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March 20, 2020

Libraries to Observe Governor Wolf's Order to Close Businesses That Are Not Life-Sustaining

In furtherance of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's efforts to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Governor Tom Wolf issued an Executive Order directing all non-life-sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania to close their physical locations as of 8 p.m., March 19, 2020.

Specifically, the order reads:

No person or entity shall operate a place of business in the Commonwealth that is not a life sustaining business regardless of whether the business is open to members of the public. This prohibition does not apply to virtual or telework operations (e.g., work from home), so long as social distancing and other mitigation measures are followed in such operations.

Consistent with the Governor's order and the Public Library Code which grants the Deputy Secretary for Libraries the power and duty to "coordinate a Statewide system of local libraries" (24 PA.C.S. § 9311(b)(5)), the Office of Commonwealth Libraries provides the following instructions supplemental to its message of March 13, 2020:

  1. Operations requiring personnel to be situated in the library for activities such as administrative or other non-public services shall cease until further notice.
  2. Tasks requiring essential personnel to visit the library to sustain facility integrity, security of collections, or continuity of operations (e.g. such as preparing and issuing payroll checks/deposits or paying urgent invoices) should be restricted to the absolute minimum necessary. 
  3. Any employee deemed essential for the completion of necessary tasks in Number 2 above shall at all times carry out their duties consistent the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) guidelines on aggressive social distancing.

The only exception to this directive that may apply is a circumstance where a public library is working in cooperation with local emergency management officials to provide essential services needed for their community (i.e. food distribution, blood donations) during this period.  In such an instance, the library may remain open with essential personnel to provide these services but not for any other purposes than those referenced in Number 2 above.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education's Office of Commonwealth Libraries strongly recommends that:

  1. Consistent with the Governor's order, virtual and telework operations are not prohibited, and whenever possible, such operations should be considered.  Staff could work on special projects or provide enhanced remote services such as:
    • Increased provision of E-content (eBooks, eAudios, streaming services, etc.);
    • Online programming, especially in support of students and families affected by school closures and those with special needs such as people who are living in isolation;
    • Online reference services through chat, email, etc. (Your library may wish to consider using staff time to support Chat with a Librarian services offered through POWER Library.);
    • Making Wi-Fi services available beyond the library's walls;
    • Facilitating community meetings through the library' virtual meeting technology; or
    • Posting on social media to engage with the community.
  1. All library workers should receive fully paid leave, including health coverage while libraries are closed.

However, all personnel decisions shall remain a local library board's decision. 

We will provide additional guidance as circumstances warrant.  Questions about compliance with these instructions should be directed to PDE's COVID-19 emergency account at:

These instructions to Pennsylvania's public libraries are intended to help ensure the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians including library users and library staff.  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.

I am grateful for your commitment to serving the public and for your selfless understanding of the urgent need to comply with these latest instructions. 

Thank you.

Glenn R. Miller, Deputy Secretary & Commissioner for Libraries