The library where I work is closed and we’re all working from home. But our bosses already discussing what will happen when we reopen.
How will we get our patrons to stay the recommended 6 feet away from each other — and from library staff?
My library is set up to encourage community, not support social distancing. It’s filled with comfy reading chairs, shared tables, and side-by-side computers.
It’s a social distancing nightmare.
I was recently at the San Francisco airport. They had placed large, brightly-colored stickers on the seats and similar markers on the floor at six feet intervals to show people where they could sit or stand and still remain compliant with social distancing rules.
If you didn’t comply with those indicators and tried to stand or sit too close to your fellow travelers, the security people would yell at you.
It seemed to be working as a system.
But in a library? We’re already doing too many things at once — checking books in and out, answering the phones, looking up reference questions and putting the latest Patterson on hold.
We can’t keep track of whether you’re standing too close to one another.
The Library Distance Police!
One staff member, designated the Distance Police, should be assigned the sole task of making sure that library patrons maintain a safe distance.
How? By any means necessary. A polite request. An angry rant. Sarcasm. A piercing whistle. A cattle prod.
As a last resort, the Distance Police will be authorized to actually throw a book at anyone who gets too close to another person. A heavy book.
I’m thinking The Goldfinch. Martin Chuzzlewit. Infinite Jest.
Library Distance Police Members will need to wear masks, gloves, and a very serious expression at all times. Perhaps we can issue special hats that read KEEP YOUR DISTANCE or BACK OFF. Or else they can dress up as Darth Vader, the Wicked Witch of the West, a Dalek, or whomever their favorite intimidating literary or movie villain happens to be.
I’m grateful that my library is currently closed. Although I love my job, I’m not eager to risk my life so that people can check books out. If my library re-opens before COVID is erased from my community, I trust that my bosses are already brainstorming ways to keep us all safe.
A staff member wearing a Darth Vader mask and lobbing copies of A Handmaid’s Tale at anyone who stands too close to a fellow library patron may not be the answer.
On the other hand? It’s so crazy it just might work.
( Roz Warren is the author of two collections of library and book-related humor, Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor, and Just Another Day At Your Local Public Library, both of which would make great gifts for your favorite librarian or other bookish friend.)