March 23, 2020
Libraries Closing Through At Least April 6
In furtherance of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's efforts to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Governor Tom Wolf today issued a stay-at-home order for seven counties: Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe, Montgomery, and Philadelphia.
In addition, the Secretary of Education extended the closure of all K-12 Pennsylvania schools through at least April 6.
Consistent with the Governor's order and Secretary Rivera's closure extension for K-12 schools, 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 directs Pennsylvania public libraries to remain closed through at least April 6, 2020. Specifically:
1. Operations that provide routine, in-person library services shall cease through at least April 6, 2020. Routine, in-person library services would be anything that requires an individual member of the public to visit the library or library staff/volunteers to have in-person contact with library users to provide anything that could be construed as routine library services. Common sense needs to apply. Some examples of routine, in-person library services that may not be provided include permitting library users to:
Browse, read, or view materials at the library;
Borrow or pick up items at the library (including drive-by or curbside pick-up);
Use computers or other technology devices inside the library;
Attend programs or meetings sponsored by the library or external groups at the library;
Have library materials physically delivered to library users; or
Photocopy and fax materials, etc.
2. Operations requiring personnel to be situated in the library for activities such as administrative or other non-public services shall cease through at least April 6, 2020.
3. 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) must be restricted to the absolute minimum number of people necessary.
4. Any employee deemed essential for the completion of necessary tasks in Number 3 above shall at all times carry out their duties consistent with the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) guidelines on aggressive social distancing.
The only other 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 by the 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 3 above.
Staff Activities and Compensation
The Pennsylvania Department of Education's Office of Commonwealth Libraries strongly recommends that:
Consistent with the Governor's order, virtual and telework operations are encouraged, 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.
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.
There have been a few questions about whether library employees are eligible for unemployment compensation. If an individual's job has been affected by COVID-19, they may be eligible to receive Unemployment Compensation (UC) benefits. To learn more, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry's website:
Be sure to check the site regularly for updates.
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.
As the situation evolves and additional authoritative information becomes available, we will act on the guidance we receive from public health scientists with the intention of restoring library services as quickly - and safely - as possible.
Disinfecting Library Materials
In keeping with that goal, I wanted to note that the American Library Association recently updated its pandemic preparedness website. It now provides recommendations for disinfecting circulating books (PDF) from the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). The NEDCC recommends quarantining materials 24 to 48 hours and wearing gloves when handling 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 compliance with these instructions or other COVID-19 issues should be directed to PDE's emergency response account at: RA-EDEmergencyResponse@pa.gov.
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.
Glenn R. Miller, Deputy Secretary & Commissioner for Libraries