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VCU Libraries introduces new practices to care for materials while helping keep each other safer

August 18, 2020
Library staff member, wearing a mask, waves behind a plexiglass shield at an information desk.

As always, the safety of students, staff, faculty and community members is the first priority at VCU Libraries. This includes caring for items from the library collection to make sure extra precautions are taken to promote everyone’s safety. 

During the pandemic, VCU’s librarians have explored scientific studies, consulted with VCU’s Safety and Risk Management and the Public Health Response Team as well as examined best practices for handling materials outlined by numerous libraries and museums.  

Research indicates that the COVID-19 virus does not adhere well to paper. In an abundance of caution, according to Preservation Librarian Nora Bloch, “We have put in place a number of new collection handling practices to protect the health of people in our community as we work together safely through the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes a quarantine period for all returned items.” Bloch stresses that “We ask that people not attempt to clean or disinfect any items you check out, as this can damage the materials and cannot be effectively done to every page of a book. Washing your hands well before and after handling any shared item in the library is the most effective measure people can take.”

Here are a few of the new protocols for safer handling of materials.

  • Library staff have been trained to properly handle items by practicing good hand hygiene and wearing face coverings. Staff wear gloves when handling materials that have been returned. 
  • Returned items are set aside (or quarantined) for three to five days before they are made available to circulate again.  
  • Books and media are not disinfected, as this causes damage and is not necessary since items are quarantined when they are returned. Materials can be cleaned by patting them down with a dry cloth or paper towel.
  • Library staff clean and disinfect surfaces of book carts, bins, and counters before and after every use. 
  • When researchers work with materials in Special Collections and Archives, the materials are quarantined for three to five days before they are used again. Researchers (like all library users) wear face coverings, maintain physical distance and wash their hands before and after handling materials. Three researchers at a time are permitted to use the reading rooms at both locations.
  • Multimedia equipment items available for checkout from The Workshop at Cabell Library or The Makerspace at Tompkins-McCaw Library are disinfected by library staff before and after circulating or quarantined for several days.
  • The exterior book drop at Cabell or the book return at the information desk at either library offer the safest way to return books and media. Returned items are set aside for three to five days before circulating again. 
  • The stacks are open for browsing. Wash your hands before and after browsing and do not reshelve books you handle. Leave them unshelved on designated tables or book carts or take them to the book return at the Information Desk.  
  • The Art Browsery on the fourth floor of Cabell Library is closed and newspapers and magazines are no longer available. Higher trafficked items can accrue larger doses of virus particles, and are made worse the more they are handled without rest time. Based on the last round of testing, glossy magazine paper can hold the virus for at least four days. Also, magazines and artbooks tend to have glossier pages, which are less porous than standard paper and can hold the virus longer. 

VCU Libraries new practices are based on guidance and directives from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), VCU, VCU Health and the Commonwealth. Additionally, VCU Libraries follows recommendations from the Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) project and the Northeast Document Conservation Center

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