Allie and Kim explain how Oxfordshire’s libraries are helping to #stopthespread

Living in lockdown has been hard for us all, but our libraries have been busy getting on with plans to get services running again in a safe way for residents.

Regular handwashing, keeping a safe distance from others, minimising the handling of goods and wearing face coverings are among vital steps libraries are taking to #stopthespread.

Allie Thomlinson and Kim Kearney from our library service have both been central to the reopening of our libraries during Summer in their areas of the county. Oxfordshire’s libraries have been gradually reopening with 20 of the 44 now open for business - and work behind the scenes has not stopped.

Allie lives in Thame and is the group library manager for the Thame group of libraries which includes the Wheatley, Watlington and Chinnor sites. She has been working for the county’s library service for 37 years and started her career aged 16 at the Blackbird Leys library in Oxford in the early 1980s. After spending 28 years of her career at Oxford Central Library, Allie moved to the Thame branch in 2010 and became group library manager from 2012.

Thame Library reopened in July but before that could happen, lots of planning was required to keep residents and staff safe. In the early part of the lockdown, Allie was working with colleagues across the library service; planning for reopening of as many sites as possible with all the measures that would be required. To keep staff safe, these planning meetings were held online using Microsoft Teams. Senior library staff then came up with a series of measures and risk assessments to allow libraries to open again after a number of important steps were taken to #stopthespread.

Allie said: “As an individual, hand washing is something I do, many times a day and wearing a mask. We’ve also staggered staff start times and allowed them to work at home when possible. The safety changes mean that quarantining books for 72 hours is now standard. We’ve also introduced test and trace forms, hand sanitiser at the door as well as limiting visits to the library to 30 minutes. The number of people able to access the building at any single time is now 12 library users plus four staff at any time.

“Another handy thing we’ve done to make life easier and keep people safe is to introduce a book drop box if people do not want to come inside. This can be used both when the library is open or closed.”

“Other important steps are also being taken to keep you and librarians safe including an extra visit by a cleaner at midday to make sure a full and rigorous extra level of sanitisation is made. We are also asking visitors to pay by card to help reduce the risk further. It is still possible to pay for photocopying by coins.”

“Many staff have even gone as far as to record or hold Zoom sessions of activities that would normally be held at libraries including popular reading events and rhymetimes.

Amid the lockdown and school holidays, demand for books and materials has soared; an important plea to residents now is to return children’s picture books as soon as you can. The quarantine process and demand means that available stocks of picture books are now very low.

Library users can now return items with no risk with the book drop boxes accessible in or out of opening hours. People can also of course return them inside our safely-adapted libraries if you want to.

Kim, the Group Library Manager for Abingdon manages our sites in Cowley, Blackbird Leys, Littlemore & Kennington and has also taken measures to #stopthespread.

She’s been at Abingdon since April 2017 and joined the service in January 2007..But she wanted to join a lot earlier! When she left school in 1985, the first job she applied for was as a library assistant at Abingdon Library but went onto a career in banking as well as working for a lettings agency in Didcot before starting work where she had first applied to..in 1985!

Kim said: “We took a consultative approach to look at what was possible. To keep people safe, we have removed furniture such as study tables and chairs and repositioned self-service machines to allow people to keep a safe distance. We have moved some book stock to allow room for book quarantine as well as fitting protective screens up at service counters. We’ve also installed a new area in lobby for a no-contact book drop and we now have a person to meet & greet visitors at the entrance and ask them fill in a test & trace form.”

Kim follows the guidelines to #stopthespread: She wears a mask and washes her hands very regularly as well as keeping a two-metre distance from staff and visitors.

Kim also says that now the changes have been made, she’d love to see more residents return to use the libraries:

“We welcome residents to come back to our libraries; we are only at a third of our previous level of visitors. We have taken extensive steps to keep you safe and we’d be very glad to see you again soon.”

In the earlier period of the lockdown, a number of library staff played a vital role by adapting their customer service and administration skills to frontline needs. This included moving to meet the immediate needs at the Registration service, by acting as marshals at Household Waste Recycling Centres and by making calls to vulnerable residents to support them though their needs in the emergency.