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April 10, 2020

Reminder: Public Libraries Remain Closed Until Further Notice

On April 9, 2020 Governor Tom Wolf announced that all Pennsylvania schools will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year.  At this time, I want to remind each of you that public libraries are to remain closed until further notice.  (Instructions on this closure period were issued on March 30, 2020).

I recognize that all of us want to return to normal as quickly as possible.  Unfortunately, we are experiencing an extraordinary, worldwide public health crisis.  And here in Pennsylvania, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to grow.  This means that each of us must continue to do our part to make the public's (and our own) safety our highest priority. 

Library Re-Opening Plans

When the time comes to carry out plans to re-open libraries, the Office of Commonwealth Libraries will provide libraries with a preparation period prior to any formal re-opening to the public.  This will give libraries time to develop staffing plans, quarantine and sanitize returned materials for at least one day (as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control in a recent webinar), re-shelve returned materials, provide staff with training, address facility issues, etc.

In addition, depending upon the circumstances that exist when libraries re-open, we may need to adopt a phased-in approach toward public services.  For example, there may be restrictions on hours, pick-up methods, or the size of gatherings.  To put it simply, we will not know what public health issues may need to be addressed at the time of possible re-openings.

If you have recommendations about the amount of time your library might need to prepare for re-opening or ways in which services might be phased-in, please share your ideas with your District Library Consultant.  We will consult with them to discuss your ideas as we consider the elements of a sound re-opening plan.

Public Library Code Requirements

Finally, in light of this unprecedented situation, I recognize that many of you might already see declining revenues (including donations) or your expenses might increase due to COVID-19 issues.  This, in turn will require many libraries to make budget modifications that will significantly change their 2020 spending plan and (possibly) library operations such as hours, collection development expenditures, etc. 

Normally, if a library deviates from its Plan for the Use of State Aid, it would need to file a revised Plan for the Use of State Aid and obtain the Office of Commonwealth Libraries approval before implementing the plan.

However, let me reassure each of you that the Office of Commonwealth Libraries is giving each library flexibility to modify the requirement to file a revised Plan for the Use of State Aid for the period covering this calendar year (2020).

Instead, libraries may modify their budgets and operations to use their Public Library Subsidy funds in the areas that will best support service to the community for the remainder of the calendar year (especially as you consider supporting your most valuable resource—your staff).

Later this year, the Office of Commonwealth Libraries will set a deadline for the submission of these plans and reassess requirements as we move into 2021.

Thank You for What You Do

Right now, all of us are being challenged every day, in almost every way possible. 

I encourage each of you to:

  • Continue to offer remote library services to the best of your ability;
  • Take advantage of the many training events that our Office and others are offering;
  • Consider participating in the Pennsylvania Library Association's (PaLA) open forum call-in sessions to discuss how your library is offering remote services, ask questions about federal legislative requirements, discuss plans for summer learning programs, or chat about other matters (PaLA sessions are open to everyone, not just members).; and
  • Be sure to make time to care for yourself and those around you to ensure everyone's safety and good health.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you.  I recognize and appreciate your deep passion and dedication to provide Pennsylvanians with the best public library service possible.  Our communities are fortunate to have such amazing and committed people serving them.

Information and Questions

Information and future guidance related to library services will be announced through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries' website and via our statewide email distribution lists.

Questions about COVID-19 issues should be directed to PDE's emergency response account at:

Glenn R. Miller, Deputy Secretary & Commissioner for Libraries