Coronavirus and libraries: Staying safe and staying relevant

Roskilde Library Thursday March 12

On Wednesday March 11 2020 at 8.30 pm local time, the Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, declared a closure of all non-critical public sector institutions likes schools, kindergartens, universities and libraries for 14 days. Critical functions as police and health care will still be in function. All public sector employees who do not perform critical functions was to be sent home for 14 days. The reason for this action is to slow down the spread of coronavirus which has been moving extremely fast in Denmark in the days up to March 11.

On Thursday March 12 I closed down 6 libraries, citizen services, our cultural house for children, 3 archives and put our mobile library bus on hold in Roskilde Municipality. The right thing to do and I endorse our Prime Minister and the Danish Government to take responsibility and take action in times like this.

Friday March 13 2020 has been the first workday with closed libraries. It has been a very different workday but also a day of taking action, learning, sticking together and exploring how libraries still has an important job in communities in times of a global pandemic.

Around the World, I see many library systems closing down or moving towards closure, so I thought I would share our first experiences. Feedback, other insights and experiences, ideas etc. are most welcome – let’s share those ideas in the global library community in the time to come to be the best libraries we can to our communities (sharing section below in this post).

The Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, at the press conference Wedensday evening

First steps and what we closed down

After the prime ministers press conference, I talked things over with my deputy on the phone and we decided to close everything down the next day. The closure of public sector was set on Friday but the sooner we closed down the more impact on slowing down the spread of coronavirus we would get and we assessed that it was possible to close down already Thursday.

Then I sent an email to our 130 employees telling them about the situation and outlining what we needed from them the day after. I asked all employees that was not highly relevant for closing down of libraries to stay at home.

On Thursday morning, we established a ‘close-down room’ with relevant leaders and employees and we got started on all the practical stuff. The ‘close-down room’ was not a small meeting room filled with people; we sat it up in the largest area of the library keeping as much distance to each other as possible to avoid potential spread of coronavirus. Closing libraries unexpectedly is no fun but everybody was onboard with the necessity and people really worked hard and energetic all day. At 3 pm everything was closed down and we went home.

What we did in short:

  • All physical location was shut down and closed
  • All 130 employees was sent home with pay for 14 days
  • The possibility to request, loan or return items was suspended (fines – yes we still have those – was also put on hold)
  • We communicated all those things to the community and kept lines open on phone and email and SoMe platforms to answer all the questions that started to come in

Lots of practical stuff followed the close-down from dealing with alarms to watering of plants. Many things we could plan and some we could not. All in all the close-down went smooth.

It is about people: What we did concerning staff and citizens

Safety of staff and citizens ranks above all. That is why we decided to close down already Thursday and not Friday and that is why we asked all staff not relevant for closing down to stay at home. We need to stick together by being as much apart as possible in times like these. That is also why staff don’t come into work in a closed library but are kept at home.

Many of our employees has asked if it was ok to go and do small tasks in the libraries and check up on things. That is prize worthy and I love how they just wants to get the best of the situation but we have asked them to stay at home for their own safety and the sake of others – the transport from home to work and back again itself is a risk of spreading the virus.

On top of that, communication is vital in a situation like this – that goes for both staff and citizens. Many questions and concerns follows – both practical and regarding terms of employment. From citizens a lot of questions regarding services, return of loans, fines started coming in.

For internal communication, I will be sending out a newsletter every time there is news on the overall situation. On top of our team of leaders check-in on their staff everyday both to handle questions and to do actual work.

Regarding the terms of employment all staff are sent home from work in the next 14 days. They get full payment and are at work – just from home (more about how we go about that in the next section).

We have decided that hourly paid staff will get paid during the whole period. They are valuable to the workplace, many of them are students or employeed under special terms and they should be treated like anybody else.

To do library with closed buildings and all staff at home

Friday March 13 was the first workday after closing down. Most time was used on preparing how to work when everybody is apart, testing video meeting systems, checking in on staff, making lists of meaningful tasks to be done in the coming weeks, dealing with communication on so on.

All the practical stuff aside, we are going to focus on two things concerning library services in the coming weeks:

  • Our physical locations might be closed but we can still be relevant to our communities
  • Doing what we can to make sure we are ready when things goes back to normal

Our physical collection might but shut down but our digital is not. We are going to focus on pushing lots of electronic resources to the community. Ebooks, digital journals, the national library streaming service on movies, online resources, podcasts, digital photographs from our archives and so on. We are gonna shine learning, cultural activity, fiction and non-fiction and we are gonna do it every day throughout this. Some concrete actions:

  • All school kids in Denmark are sent home. We are going to provide learning resources to parents so they can teach from home. Many publishers are closing down paywalls opening up content so we will be promoting those as well
  • We will increase our budgets on digital content
  • We will not only push digital library collections but also other relevant resources
  • We will experience with online book discussion and in general see what relevant activities we can move to digital platforms

The access to skilled library staff should not be limited just because of closed libraries. We are promoting the national Library Chat function, ‘Biblioteksvagten’ (The Library Watch) which are staffed with library workers from public libraries all over the country and we will set up a local digital library reference desk to be reached by email and phone.

The Danish national library chat

Working together and getting things done when apart

In our group of leaders we have been testing Skype for business and Zoom and has decided to go with Zoom which seems best for online meetings with more than 4 people (we are 9). One thing is the technical platform but an other thing is to create a culture of work when separated. We are not very experienced with online meetings so we are setting up some groundrules to run meetings and are gonna setup a framework for our new virtual worklife – both as management but also to make the best conditions for our staff to work together in the coming times.

New normal

For a start we decided to have a Zoom meeting every morning and every efternoon to check in and check out. We decided this to both keep on top of all the practical stuff that goes on but also to keep in touch with each other and stay connected with the workplace.

The meetings themself runs with agenda and a meeting lead and since we are normally a pretty chatty group we have set up some basic rules for running the meeting; Raise you hand if you want the word, don’t interupte, mute yourself when you don’t have the word etc. It’s vital for online meetings to be succesful that those basic guidelines are followed.

We are stronger together – share you experiences

The above is how we got about it in Roskilde in the first days of closing library services in the case of a global pandemic. Many of you are going through the same things in different ways. Lets take advantage of the strong ties in the global library community and share our experiences, best-practices, ideas and failues so we can learn and be better together. Hit me on Twitter, via email or in the comments and I will try to put it all together in a cataloug of coronavirus and libraries input.

The cataloug can be find in this blog post: “Never let a serious crisis go to waste”: Libraries transforming in the age of Corona

Take care and stay safe all




  1. Thank you so much for sharing! I ran across your post in the Facebook group and it was very helpful. I work for a library system that provides services to a consortium of public libraries in Wisconsin (US). ALL of our member libraries closed down this past week. I hope that if you have time in upcoming weeks, you will update us on how this is going for you.


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