In-Person Barriers

While the goal of this document is not to create a set of principles for redesigning spaces, staffing practices or utilization of resources, the manner in which organizations tackle these areas post-COVID-19 will be different. 

This section will lay forth clear milestones/points to consider while planning for in-person programming. In examining the spaces provided for library services, organizations and library staff should consider the following potential barriers:

  1. Safety regulations and procedures:

Libraries should anticipate the continued use of similar safety procedures and regulations in their in-person programming until community immunity is achieved. In correlation of the consideration for safety regulations and procedures, libraries should analyze their ability to continue their existing core services (or pending expansions) with in-person programming. One concern from our survey was an organization’s ability to offer virtual and in-person programming as well as continued services such as curbside pickup, reference, in-person browsing, and so on.


It is imperative when planning that organizations consider their bandwidth and ability to maintain quality services over quantity. If staffing resources can perform current services but are not capable of expanding to the degree for proper implementation of monitoring in-person programming (i.e. mask wearing and six feet social distancing) in-person programming may need to be tabled until more staff are available, or the organization will need to seek additional resources. For those libraries who are considering expanding services on limited resources, see the Partnerships section

For organizations required to provide in-person programming on limited resources, here are some ideas for programming within approved spaces:

Type of ProgramStaffingSuppliesNotes
Storytime, Craft Time, Discovery ClubOne staff to lead program, one staff to check people inBooks, music, markers for family sitting locations, etc.

Crafts supplies (one for each individual)
With children or family programming, consider attention span and ability to maintain safe distancing habits
Teen HourPotentially one staff to lead and monitor program; preferred staff with experienced teen programmingSeparate supplies, use wipes if reusing items, use wipes for electronics if using technologyMake safety expectations known to each teen and allow for questions; reenforce Library practices vs. school or home practices
Book Clubs, Death Cafes, Debate Clubs, Poetry Meetings, Crochet and Knitting, Genealogy GroupsOne staff to lead program and maintain safetyBooks, prompts, crafting supplies, eventually snacks (refer to policy on eating and drinking and safety concerns)While these types of programs are the easiest to bring back, they are also programs that may remain virtual due to the “success” of that format. Consult existing groups and former members about accessibility to technology for continued virtual programming or review for transition to in-person
Special Needs ProgrammingRefer to previous staffing levels and add at least one additional staff Accessible supplies such as hand grips, appropriate tables and chairs, considerations of sensory items, space/room for caregivers, separate supplies for each individual, sound amplified; American Sign Language (ASL) translator As special needs patrons are not required to wear masks (but their caregivers are), staff will want to have clear expectations internally and externally as to what programming entails.

Note: consider cleanliness of spaces before and after use as part of programming time and burden.

  1. Capacity limitations

In assessing when your organization is in the position to offer in-person programming, the organization should be aware of all varying levels of restrictions and enforcements from the state and county. While each organization has hurdles in respect to its space, it is important that libraries determine their indoor capacity in transitional stages post-COVID-19.


An assessment of capacity limitations may require agencies to visit the program location, approve activities, or offer alternatives. It is recommended that California libraries check the state’s Industry guidance page and reach out to one’s county for information on mandatory directives, capacity limitations or the like. 

Other organizations may be able to reach out to their local public health agencies, fire departments or Cal/OSHA representatives for insight to capacity and activity limitations (such as singing, shouting, etc.). Beyond the scope of COVID-19 safety regulations and procedures, organizations should still assess their rooms for “normal” capacity limitations and safety precautions such as food and material allergies (nuts, latex, etc.), technology cords, and choking hazards when planning for in-person programming.  

  1. Community interests and needs

So, you have decided that you will offer in-person programming! Next comes what type of program you will offer. Perhaps, in the past, your organization’s most popular programs were storytime, craft hour, death cafes, or technology classes. However, with COVID-19 still in effect, who knows what your community needs now or what would be popular.  

You do not want to prep, research, and prepare for a program that no one attends because:

  • No one is interested in this topic anymore.
  • You think it is a need, but it actually is not a need.
  • No one is able to attend the program at the scheduled time.
  • Some do not feel comfortable attending programs inside the library yet.


  1. Communicate with and poll patrons 
    1. Beyond conversations staff have had with the public about their needs and wants, libraries can survey their community for their interest and needs. This should be done online (via email, newsletter, social media, etc.) as well as in-person (bookmark, quarter sheet, volunteer taking a poll at curbside, etc.) to gather the most insight possible without limiting to a single format. These conversations will prove to be the most insightful to your community’s interest and needs. 
  2. Use circulation & database trends
    1. If a community survey is not possible due to limited resources, an examination of circulation and databases trends and topics may prove insightful. For example, a surge in home improvement books may indicate a community interest in home improvement projects. Or, a flux in employment test prep database logins could illustrate the need for technology classes on resume building. Keep in mind this data is not a whole picture of community needs. 
  3. Use U.S Census Data 2020-2021
    1. The U.S. Census 2020 census information will provide insight to your community’s local demographics that have shifted from previously known data. In addition, the U.S. Census obtained information during  COVID-19 for the U.S. Pulse Household Survey which provides insight into the needs of households during the pandemic, including unemployment, food scarcity, housing insecurity, and inability to pay household expenses. Beyond these areas the survey additionally captured those individuals who have been impacted by COVID-19 by being forced to telework or working remotely or pausing their education. While the survey results revealed the current experiences of households, the ramifications of food scarcity, paused educational pursuits, and unemployment may have long-term effects. 

4. Technology

One side effect of COVID-19 was the demand from society to be more technological savvy for work, school, and socialization. The Virtual portion of this toolkit discusses the barrier of technology and addressing bridging that gap. 

With an in-person services model, one of the most popular programs may be a technology center, technology classes, a technology drop-in session, or “book a librarian” feature. While not all of these programs may be possible for your organization (or perhaps you subscribe to an online database to assist with these areas), it should be taken into consideration and should be training for staff. Staff, especially frontline staff, will encounter most technology issues from people such as:

  • Troubleshooting library and personal technology, software, etc.
  • Instructing how to use library products (Wi-fi, laptops, computers, printing, copying, etc.)
  • Researching internet or technology loan 
  • Answering the “usual” technology questions such as printing, emailing, Office products, etc.
    • It should be noted that due to the accelerated rate of technology adoption due to COVID-19, previous non-technology users may be coming into the library for assistance. Therefore, this shift may increase demand for help.