Libraries reopening is wonderful, but caution is necessary.

As COVID restrictions are lowered, many libraries, including Sunnyvale Public Library (pictured) are opening up

Sunnyvale Public Library

As COVID restrictions are lowered, many libraries, including Sunnyvale Public Library (pictured) are opening up

Libraries reopening in Silicon Valley will improve accessibility of vital resources, but both employees and patrons must stay safe and respectful.

Libraries offer free books, internet and activities of all kinds. They are crucial resources, accessible to anyone regardless of their financial status.

While the Silicon Valley libraries have not reopened to full capacity yet, any amount of in-person services will benefit vulnerable populations, who may not have access to online library resources.

Libraries also have larger collections of physical titles than digital copies, so reopening will benefit all patrons.

But patrons must adhere to safety measures. Even though they are required to follow COVID-19 guidelines to enter the building, they aren’t at risk of being punished for not wearing their masks in the non-fiction section.

As someone who has volunteered at the Saratoga Library and worked in food service during the pandemic, I know customers will always break the rules. No matter how clearly these rules were posted, people often thought it was fine to pull their mask down to eat or unlock their phones.

Limited library space also presents an issue.

While not all libraries are small, most of them don’t have an optimal layout for social distancing. The stacks are spaced out, but not to the point where people can always adhere to social distancing.

When I volunteered at the Saratoga Library, I also discovered that the staff areas aren’t all that spacious compared to the visitor areas.

A smaller area means less room to distance and a smaller staff. Less visitors are coming in anyway, so librarians are stretched too thin.

Because of the borrow-and-return structure of the library system, books and other items are also going in and out of households and libraries constantly.

Although the risk of contracting COVID-19 from a book is less than that of contracting it from a cough or sneeze, CDC recommends that people air library books out for 24 hours before reading, as well as wash their hands after reading.

If patrons and staff work together to stay safe, they can maintain access to the wonderful offerings of Silicon Valley’s libraries without endangering public health.