Make the Chicago Public Library Safe

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Department of Public Health, and Chicago Public Library Administration:

Chicago Public Library is the most dangerous large city library system in the country.

As Chicago confronts a new surge of COVID cases, Chicago Public Library is no longer a safe place for employees or patrons. The number of COVID cases among employees has risen by more than 1000% in just the past two months. Staff are not being given appropriate and prompt information when cases occur—and affected branches are not being appropriately cleaned. In many cases, it is nearly impossible to maintain appropriate social distancing or enforce the new capacity guidelines, given building configuration and inadequate staffing.

The best and safest course would be to temporarily close the libraries or, at the very least, to rely on curbside or other forms of external pick-up, following the lead of other large library systems around the country and neighboring suburban systems.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has said the next four weeks will be the most crucial of the pandemic. The CDC director has warned that the next three months will be the worst public health crisis in our country's history. By continuing to operate Chicago Public Library as if there is not a pandemic, Mayor Lightfoot is sending the public the wrong message and giving patrons a false sense of security. Her refusal to make significant changes sends the message that the public can just come hang out at the library at the same time the City and State are issuing stay at home orders.

The library's union has met in good faith repeatedly asking for safety measures to be implemented to protect both patrons and staff, but our reasonable demands have been ignored.

Our libraries are unsafe because:
  • To date, 37 library staff members have become sick due to COVID-19 and more than 20 work locations have closed because library staff have tested positive. In comparison, as of mid-November New York Public Library, which implemented curbside pick up and virtual services, has only had 4 total positive staff cases.
  • Custodians' hours were cut in half at many neighborhood branches at the same time that Chicago became the epicenter of the nation's pandemic.
  • Insufficient PPE has been distributed to library locations (for example, locations not having enough plexiglass to cover service points that protect staff).
  • There are no firm time limits for visitors in the library. The CDC recommends fewer than 15 minutes of exposure to those who may be COVID positive.
  • Library buildings offer limited ventilation, despite leading research showing that COVID-19 is spread through aerosols that linger in the air.
  • Limited security leaves library staff to enforce mask policies and capacity limits as people become increasingly hostile about these policies.
CPL management and Mayor Lightfoot have failed us and you! Demand that Chicago Public Library implement the same safety measures that all of the major cities across the country and most surrounding suburban libraries have already done. Chicago Public Library Staff want to continue to serve the public in a safe way.


Library employees deserve better! And so do our patrons!

Tell Mayor Lightfoot and CPL management to keep your libraries safe by temporarily closing or, at the very least, reinstating hours of cleaning, instituting curbside pick up only, virtual reference, computer use by appointment only, virtual programming and virtual class visits.
Petition by
CPL Staff
Chicago, Illinois

To: Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Department of Public Health, and Chicago Public Library Administration:
From: [Your Name]

At a press conference on November 18th, Mayor Lori Lightfoot claimed that amid soaring COVID-19 positivity rates in Chicago, our public library system remains “extraordinarily” safe. Chicago Public Library staff and supporters say: Prove it, because those of us on the ground have every reason to believe we are currently the most dangerous public library system in America.

Since CPL reopened to the public on June 8th, at least 37 staff members have contracted COVID-19 In some cases, potentially exposed employees were told to return to work only days after their exposure, regardless of testing. It was only on November 16th that the CPL website first listed ANY COVID-19 related facility closure, despite having already experienced dozens. Members of the public were not adequately informed, and they remain in the dark as CPL’s contact tracing fails to include them whatsoever. Staff must rely on word of mouth or wait several days to read on the library website it was due to COVID-19.

CPL is the only large urban library system in the country to remain open to the public with virtually NO restrictions. CPL workers are not equipped, able, or even allowed to ensure public compliance with mask requirements, occupancy limits, public computer use limitations, and posted limits on patron-staff interaction. Staff have explicitly been told by leadership NOT to enforce the hour visit limit and cannot provide expected services in under ten minutes. We must either send patrons away without much-needed help or risk our health and the health of our co-workers. This is a no-win situation.

As it stands: Library staff, contracted employees (i.e. security, maintenance, and custodial), and visiting members of the public are put in danger every single day the library keeps their doors open to the public.

We demand that Chicago Public Library implement the same safety measures that all of the major cities across the country and most surrounding suburban libraries have already done. Keep libraries safe by temporarily closing or, at the very least, reinstating hours of cleaning, instituting curbside pick up only, virtual reference, computer use by appointment only, virtual programming and virtual class visits.