventilator-makers-ask-u-s-government-to-manage-distribution

Enrich, D., Abrams, R., & Kurutz, S. (2020, March 25). A Sewing Army, Making Masks for America. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/business/coronavirus-masks-sewers.html

Godoy, M. (n.d.). Flattening A Pandemic’s Curve: Why Staying Home Now Can Save Lives. NPR.Org. Retrieved March 26, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/03/13/815502262/flattening-a-pandemics-curve-why-staying-home-now-can-save-lives

Kious Kelly: NYC hospital nurse dies in hospital using trash bags—Business Insider. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2020, from https://www.businessinsider.com/kious-kelly-hospital-nurse-dies-trash-bags-2020-3

Kritz, F. (2020, April 8). How Safe Is It To Eat Takeout? NPR.Org. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/04/08/822903487/how-safe-is-it-to-eat-take-out (Added with the 8/14/2020 update)

New coronavirus stable for hours on surfaces. (2020, March 17). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/new-coronavirus-stable-hours-surfaces

Oliver, D. (2020, March 24). Coronavirus: Diamond Princess cabins had COVID-19 traces for 17 days. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/cruises/2020/03/24/coronavirus-diamond-princess-cabin-surfaces-contaminated-cdc-report/2905924001/

Plater, R. (2020, April 8). 50 Percent of People with COVID-19 Aren’t Aware They Have Virus. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/50-percent-of-people-with-covid19-not-aware-have-virus (Added with the 8/14/2020 update)

Qualls, N., Levitt, A., Kanade, N., Wright-Jegede, N., Dopson, S., Biggerstaff, M., & Reed, C. (2017). Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza—United States, 2017. MMWR. Recommendations and Reports, 66. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.rr6601a1

van Doremalen, N., Bushmaker, T., Morris, D. H., Holbrook, M. G., Gamble, A., Williamson, B. N., Tamin, A., Harcourt, J. L., Thornburg, N. J., Gerber, S. I., Lloyd-Smith, J. O., de Wit, E., & Munster, V. J. (2020). Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. New England Journal of Medicine, 0(0), null. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMc2004973

Yong, E. (2020, March 25). How the Pandemic Will End. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/how-will-coronavirus-end/608719/

3 thoughts on “Why Curbside Pick Up at Your Library Isn’t Safe

  1. Thank you for this. As a Page at our local public library we were told we had to stay to help with the curbside service we’re providing our patrons during this pandemic. None of us want to be there. All of us are afraid. Many of us are at-risk due to age or medical issues. Fortunately the part-timers have the option to take unpaid leave. So since I’m over 60 and my husband has asthma, I chose the unpaid leave. But I’m still concerned about my co-workers and friends. This curbside service cannot possibly be for anyone’s benefit.


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