To Mask or Not To Mask?

This week, the CDC and the State have eased indor mask-wearing for vaccinated individuals. While we are excited about the world getting a little more back to the way it was, we’re still requiring patrons and staff to wear masks in our building. Why? So many reasons!  

Let’s start with the New York State Department of Health’s recommendation of “wearing masks in indoor settings where vaccination status of individuals is unknown.” Logistically, it would be difficult to make the vaccination status of every patron that enters our building known. Of course there’s the honor system, but we know from calling you for overdues that this system is flawed. The other option to make vaccination status known is to stop every patron that enters our building without a mask to provide proof, either in an Empire Pass or Vaccine Card. Seems reasonable, but difficult to implement and enforce, given the staff time it will take to do this, training in spotting forged government documents, the list goes on.

Additionally, making the vaccination status of individuals known, even implicitly, is a violation of patron privacy. The Board of Trustees at the Hamilton Public Library has adopted the American Library Association’s Code of Ethics, which states, “we protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received..” While this principle was not written with vaccination status in mind, neglecting one aspect of a patron’s privacy is a potential violation of our own Code of Ethics.

Next, it’s a matter of public perception. Let’s examine a completely believable but made-up situation between two patrons who don’t even interact with each other. Patron A has entered the building, provided proof of their vaccination status to circulation staff, and had a note added to their library record. Patron B, who is browsing the stacks nearby with their two young children, sees Patron A without a mask. Patron B has no proof of Patron A’s vaccination status – because privacy (see: last paragraph) – so Patron B chooses not to return to the library, at least with their two children, until they feel comfortable. This scenario, based on a policy of allowing vaccinated patrons to enter our building without a mask, adversely affects equitable access to information, which may not surprise you to learn, is a big part of who we are. 

Having everyone continue to wear masks is an inconvenience for sure, but it’s safe, it’s easy, and it’s still just temporary. Thank you for continuing to cooperate with our policy, and for reading.

Please reach out to me if you have any questions or comments.

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