Why Librarians Will Be The Last To Unmask

Public libraries, stuck in Covid time

We’re 2.5 years into the Covid outbreak that shocked our world. While the majority of society has decided to move on, libraries across America remain masked and frozen in time. Why is this? What is it about libraries and librarians in general that make them the stronghold for an endless pandemic?

My local library has always taken Covid with the utmost seriousness. They may never get over the initial fear. At the beginning of the pandemic, they took every precaution including doing outdoor pick up for materials, hiring a security guard who checked for masks, and limiting the number of people allowed to gather outside in the plaza area.

The REALM (Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums) provided science based information to libraries across America on how to process materials to create the lowest chance of Covid-19 exposure including quarantining returned books for 72 hours before returning them to the shelves.and even currently gives guidance on proper ventilation. When I called my mom, who lives in a red state, during the pandemic we often talked about our libraries’ very similar covid protocols.

The outdoor service carried on for several months even after many other businesses had already opened. Just like schools,  unions also control libraries. They wanted to make sure all Covid protocol was in place, which included Plexiglass surrounding every desk, air filtration systems, limited customers inside, and strict masking policies.

Librarians
Northern California library, summer of 2022. (photo by D. Martin).

When the doors finally opened to the public, the library became the location of Covid Zealots. They embraced the rules as deeply as organizing books using the Dewey Decimal System. While employees at local businesses enjoyed seeing my two year old’s beaming smile as his mask slid to his chin the library remained the only place in my city to scold him for “Not putting it over his nose”  They had signs professionally printed and displayed around every corner reminding visitors of their strict masking policy, took away seating to discourage staying longer than necessary, and moved all their community programs online.

Eventually the vaccine became available and Covid restrictions eased earlier this spring in my city. Businesses have since removed the Plexiglass that once stopped wonderful customer interactions and torn down their homemade masking signs that they printed in haste to satisfy county orders. Slowly we all began to unmask and move forward; however, the library remains the same, with a giant Masks Highly Recommended welcome sign. The vast majority of patrons and the entire staff are still embracing this message.

When I talked to my librarian friend, she believes that librarians continue to mask because they come into contact with a lot of different members of the community, thus leaving them in a constant fear of Covid. I also believe after so much effort put into creating a virus-free zone they could not just turn it all off.

In addition to having a difficult time moving on from the Covid panic, librarians are typically left-leaning. If you go into any library, you’re sure to see all the left leaning best sellers proudly on display while they quietly tuck away the conservative books. Librarians usually get their Bachelors Degree in Liberal Arts and then go on to receive their Masters in Library and Information Science, so they spend a lot of time in liberal universities.

In the 2021 annual report by the ALA (American Library Association), they used the current buzzwords of the Democratic Party such as social justice, inequality, and systemic racism and encouraged libraries to focus on providing services and reading materials around these issues.

It was no surprise to me that they continue to fully embrace masks in their attempt to make a Virus Free Utopia and as my librarian friend told me “wearing a mask seems to be the signifier of a very liberal political affiliation.”

Besides enjoying the strict covid rules, Librarians also tend to be introverted. In a small study, Mary Alice Scherdin gave 1,600 librarians a personality test and found that 63 percent were introverted versus 37 percent who were extroverted.

The mask could be a welcome way to reduce social interactions that usually increase anxiety for introverts; however, in a BBC article Kathryn Stamoulis an educational psychologist and mental health counselor in New York quoted “There’s definitely the potential to lose out on social interactions that can be nourishing. We know that social interactions whether it’s a quick chat or mutual smile can release endorphins and reduce cortisol levels. ” It’s hard to tell what the impact of continuing to mask will be, and if at a point they cause more harm than good.

I am beginning to believe that the Plexiglass, masks, and  fear of Covid is now the New Normal at my library and others across the nation. They never fully recovered from the initial Covid panic, it;s a sign of their political leanings, and a comfortable barrier to anxiety-inducing social interaction.

To be honest, as long the state no longer forces me and my children to wear a mask in the library they are free to carry on. As one of my favorite California sayings goes,” You do you and I’ll do me.”

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D. Martin

Former elementary school teacher turned stay-at-home mom of three, living in the Bay Area of California.

4 thoughts on “Why Librarians Will Be The Last To Unmask

  • August 16, 2022 at 10:06 am
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    I agree – I worked in a library system and was one of the very few (out of 300+ employees) who was not a flaming liberal. They like BOOKS – not people!

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  • August 16, 2022 at 3:21 pm
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    I remember going in to my local library to pick up a book (the stacks were closed) and the librarian would not let me get it off the “pickup” shelf myself, as had been the policy previously. She told me to step back because she had to get it for me (so I could check it out myself, from a computer she did not use). I was trying to be kind about the whole hysteria then, but that took me by surprised and I reacted by demanding she tell me why I could not pull a book off a shelf right in front of me. She just looked at me patronizingly and told me it was to keep everyone safe from Covid. “You can’t get Covid by touching books, it’s airborne,” I told her. But she was quite firm — oh yes, you could get Covid that way. I worked in every day out in the public, maskless. But what did I know? She was a high priestess of Covid, and I was a lowly person who read research about it. Sigh.

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  • August 19, 2022 at 1:17 pm
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    I left California for a red state after all the crazy authoritarian mandates started to happen. Zero regrets. These people did not care about public health, they craved the temporary sense of power, minuscule as it was, the pandemic provided them. As the “science” changes, they see their hold on power slipping and they simply can’t cope. Thank you for this article, and I’m glad I found you on Twitter. Please keep up the good work!

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  • August 20, 2022 at 8:49 pm
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    Does everybody who reads this live in California? How provincial of youall. Masks went away months ago in much of the rest of the country, even during spikes where people could use a few.

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