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​December 14, 2020

COVID-19 Update for Pennsylvania Public Libraries

Thank you for your continued great work in providing library services for your community.  I am sure that you hear some of the same comments that I hear, so many of which are expressions of gratitude.

Let me begin today by clearing up any confusion over decision-making related to the mode of operations for local public libraries during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Office of Commonwealth Libraries (OCL) offers the following context and clarifications:

  • Unlike March, we now know much more about the virus, how it spreads, how to respond, and what precautions to take. 
  • OCL acknowledges that during the pandemic, libraries require both the assurance of sustained state funding as well as flexibility around compliance with certain standards. 
  • OCL affirms that local public libraries are best situated to decide which services to provide and in which format based on their space, resources, the level of community transmission, and your local plan. 
  • OCL recognizes that some locations, consistent with health and safety guidance, may choose to ramp down services to virtual and curbside while others may choose to safely provide controlled in-building access to computers, space, and collections. 
  • OCL supports such local decisions made by libraries consistent with state and local guidelines to protect the health and safety of employees and the public.
  • As always, local decisions are best made in collaboration with the library board and staff and in consultation with local government and community stakeholders. 

As you may know, over the last several weeks, Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Levine announced more intensive targeted mitigation measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19 during this critical time.  Recent measures required public schools to commit to safety measures, updated measures for businesses, gathering limitations, testing and quarantine requirements for travelers, and increased enforcement efforts. The administration is also advising all Pennsylvanians to limit unnecessary travel, keep gatherings held in homes to members of the same household, and take adequate masking protections within the home. 

Below are links to the orders and related questions and answers:

Q:  What is the impact on library services of the Mitigation, Enforcement and Immunity Orders and the Limited-Time Mitigation Orders issued on December 10, 2020?

A:  The Mitigation, Enforcement and Immunity Orders combine past orders and lays out clear safety measures and protocols for libraries to follow. Many of these measures have not changed from previous orders and include such guidance as encouraging teleworking, cleaning protocols, physical distancing of at least six feet, and staff mitigation measures like temperature taking, frequent hand-washing, staggered start times, and ensuring adequate spaces for employee breaks. They further include employee measures for contact tracing and ensuring employees who have symptoms or have been in close contact with a COVID-positive person stay home. The order also gives limited immunity related to universal face coverings; this measure allows you to enforce the Universal Face Covering order with less concern that a patron might take legal action against you for enforcing health and safety rules.

The Limited-Time Mitigation Order is effective December 12 until at least January 4.  During this period, indoor events, like story hour or book clubs, regardless of size of program room, are limited to a capacity of no more than ten. Outdoor events and gatherings are reduced to no more than 50. The total capacity limit for facilities during this time was reduced from 75 percent occupancy to 50 percent occupancy.

Q:  What effect does the Governor's Stay-at-Home Advisory have on libraries?

A: The Stay-At-Home Advisory is not a shutdown order. Under the advisory, libraries may continue operating provided they do so safely while following Department of Health guidelines at the building.

For the safety of staff and patrons, libraries are subject to similar restrictions as businesses:

  • Pennsylvanians have been told to stay home as much as possible. This may impact the number of people who visit your location. Please consider extending material loan periods and offering grace for fines.
  • Teleworking is required for all who can, but if your work involves physical materials, you may choose to continue to operate curbside services or provide limited access to computers, space, and services in the building as you are safely able.

Q:  If library staff travel out of state, what should libraries do? How should libraries implement the testing or travel related quarantine requirement? Can a library require a staff member to stay out of work?

A:  The Secretary of Health's Order related to travel requires all travelers over age 11 entering Pennsylvania from locations outside the Commonwealth, including Pennsylvanians who are returning home from locations outside the Commonwealth, to produce evidence of a negative COVID-19 test or place themselves in travel quarantine for ten days upon entering, unless they receive a negative test result during the 10-day travel quarantine period. This is a requirement. The Order is an enforceable disease control measure authorized by the Disease Prevention and Control Law.

The Commonwealth does not dictate how businesses/libraries should implement the testing or travel-related quarantine requirement. The implementation of the order should be informed by the Travel Order guidance on the Department of Health's website.

Q:  Currently, libraries have created local procedures and guidelines for quarantining library materials after use or when they arrive via delivery, based on the results of the REALM studies and research that indicates material quarantine as a best practice.  Libraries are choosing to segregate library materials and often do not touch them for 1-10 days after use.  Should we anticipate statewide recommendations or guidance on how libraries should handle the quarantining of library materials?

A:  OCL has requested that the PA Department of Health review and provide feedback on the issue of quarantining returned library materials in light of the research conducted by the REALM Project and limited guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC.)  This response will be shared with the field once received.

I hope this information is helpful as you to evaluate and make decisions around your local services.  We will continue gathering data to track the trends of the impact of the virus on library services, and your cooperation in these efforts is greatly appreciated.  Please continue to update your library's status in POWER Library using the Library Status Form.

Thank you for your remarkable work during these difficult days.  I am grateful for your dedication to public service and safety at all times. 


Glenn R. Miller
Deputy Secretary & Commissioner for Libraries