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​March 30, 2020

Libraries Closed Until Further Notice

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 to include four additional counties: Carbon, Cumberland, Dauphin, and Schuylkill, bringing the state's total to 26 counties under a Stay at Home order.  It takes effect at 8 p.m. Monday, March 30, 2020, and will continue until April 30.

In addition, the governor extended the closure of all K-12 Pennsylvania schools until further notice.

Consistent with the Governor's order to close Pennsylvania schools indefinitely, 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 until further notice is given.  Specifically:

1.     Operations that provide routine, in-person library services shall cease indefinitely.  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 indefinitely.

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 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, etc.) 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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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. 

Unemployment Compensation

Library employees may be eligible for Unemployment Compensation (UC) benefits if their job has been affected by COVID-19.  To learn more, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry's website:

Be sure to check the site regularly for updates.

Federal Legislation

Two Coronavirus-related federal legislative packages have been approved since March 18, 2020.

CARES Act

Libraries are part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Passed on March 27, 2020, CARES provides $50 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to help ensure digital equity, including grants to states to expand digital network access, purchase internet accessible devices, and provide technical support services.  While specific details are not yet known, the Office of Commonwealth Libraries will be evaluating CARES' impact on Pennsylvania's libraries in the coming months and provide guidance as warranted.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) on March 18, 2020.  The FFCRA is designed to provide American businesses with fewer than 500 employees funds to provide employees with paid leave, either for the employee's own health needs or to care for family members.  It's not yet clear how this legislation might affect library employers and workers.  The Office of Commonwealth Libraries will be evaluating FFCRA's impact on Pennsylvania's libraries in the coming weeks and provide guidance as warranted.

The Future

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.

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 ongoing selfless understanding of the urgent need to comply with these latest instructions. 

Thank you.

Glenn R. Miller, Deputy Secretary & Commissioner for Libraries