EveryLibrary Calls on State and Local Health Officials to Prioritize Librarians and Library Workers in Vaccination Plans

Librarians and library workers in public libraries and academic libraries are essential and should be included in state and local Phase 1b or Phase 1c vaccine distribution plans to protect staff and minimize risk to patrons and users.

Librarians and library workers in public libraries and academic libraries are essential and should be included in state and local Phase 1b or Phase 1c vaccine distribution plans to protect staff and minimize risk to patrons and users. School librarians are included in plans for the education community and should continue to be prioritized. 

EveryLibrary is concerned that the CDC’s December 22, 2020 Interim Guidance on vaccine distribution does not include most librarians and library workers as either Phase 1b or Phase 1c priorities for vaccinations. This omission is particularly troubling because the CDC’s ACIP July 2020 working group report had included librarians in its definition of “essential workers”. With the approval of both the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines, the focus has now shifted to state and local health departments for implementation of their vaccination plans. Because we recognize that the Guidance from the CDC is not an order, we are calling on state and local health officials to correct the omission of librarians and library workers and include them in their Phase 1b or Phase 1c vaccination plans.

It is important for state and local public health officials to recognize that public and academic libraries perform regular and necessary “frontline services” every day. All library workers, staff, and librarians are therefore in a high-risk group. State and local vaccination plans should consider both the nature of the work librarians do as well as the clear social and educational benefits that libraries accrue. Including librarians and library workers in their Phase 1b or Phase 1c distribution plan will allow our sector to fully reopen public libraries to public service and campus libraries to all students while protecting staff and vulnerable populations. Waiting to until Phase 2 to inoculate librarians and library workers will continue to put our colleagues on the front lines to unnecessary risk and delay significant benefits to our society. 

Here are the facts as we see it:

  • “Librarians” were included among the Essential Workers who should be prioritized for vaccination in the July 2020 CDC AIPC Work Group report “COVID-19 vaccine prioritization Work Group considerations

  • The December 22, 2020 CDC AIPC Interim Guidance does not specifically include “librarians” any longer in the definition of essential workers prioritized in either Phase 1b or Phase 1c of vaccine distribution. 

  • Because of the nature of their work, librarians, library workers, and staff at public libraries and academic libraries must be included in state and local Phase 1b or Phase 1c vaccination plans. School librarians should continue to be prioritized and included in the “education sector (teachers and support staff members)” definition. 

  • EveryLibrary encourages state and local health departments to look within the CDC guidance and definitions of “Essential Workers” to prioritize librarians and library workers in all workplace settings as Phase 1b or Phase 1c eligible for vaccination.  


Library Staff and Librarians are Essential Workers

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is charged with creating guidance for medical, public health, and public policy leaders about the safe, orderly, and efficient distribution of any coronavirus vaccine. The ACIP has been meeting throughout the pandemic to evaluate the ethical and medical implications of a distribution plan. In their July 2020 Interim Guidance, they considered two distribution scenarios for an as-yet-developed vaccine. If only a limited number of doses are available, their recommendation is to prioritize essential workers and vulnerable populations. As more doses become available, they outlined guidance for a rollout across society.

The ACIP July 2020 Interim Guidance outlined a 5-point criterion to define what sectors are essential workers and eligible for early Phase inoculations: 

  • Risk [to the essential workers] of exposure, infection, and severe disease
  • Risk of [the essential workers] transmitting the disease to vulnerable populations
  • Disparities and equity
  • Feasibility of implementation
  • Values of the target group and public. 

Librarians and library workers were identified in July 2020 as among the “workers at greatest risk for exposure to infectious diseases” and among those whose “[o]ccupational groups most likely to be exposed to infection or disease more than one time per month”. The ACIP nterim Guidance grouped all “education, training, and library” workers alongside healthcare practitioners and technical, healthcare support, protective services, personal care and service, and community support workers as “essential”. 

States, territories, and several large cities are tasked with creating local vaccine distribution plans. In general, state and municipal health officials follow the CDC ACIP guidance in determining who gets inoculated first. Unfortunately, the December 22, 2020 ACIP “Updated Interim Recommendation for Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine” no longer includes librarians or library workers in the Phase 1b or Phase 1c definitions of essential workers. We believe that this is an error that needs to be corrected by state and local health departments as they consider their own vaccination distribution plans. It is important to note that the December 22, 2020 ACIP Interim Guidance continues to include school librarians in K-12 settings under its “education sector (teachers and support staff members)” definition. 

Priority must be given to library workers alongside their colleagues in education and in similar ways to people working on other high-contact frontline jobs like banking, food service, grocery, and childcare. Waiting to vaccinate librarians and library workers until a Phase 2 distribution to the general public will continue to put both library staff and the vulnerable patrons at risk.  


Protect Patrons by Vaccinating Library Staff and Librarians

In its current “Occupational Outlook Handbook”, the US Department of Labor clearly identifies that librarians and library workers regularly do job roles that require close contact with the general public and patrons. The most recent survey on the use of public libraries from the PEW Charitable Trusts shows that over 40% of people who visit a library have a close interaction with a librarian or other staff member. This holds true for academic libraries and school libraries along with public libraries. However, as noted above, teachers and faculty are already clearly included in the CDC Phase 2 guidance for vaccination. 

For our colleagues in Public Libraries, it is important to dig deeper into the data to see that protecting library workers and librarians through early vaccination will not only ensure their safety. Vaccinating library workers will also help patrons, especially those in vulnerable and at-risk populations. 

