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​May 13, 2020

Updated Guidance for All Public Libraries

Consistent with Governor Tom Wolf's process to reopen the commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Office of Commonwealth Libraries directs public libraries to develop  plans to reopen local public library facilities that are based upon the commonwealth's three-phase matrix and comply with state and federal guidelines. 

District Library Center staff and System administrators shall be consulted to advise and assist libraries with local plan development.

When developing plans, libraries are encouraged to work cooperatively to ensure safe and consistent policies and practices.

In all cases, local library reopening plans should prioritize the health and safety of both staff and the public.

As the basis for all reopening plans, each library must be familiar with and implement all state and federal guidelines that apply to community organizations and businesses.  These include:

  1. Guidance for Businesses Permitted to Operate during the COVID-19 Disaster Emergency to Ensure the Safety and Health of Employees and the Public (PDF)
  2. Order of the Secretary of Health providing for business safety measures (to keep employees and customers safe)
  3. Order of the Secretary of Health providing for building safety measures
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes
  5. CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers
  6. CDC Interim Guidance for Community and Faith-Based Organizations
  7. State Library of Pennsylvania – Cleaning and Disinfecting Library Materials

In addition, libraries shall base local plans on the guidelines found in the soon-to-be-published Office of Commonwealth Libraries Framework for Reopening Public Libraries.  Approval and release of this framework is expected to occur shortly. 

Updated Guidance for Yellow Phase Libraries

This past Friday, May 8, 2020, 24 counties moved from red to yellow, including: Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango, and Warren. On Friday, May 15, 13 more counties will move from red to yellow, including: Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland.

Libraries located in counties designated by the commonwealth as yellow may reenter the building to begin preparing the staff, collections, and facility for a return to service. 

Once those preparations are complete, and the local library board and director can provide assurances that the library adheres to all state and federal guidelines, it may consider opening for limited public service which includes:

  • Pick-up service (curbside or lobby area);
  • Mail or other third-party delivery of library materials;
  • Accepting returns of materials;
  • Providing information and reference services via telephone, email, and chat; and
  • Working with partners to provide essential services such as free lunches, blood drives, etc.

However, I strongly recommend that libraries located in yellow phase counties wait until the Office of Commonwealth Libraries publishes its Framework for Reopening Public Libraries. 

The framework will contain information that will be especially helpful for libraries entering the yellow phase by providing more specific guidance on issues of concern to library operations, including employees and patrons.  It breaks the yellow phase into three stages: 

  1. Preparing the staff, collections, and facility for return to service.
  2. Limited public services restored such as:
    1. Pick-up service (curbside or lobby area);
    2. Mail or other third-party delivery of library materials;
    3. Accepting returns of materials;
    4. Providing information and reference services via telephone, email, and chat; and
    5. Working with partners to provide essential services such as free lunches, blood drives, etc.
  3. Library open for in-person services with precautionary measures in place.

While a publication date and time are not yet available, I expect to receive final approvals shortly and the framework will be published on the Office of Commonwealth Libraries website and distributed via statewide electronic mailing lists immediately once approved.

Reminder of Guidance for Red Phase Libraries

For those libraries located in counties designated red by the commonwealth that they are to remain closed until further notice is given. Any library that reopens before being designated as yellow by the commonwealth risks placing their operations and community at risk. 

As Governor Wolf stated yesterday, organizations that reopen for business that are located in red--designated counties are "at risk of losing your certificate of occupancy…and by opening before the evidence suggests you should, you are taking undue risks with the safety of your customers."  Further, he continued, organizations that "ignore the law and the welfare of their customers will probably find themselves uninsured. Because, insurance does not cover things that happen to businesses breaking the law."

Information and Questions

Information and future guidance will be announced as soon as it is available via our statewide email distribution lists and on our Guidance and Resources for Public Libraries website.  This page has links to:

Questions about COVID-19 issues should be directed to the Pennsylvania Department of Education's emergency response account at:

Glenn R. Miller, Deputy Secretary & Commissioner for Libraries