Materials Handling Safety

June 22, 2020 Revision

The first round of results are back from the Battelle Lab and it confirms what we've recommended based on that first seminal study, Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared to SARS-CoV-1, that three days is a reasonable amount of time to quarantine your material before recirulating anything.

The following information represents the opinion of Lori Ayre (Principal Consultant with The Galecia Group) and they are based on her research and experience as a materials handling consultant.

Dealing with backlogged material - just get it back on the shelves if you can (without triggering holds)

Most libraries have at least a day's worth of material in their backroom or in their bookdrops depending on whether they locked the bookdrops when they closed.  The good news is that books that have sat in a bookdrop or backroom for at least three days is very likely to be free of the virus - or at least an amount of virus that could spread disease. Getting all that material checked in an reshelved would seem to be very straightforward although potentially a big job. Items with plastic covers are a different story.  The virus can survive longer on plastic but it does degrade over time.  Rather than trying to handle backlogged material, it would be better to either quarantine or shelve everything.  If material has been in a stuffed bookdrop or in your backroom for over three days, all those books could be checked in and reshelved.  DVDs and things in plastic cases should be wiped down (covers only) with a 70% isopropyl alcohol solution and then checked in. 

Triggering holds on this material is not a good idea since that just creates another set of problems to deal with.  My recommendation is to get the backlog out of the way so then you can deal with material that is out with patrons next.

Material that is still out with patrons - accept returns directly into quarantine-able containers and set aside for three days

Once you've got the backlog out of the way, you can start accepting returns (theoretically) so now the question is how to do that safely.  Ideally, you would allow material to be returned and dropped into totes or bins that you could label and quarantine for three days. If you can keep Media returns separate from books, that's best. If you have an automated material handling system (AMH), this will be easier to do since material will have multiple containers to drop into so they won't fill up so fast. Your AMH vendor should be able to work with you to check-in material upon return or not depending on how you want to deal with Holds.  You could just accept and route material to a bin or tote upon return - keeping books separated from media items with cases.  Three days later (after cleaning disinfecting your sorter), re-run books through your AMH system to trigger the Holds and sort for shelving.  Media items with cases can be run through the sorter after seven days.  Always disinfect your sorter inducting items.  Talk to your AMH vendor about their recommendations for doing so - it will probably be a 70% isopropyl solution.

If you don't have an AMH and your returns drop into a single bookdrop bin, the ideal scenario is that you bring in the bin, label it with the date of the returns and set it aside for seven days.  After seven days, proceed with check-in.  This is the safest approach.  But if you don't have enough bins to do that, you might consider rigging up something that would allow you to accept returns into delivery crates (totes) which you can then date and set aside.  This probably means you can't accept returns unless someone is in the building so they can keep swapping out the totes.

If you can get patrons to return items with cases into a separate bin from books, then you can quarantine books for three days and media for seven.

If you MUST transfer material from your bookdrop bin to something you'll be using for quarantining material, be sure to have staff wear a mask (so they don't touch their face during transfer of material) and then make sure they wash their hands in soapy water or use hand sanitizer as soon as they are done transferring the material.  Put books into separate quarantine containers (like delivery totes) and set aside for three days.  Put media with cases into separate quarantine containers and set aside for seven days. 

Curbside/Sidewalk Pickup

I want to give a shout-out to Multnomah County Library who makes a point of talking about Sidewalk Pickup instead of Curbside Pickup because of the focus on vehicles that curbside implies.  Truth is, lots of the patrons that would like to use library material don't have cars so the idea of curbside pickup doesn't really make sense if they are walking to the library or taking a bus.  Another equity issue related to sidewalk pickup is that not everyone is great at using the library catalog's Hold Request systems.  For patrons that have relied on browsing to find things to read, won't benefit from sidewalk service if it is depending on using the catalog.  I'm not saying fulfilling requests for material is a bad idea. I'm just saying not to forget the people who don't use the catalog that way. Also, if you are allowing patrons to request items for pickup through the catalog, limit what they can request to their local library so that you don't build up a long queue of items that will someday need to be pulled from the shelves. Until library delivery services are back in business, holds should be available from the pickup location only.

To service the patrons who are not adept at using the catalog to place holds, why not advertise broadly that patrons can request books-to-go?  Most libraries still have a system in place for patrons to communicate with staff - at least by online chat.  Using the telephone is even better for this group of less online-oriented patrons. If you can work it out to continue answering your library phone during normal library hours, that's the best case.  And make sure you library website makes it clear that you are still open for virtual business! 

Assuming patrons can reach out to you in person, try offering up a care package of books based on the patron wants.  Then make them available for pick-up or delivery if you can.  I admire libraries that are actively reaching out to their patrons by calling them up to see if they need anything.  For those patrons that have relied on coming to the library to browse, read, and socialize, a telephone call from their local library staff will undoubtedly be a very welcome interruption from the groundhog days that many of us are experiencing.

When it comes to handing over the material, it is a good idea to prepare a paper bag for each patron to use to take their materials away.  And if they want to return material to staff, they too should return material in paper bags (one for media in cases and one for books if possible).  Returns can then be directly moved to the appropriate quarantine bin without staff having to touch anything.  It goes without saying that the only items being made available for patron pickup are materials that have been quarantined for three days (books) or seven days (media in cases).

Fines MUST be eliminated (generally) but especially now.  As long as no late fees are assessed, material accepted for returns can just be quarantined and no patron records are negatively affected. And who needs the pressure right now to be out in the community just because your books are due.

Materials Handling Environment

Staff working in the library should be working in well-ventilated spaces with co-workers separated by at least six feet.  Every staffperson should have their own hand sanitizer, should be wearing a mask and should absolutely not have any symptoms nor be coughing and sneezing (for whatever reason).  And if staff can't come to the library for a shift, they should be offered the option to continue to work from home (and maybe take those calls from their patrons or MAKE those calls to patrons).

Contact me with any comments and suggestions.  I'll keep this blog post updated as things change and new, better ideas are offered....and as we get actual guidelines from the folks at OCLC/Battelle and IMLS.  Fingers crossed.

Many of the resources that informed these recommendations are available on this site.  Find them under the materials handling safety tag