According to PEW, Black and Hispanic patrons are more likely than other racial or ethnic groups to fully-access libraries - and interact with library staff - in person. As PEW reports, “Getting help from a librarian, by contrast, is something for which... African Americans are more likely to do. Some 52% of African Americans have done this [interaction], compared with 42% of the general library-user population.” Likewise, according to PEW, 53% of all library patrons remain in the library for long periods of time for a “place to sit, read, study, or watch or listen to media.” But PEW goes on to show that Hispanic and lower-income Americans do this more often with “67% of Hispanics and 64% of those whose annual incomes are under $30,000” have[ing] done this.”

The current CDC mitigation guidance recommends that frontline and essential workers limit their exposures to no more than 15 minutes in total to any individual or groups of individuals. Likewise, it is well known that COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color and that Blacks and Hispanics experience worse health outcomes when infected. Because there is statistically longer use of the library and more interactions between the public and staff by Black and Hispanic patrons, early vaccinations of the library staff will have an important mitigating effect on the potential for staff-to-patron transmission of COVID-19.  

These mitigation effects of timely library worker vaccinations will also extend to the health, safety, and overall wellbeing of older Americans across every demographic group. Prior to COVID-related closures, fully one-third of Americans 65 and 42% of people 50-64 visited their local library at least once every year. A 2018 survey from OCLC found that as many as 7 million Americans regularly worked from the library and used the library as their “office”. Today, in-person visits to the local library are already limited in many states and localities by either executive orders or the wisdom of the library board. Providing universal access to vaccination for library workers and librarians in Phase 1b or 1c would allow for a rapid, safe, and welcome return to normalcy for patrons of all ages and for a variety of uses. 

Residents and staff of assisted care facilities and other long-term living centers are already prioritized in Phase 1a vaccination guidance. Bookmobile and outreach services to these residential settings is a key component of livability and entertainment, especially for low vision patrons and those in need of adaptive technology to read. Millions of Americans rely on bookmobiles, delivery, or outreach visits as their primary or sole point of contact with their library. In the state of Kentucky alone, over 1.7 million books were lent by 73 mobile libraries in 2018 alone. Explicitly including library staff like these in the Phase 1b or 1c vaccination protocols will allow them to resume visits without additional hazards and restore important access to reading and audiobooks to vulnerable residents. 


REALM Project - Materials Handling Guidance to Protect Staff and Patrons

Since April 2020, the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services has funded and supported an important research partnership with OCLC and Battelle on “REopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums” (REALM) to help sector leaders understand and mitigate risk to staff and patrons from potential exposure to the coronavirus on materials they circulate and surfaces in their facilities. The REALM project has tested a variety of common and frequently used library, archives, and museum materials to determine how long the virus can survive on exposed surfaces and collections in archives, libraries, and museums.

Through rigorous testing, the REALM project has found that for books and paper, the Coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can exist for as little as one day on a hardback book and is detectable for as long as 8 days for archival leather and synthetic materials. On plastics and vinyl, it can be as long as 8 days as well. Other hard plastics like DVD cases can find detectable traces of the virus through the 6th day. Common materials for surfaces and fixtures like glass, marble, laminate, and steel surfaces can see the virus survive for nearly a week. 

In light of REALM’s findings, many libraries have instituted proactive materials handling and quarantine protocols to isolate books, media, and other materials that may have been in the possession of an infected patron, along with cleaning protocols for public and staff areas. While these protective protocols are important and necessary during the pandemic, the most effective mitigation would be to inoculate librarians and library workers in Phase 1b or Phase 1c. 

Libraries as Vaccination and Testing Sites

The CDC’s “COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook” from October 2020 has identified libraries as appropriate and eligible sites for vaccination administration mobile clinics. This follows earlier guidance from the CDC that libraries should be considered by local health officials for mobile COVID testing sites as well. The proximity of these clinics to staff and patrons has raised some concerns about safety within the library community. These concerns should be addressed in the standard protocols put in place by the local health authorities for mobile clinics. Extensive guidance and robust safety protocols ensure the safety and integrity of the vaccination and testing sites with minimal risk to hosts and the public at large. 

The CDC has also recognized in its October 2020 Interim Playbook that libraries, as trusted anchor institutions, should play an important role in sharing accurate information about approved vaccines and community vaccination activities. Hosting both mobile testing sites and vaccination clinics at the library lowers barriers to healthcare for many patrons and neighbors. Providing Phase 1b or 1c vaccinations to all library workers, staff, and librarians not only protects individuals and mitigates our collective risk, but it also helps to legitimize the perception of vaccines as a core component of public health services.

EveryLibrary Recommendations to the Library Sector 

EveryLibrary believes that the safety, health, and wellbeing of library staff is of primary concern. We were an early endorser of closing libraries to in-person public and student service during the pandemic. Our companion non-profit organization the EveryLibrary Institute has devoted significant attention this year to support unemployed and furloughed library workers with cash grants through its HALO Fund. We see initiatives like the REALM project from IMLS, OCLC, and Battelle providing true leadership and substantive guidance to our sector. We want to encourage our colleagues to stand in solidarity with each other across public libraries, academic libraries, and school libraries in support of our entire ecosystem. Please join us in asking state and local public health officials to include all library workers and staff in their Phase 1b or Phase 1c vaccinations plans while also actively embracing your role in the community, on campus, or at your school in sharing accurate information about this public health crisis.