Handling Library Materials and Collections During a Pandemic

Last updated: March 1, 2021

A pandemic is an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population. The following information and resources are meant to assist libraries, institutions, and archives during a pandemic. The resources below focus on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 diseases. An emphasis is put on resources that focus on safely handling collections during the COVID-19 pandemic. This page will be updated with new information as the COVID-19 situation develops and additional research is available. 

REALM Resources

REALM is a research project conducted by OCLC, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and Battelle to produce science-based information about how materials can be handled to mitigate COVID-19 exposure to staff and visitors of archives, libraries, and museums. Below are a series of recommended links on the project’s website.

REALM Homepage
To see the latest publications, webinars, and an overview of REALM’s research timeline.

REALM Libraries Toolkit
A set of tools including visual aids on research findings, videos, literature review highlights, and decision-making checklists.

REALM Research
Full research findings from the REALM Project on natural attenuation times for SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces, including tables of items, materials, and the time it took for SARS-CoV-2 to attenuate on the surface under given conditions.

Additional Disinfection and Pandemic Preparedness Resources

COVID-19 Resources from EBSCO
Provides free resources and expanded access to content to help support institutions.

Department of Homeland Security Master Question List for COVID-19 (Caused by SARS-CoV-2)
A resource updated almost weekly on major questions relating to COVID-19.

Disinfecting Circulating Books and Other Collections
Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC)’s recommendations for disinfecting books and other materials, including guidance on disinfecting facilities and a list of disinfection methods which are not recommended.

Center for Disease Control: Recommendations for Election Polling Locations 
Interim guidance intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at polling locations with information for facilities and personnel safety.

Pandemic Preparedness Resources from the American Library Association (ALA)
Provides information about preparing for a pandemic, including library-specific policy suggestions and more universal resources on pandemic education, prevention, and preparation.

Additional Resources and Recommendations

The following recommendations are from the Preservation Administrators Discussion Group of the American Library Association (PADG) and the CORE Preservation Outreach Committee. 

  • Allowing collections to remain untouched in quarantine is the recommended method of disinfecting library collection materials.
  • Libraries are recommended to devise and standardize an approach to quarantine and collections handling that is suitable to their local context. An example of an institution doing so—and making their procedures publicly known—is New York University Libraries. (Please note: this is intended as an example of communicating procedures, not an endorsement of specific quarantine times.)
  • Many institutions have promised to use a disinfection system such as Clorox® Total 360® to clean their spaces. This specific system is NOT recommended for use with paper-based collections. The guidelines from Clorox state that all paper should be removed from areas prior to application.

Last Updated: March 1, 2021

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