Tips for Leading Library Staff Through a Pandemic

A library director leads her library staff through the COVID-19 pandemic. Leading your library staff is no easy task, and in this time of uncertainty and economic pressure, it is especially complex. In both their personal and professional lives, many staff members are experiencing stress, exhaustion, and fear.

Everyone has different coping mechanisms and responses, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer on the best way to lead. But we’ve gathered thoughts from both directors and library workers to gain insight about actions you can take to lead with compassion through this life-altering pandemic.

Involve Library Staff in Decisions

Leading during a pandemic starts with listening. Not only is gaining your staff’s input a key part of developing your reopening and pandemic-response plans, it’s also an important part of gaining trust. If staff feel they have a voice, that their opinions are heard, and that their concerns have been validated, they will feel more comfortable executing the library’s reopening plans.

A respondent from a recent Demco survey put it well: “Let the staff help determine what would best fit your needs. It is important to serve the community during times of stress and hardship, but it is equally important the staff feel safe and secure in such unusual circumstances.”

You can seek staff input through surveys, asking employees to submit their concerns and their ideas for how to manage new service models. Once you have addressed their concerns and incorporated their suggestions and your plan is finalized, release it to them as quickly as possible. They’ve likely been on pins and needles waiting to hear how they will be expected to perform their jobs in the near future.

For further guidance on creating a reopening plan, read “Public Libraries: Your Planning Guide for Reopening.”

Provide Educational Resources 

Let your staff know that you recognize any anxiety or fears they have about reopening and that their safety and well-being are being taken into consideration. Then go over the CDC guidelines for reopening, and provide them with educational resources on how to reopen safely, such as the webinar “COVID-19: Safety Tips for Reopening Your Library.” One attendee of this webinar recommended the following: “Have your staff and board watch Dr. Dipesh Navsaria’s video. It really helped calm some fear and anxiousness. All our staff were required to watch the webinar, and most of our library board watched it as well.”

Share these additional resources as well:

Give Staff the Training They Need 

With new protocols come new questions from your staff:

  • How can I deal with noncompliant or irate patrons safely and respectfully?
  • How do I smile and make a customer feel welcome when the lower half of my face is covered by a mask?
  • How do I make nervous patrons feel comfortable?
  • How do I safely offer someone computer assistance when I’m supposed to maintain 6 feet of distance?
  • How do I do my job to the best of my ability when I’m working at home?

These issues can be addressed and plans put into place through collaborative brainstorm sessions, role-play scenarios, and testing of new procedures. When you have final protocols in place, hold training sessions for staff, and ensure your procedures and talking points are documented and posted for reference. Make it clear to staff that as their leader, you are there to help enforce the new rules with the public and will back them up as needed.

Prepare Your Library for Staff and Patron Safety

Explore products that will help you provide library services to your community while ensuring patron and staff well-being.

Put Staff Safety First  

The CDC guidelines recommend masks or face shields for employees. Provide this protective equipment, along with hand sanitizer, disinfectant, acrylic health shields, gloves, traffic barriers, and floor decals.

Be the voice of your library, making it clear to your community that you have your staff and patrons’ best interest in mind and you will open when you are able to put safety measures in place to protect everyone. When you’re ready to open your doors, you should also be the face of your library and let your coworkers and your community see you on the front lines providing services alongside your staff.

Make Accommodations for Employees 

Many staff members will need changes made to their hours or working conditions due to their personal circumstances. Some might have childcare issues with schools and daycares closed and may need to switch shifts or deliver programming from home. Some may be high-risk and need to work in roles where they don’t interact with the public for the time being.

Listen with empathy and make accommodations whenever possible.

Foster Connections 

Set up weekly one-on-one meetings in which you check on each employee’s well-being, discuss what they’ve been working on at home, and answer questions. Take the time to personally check in with everyone, even if they are working part time or on furlough. Make this personal connection through a phone call, not a mass email. Staff members are likely anxious about the possibility of furloughs and layoffs, so provide as many updates whenever possible for future plans for the library.

As hours shift and more employees start working from the physical library, you may wish to start 15-minute morning meetings in which you go over the previous day’s events or issues, plans for the day, and answer any questions.

You can also schedule time for just catching up. Librarian Andrea Richardson shared how she and her coworkers stay connected: “Since most of us are working from home, we have a scheduled daily coffee break on Google Meet where anyone who is interested or able can join in. It gives us a chance to catch up and something to look forward to.”

Allow Time for Self Care

It’s clear that we are living through an extremely stressful time that is taking a mental, emotional, and even physical toll on some. New requirements, such as wearing a mask, can be difficult to do for long periods of time. Reassure staff that you support them taking breaks, especially outside in the fresh air if possible. You can also institute morning yoga or stretching breaks and display other calming tips and techniques in your staff area.

Your staff members may also be experiencing trauma from isolation and anxiety about their health and that of loved ones. Recognizing what they are going through and offering your support in a positive and caring way will go a long way toward helping staff members cope.

Words of praise and even small tokens of appreciation can also show your staff members that you recognize the hard work they are doing.

Find ways to foster moments of peace, laughter, conection, and kindness, and talk about them in your daily meetings or find ways to display them as reminders to your staff that even with all the changes, there are still positive things to be grateful for.

Remember to Care for Yourself

Leading a library staff through big changes is not an easy task, and you’re also dealing with the mental toll of living and working through a pandemic. Know that your staff appreciates the work you do. Librarian Greta Caldwell offered words of praise to library leaders everywhere: “A big thank you to each of the leaders out there who I know are stressed out, too — who are doing the best they can and are trying to support their staff. We see you. We appreciate you. You’re doing great things, too. And we as staff acknowledge that.”


Liz Bowie

Liz Bowie

Marketing Content Manager at Demco, Inc.
Liz is the Marketing Content Manager for Demco. Her background includes editorial management and product development of innovative and time-saving tools for schools and libraries, with an emphasis on Common Core, literacy and math. The products she and her team have developed, including classroom games, learning centers and professional development resources, have garnered 46 industry awards for excellence in education. Liz is passionate about promoting literacy through her work and the work of others. If you are interested in sharing your ideas and programming tips on Demco’s Ideas and Inspiration blog or have ideas for topics you’d like to see covered, contact Liz at