Wednesday, October 28, 2009

H1N1 Swine Flu and the Downers Grove Public Library

A few weeks ago as I worked on the Library’s plan for the H1N1 flu season I realized how lucky we are in this country to be safe from many of the ailments that effect much of the world.

I remember my mother yelling at me when I was very young, not to play in the water or I would catch polio. And I am a member of the original polio vaccine generation who lined up in my elementary school to get all four injections of the Salk vaccine, and then the full course of the Sabin oral vaccine.

As an adult I get a flu shoot every year, like most people who work with the public; but that has been the extent of my worries about public health – until H1N1 came into our lives. Now I am anticipating what might actually happen if there is an H1N1 pandemic in our area, and thinking hard about how to provide library services to the community and at the same time keep staff and patrons safe from infection?

If the flu season turns out to be no worse than a normal year, patrons won’t see much difference in the library, other than the hand sanitizers and wipes at every service desk and posters around the building reminding everyone of hand-washing and other safe practices. We do feature links to information about H1N1 on our website.

The good news for library users is that the flu virus appears to have a lifespan of 2 to 8 hours on a smooth surface, such as a book. It takes about 24 hours to process library material, from the time it is placed into the return, checked in, sorted, and returned to the shelves. This means that materials returned from a household with the flu will likely be perfectly safe, by the time the next patron takes it off the shelf. (Staff have masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer available in our work areas.)

Employees have been instructed to stay home if they get sick, so we don’t infect patrons or co-workers. This means there is a chance we may be a little short-handed at times. We can’t send sick patrons home, but library staff have been directed to protect ourselves and keep a safe distance from patrons who are exhibiting symptoms of illness. We will certainly help everyone as much as we can, but if you are coughing, we may talk you through a computer search rather than sit down and use the keyboard and mouse that you have just handled, for example. Please don’t be offended if you see us using disinfectant wipes on keyboards and mice. It is to protect other patrons as well as ourselves.

If the flu situation worsens, the authorities may advise citizens to increase “social distancing” (literally to keep more space between oneself and others). If this occurs the Library will cancel library programs and public meetings in the building until conditions improve. If the season gets very bad, we have contingency plans to limit some services and/or reduce hours, if the situation requires us to do so.

We all hope that the flu season passes with no major problems. If not, we will do our best to provide the community with accurate information and to modify library services as appropriate, until the situation returns to normal.

And this is one more thing to add to my list of stuff they didn't teach us in library school.