Ontario libraries responding to COVID-19: Checklist for reopening libraries

(Adapted from ALIA Australian libraries responding to COVID-19: Checklist for reopening libraries https://read.alia.org.au/australian-libraries-responding-covid-19-checklist-reopening-libraries)

As of June 12, 2020, the Ontario government has started to ease restrictions on services and allowed local public libraries in some regions to have a limited reopening of some public library services as part of Phase 2.

We anticipate greater clarity in the coming weeks about additional phases when public libraries may be able to ease restrictions on services and reopen fully. While government can make broad statements about libraries reopening, the details will need to be carefully planned by library boards and CEO’s/managers to mitigate any remaining risks for staff and library users. Reopening will not mean going back to the way things were pre-COVID-19; it will mean putting in place the ‘new normal’ approach to library services.

This is the opportunity for libraries to prioritize their existing services and refocus investment on the services which are most highly valued by users as behaviours change (perhaps temporarily) over the coming years.  Some services which have been established for the duration of the pandemic will need to be removed as they will be redundant; there will no longer be the capacity to deliver them, or they will no longer be permissible. However, other innovations will most likely become part of normal service.

In practical terms, there will need to be a greater focus on the safe handling of items for borrowing and display. The Institute of Museum and Library Services, OCLC and Battelle in the US2 are collaborating to develop an evidence-based approach to safe reopening practices, providing information about how to handle materials, training and cleaning in libraries.

The International Federation of Library Associations is also gathering information about the strategies that libraries around the world are taking, as they plan to reopen their libraries.2

Each library will have its own plans for reopening, depending on the sector and the specific needs of the library’s community, but the following checklist provides a practical framework which outlines major considerations that library managers should be addressing, when planning to reopen their library.

For more information visit FOPL.ca and our blog

1 www.imls.gov/news/covid-19-research-partnership-inform-safe-handling-collections-reopening-practices-libraries

2 www.ifla.org/covid-19-and-libraries#reopening

Should you want to add something to this list, or have a conversation, contact Stephen Abram, FOPL executive director at sabram@fopl.ca



  • Environmental scan and literature scan/research
  • Risk assessment (with local/regional medical officer of health)
  • Selection of branches that meet local and provincial criteria for e-opening
  • Operations and communications plans
  • Timeline and phasing (easing of lockdown, partial reopening, full reopening)
  • Celebration of full reopening


  • Marketing and social media calendar and plan
  • Guidelines and training for staff
  • Information for stakeholders and partners
  • Media alert through organization’s media team
  • Notification of services available (English and French)
  • Be prepared for increased phone and email enquiries during the reopening phases
  • Use the opportunity to communicate the value of the library

Social distancing measures

  • Signage including promoting social distancing (English and French)
  • Floor marking
  • Rearrange furniture
  • Separate entrance and exit
  • Reviewed opening hours and locations
  • Potential program schedule and calendars (digital, outdoor, partners, indoor)
  • Opening hours for specific user groups
  • Limit usage of spaces in the library (e.g. meeting rooms, café, washrooms)
  • Limited number of people in the library – Occupancy rules
  • Limited period of time in the library
  • Move PCs to create space between terminals including moving PCs from other branches
  • Time limits on PC sessions
  • Limit numbers for face-to-face activities
  • PC booking and cleaning protocols

Safety precautions

  • Work Health and Safety risk assessment to identify high risk areas
  • Cleaning schedule with focus on priority areas including shared devices and materials
  • Run all taps for a while to remove sediment and reduce the risk of Legionnaires disease.
  • Close communal drinking fountains
  • Quarantine and/or sanitize returned items for 72 hours
  • Availability of PPE, wipes and sanitizer for staff and public use
  • Install screens where social distancing measure are less effective
  • Ask people who are unwell not to attend the library
  • Staff support
  • Shift work to reduce the number of staff in the library
  • Advanced
  • Promote use of self-check stations, where available
  • Manage expectation of face-to-face assistance for library users

Community support

  • Extended loan periods
  • Automatic and repeated loan renewals
  • Waiving of fines


  • Union conversations where needed
  • Bring back staff
  • Reactivate return chutes
  • Reopen library buildings
  • Restart mobile library service (if offered)
  • Maintain extended home library service or return outreach services
  • Introduce, retain or phase out curbside pick-up
  • Make PCs available for public use
  • Reintroduce cash transactions
  • Review and instate calendar of programs and events, in-person and virtual
  • Remove virtual story time recordings from media channels (public and school libraries)
  • Reintroduce live large group programs and events as the final phase
  • Consider reintroducing volunteers
  • Plan post-Covid 19 supports for business, parents, schoolkids, seniors, teens, etc.
  • Review 2020-2021 budget including balance of investment in print and e-resources


Current status Restrictions eased Restrictions lifted
Social distancing
Safety precautions
Staff support
Community support