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POP Plans for Library Leaders

December 11, 2020 | Library News

By Scott C. Jarzombek

Albany Public Library Executive Director

Pandemic librarianship is a challenge. Many of us in leadership are thinking, “This is not what I signed up for.” However, it is our job to rise to challenges and guide our organization forward. We do that through planning. A good plan helps provide a semblance of order in any situation. A plan for library service during a pandemic is paramount, and for some of us, it is now mandated. 

Libraries, those mandated and unmandated, should be drafting a Pandemic Operations Plan (POP) now. For those with a continuation of service plan, well, you have already done half of the work. For those who do not have such a plan, well, you need to get started. I am not claiming expertise here, just giving advice from one library administrator to another.

In New York, any public employer needs to have a Pandemic Operations Plan in place. “Public employer” is defined to include the State of New York and any county, city, town, village, or other political subdivision or civil division of the State, public authority, commission, or public benefit corporation, or any other public corporation, agency, instrumentality, or unit of government which exercises governmental powers under the laws of the State. So, district libraries are required to have a plan. Municipal libraries, you may want to ask your lawyer. I have heard association libraries are exempt, but it may be smart to have a plan anyway. 

What is required of a library Pandemic Operations Plan?

“A list and description of all positions and titles considered essential in the event of a state-ordered reduction of the in-person workforce, and the justification for classifying each position as essential.” 

This is easy. First, who was coming in during the last pause? Did they need to access the building to do their job? This includes staff who may only be coming in one day a week, or those who need to report every day. Dust off your job descriptions and paste them into your document. 

“Protocols the employer will follow to enable non-essential employees to telecommute or work remotely, including plans to obtain any needed devices or technology such as software, office laptops or cell phones, and the transferring of office phone lines to work or personal cell phones as practicable or applicable to the workplace.” 

Do you have a telecommuting policy? If not, this is the time to write one and get it approved by your board. 

“A plan describing how the employer will, to the extent possible, stagger work shifts of essential employees and contractors in order to reduce overcrowding on public transportation and at worksites.” 

Again, what did your schedule look like during the last pause? If you made no changes to the schedule, you might want to think about staggering schedules or redundancy scheduling. This really depends on the size of your staff and facility. You may want to call your county health department for assistance.

“A description of the protocol the employer will implement to obtain necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for essential employees and contractors, based upon the various tasks and needs of such employees, in quantity sufficient to provide at least two pieces of each type of PPE to each essential employee and contractor during any given work shift over at least a six-month period of time. PPE includes: ‘all equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards, including gloves, masks, face shields, foot and eye protection, protective hearing devices, respirators, hard hats, and disposable gowns and aprons.’” 

How have you purchased PPE in the past, and how do you plan to do it in the future? We will be including language from our procurement policy in our Pandemic Operations Plan. 

“A description of the protocol outlining what happens in the event an employee or contractor is exposed to the communicable disease, exhibits symptoms or tests positive for such disease, in order to prevent the spread or contraction of such disease in the workplace, including policies regarding the disinfection of the workplace and available leave for employees; Policies for documenting hours and work locations for essential employees and contractors to aid in tracking the disease.” 

This is internal contact tracing. If you have an HR department, this process should already have been worked out. If not, you need to designate someone to contact all staff who may have worked the same shifts, days, and locations as an infected employee. 

“And a protocol for how the public employer will work with the locality to identify sites for emergency housing for essential employees.” 

Call your county health department and see if there is a program already in place. 

What else you should include in your safety plan that was mandated earlier in the pandemic? 

It would be best if you were thinking about rolling backward and forward over the next year.

Albany Public Library has had a Continuation of Service Plan since March 2020. This plan has grown and evolved. The name will soon change to POP, which my staff is going to love hearing me say in meetings. These service plans are not static, so keep in mind you want to communicate the changes to staff as they happen, and certainly once they are approved by your governing body. You also should be presenting this plan, along with any updates and adjustments, to your board every month.

Other suggestions:

  • We attached our phases to daily positive test rates and provided a color-coded chart. You want a graph, but you also want to write out an explanation of what is included in each phase. We have attached all library services to phases, including item quarantining. 
  • We have also included all relevant policies in the POP document. 
  • When you create your response plan, think about your audience which includes stakeholders, trustees, staff, and yes, patrons. A well-written plan demonstrates the amount and time and thought you, your staff, and your board have put into the plan that is supposed to explain how you will keep library services available in the safest way possible.

Which reminds me…you probably should have a host of new policies and changes to existing policies due to the pandemic and lessons you have learned so far. The first is a state of emergency policy, which overrides all other policies in a health or environmental crisis. You should also have a telecommuting or work from home policy. These documents will help with developing the POP, but will be useful in the future as well. 

Remember, you will need board approval for this plan. In union environments, you also need to have it reviewed by the collective bargaining unit. You should also be sharing the POP with your area’s “control room.” 

A well written and produced pandemic response plan is key to communicating with stakeholders, patrons, and staff. Do not reinvent the wheel; there are plenty of good plans out there. You got this. Our world is wild, and our job is to be the calm center of the storm. 

View APL’s Pandemic Operations Plan (Approved by APL Board of Trustees 1/12/21)


Stephanie Simon

Stephanie Simon is manager of APL's Communication and Creative Services Department, which provides content and information for the library's website, social media, publications, videos, podcasts, and other outlets. Stephanie also manages APL's public relations and marketing efforts.