Professional Staff Congress Calls on CUNY to Close Libraries

CUNY’s faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, is calling on campus libraries to close in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a press release sent on Wednesday.

“Our members should not have to put their lives and the health of the city in danger by being ordered to come to work in a city that is rapidly shutting down,” said Barbara Bowen, President of the PSC, which represents librarians as well as professors and other full- and part-time staff members.

Since CUNY classes were canceled on March 11, libraries have stayed open, their staff considered among the “essential” staff that some college presidents, including Hunter College President Jennifer Raab, still require to come to work in-person. 

“The PSC asserts that the CUNY administration is abusing the term ‘essential personnel’ and using it to require thousands of non-emergency workers to report to campus,” reads the press release. “The work being done by PSC-represented employees can and must be done remotely at all CUNY colleges.” 

One CUNY librarian has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Queens College’s website. The staff member was last on campus on Tuesday, March 10.

CUNY’s library system has 31 libraries. Closing them would mean cutting off access to millions of physical books by many tens of thousands of students. But the PSC thinks it’s a necessary step to ensure public health.

Yesterday, the American Library Association called for the closure of all U.S. libraries to mitigate the spread of the virus. The Association of College and Research Libraries today announced that it agrees.

In New York City, the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library are closed at least until the end of March. The Queens Public Library is closed until further notice.

At Hunter, the Leon and Toby Cooperman Library remains open, but with greatly reduced hours. The Health Professions Library, Social Work & Urban Public Health Library and Zabar Art Library were all closed on Wednesday, according to the Hunter libraries website. Lehman College, Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center have closed their libraries.

“We are committed to continuing to provide high quality remote research services and access to online research resources,” wrote Maura Smale, Chair of the CUNY Council of Chief Librarians on Monday in a letter to CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “Keeping CUNY students, faculty, and staff away from our physical spaces is the best way to ensure continuity of those services in the coming days and weeks.”

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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