President Kontos' March 18, 2020 Letter to Governor Baker
On behalf of the 25,000 members of AFT Massachusetts, including more than 700 public librarians in 34 municipalities, I am writing to request that you immediately order all municipal libraries in Massachusetts to close for the health and safety of library patrons and staff.
As we all work to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our communities, the Commonwealth must take all necessary steps to slow the spread of this virus and reduce the burden it puts on our healthcare system.
AFT members and leaders appreciate your decision to order all public and private schools to close this week, but libraries are just as vulnerable to the spread of the virus. Yesterday, the American Library Association recommended closing libraries nationwide, writing that “libraries are by design unable to practice social distancing to the degree recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health authorities. Keeping libraries open at this time has the potential to harm communities more than help.” But in Massachusetts, as a result of inconsistent decision-making at the local level and a lack of state guidance, some municipal libraries remain open, while others, including the Boston Public Library system, are closed.
Over the coming weeks, our public libraries will play an important role in supporting the education of children whose schools are closed, but public health demands that all physical library locations close and that we promote the use of ebooks, audio books, and other online services instead of physical books, DVDs, and other media.
In this time of economic disruption, all library staff must be paid without being forced to use sick days or vacation days. Additionally, anyone whose job it is to clean libraries during their closure must have appropriate health protections, like respirators and gloves, as guided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I strongly urge you to order all municipal libraries throughout Massachusetts to close immediately, in order to protect library patrons, library workers, and everyone in the communities they serve.