Closing and Reopening Guidance
This page was updated on January 7, 2021.
Consistent with the Governor's emergency declaration, statewide mitigation efforts, 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 (OCL) directed public libraries to prepare plans to reopen after the statewide closure in the spring of 2020 and to safely operate local public library facilities during the pandemic.
These plans should continue to guide decision-making regarding library services and operations throughout the pandemic. Responses to local circumstances should remain focused on and driven by local data and resources, including local restrictions. Library staff and library boards should work together and cooperate with any locally imposed restrictions to determine changes to operational models, while prioritizing the health and safety of staff and patrons.
Just as local businesses and industries must make decisions about their services, library staff and library boards are best positioned to evaluate local circumstances and decide how the library operates (i.e., facilities are open to the public, services are in-person, restricted (like curbside delivery), or remote/virtual, etc.).
Since conditions can change rapidly. libraries should regularly update their library's status on the Library Status Form and frequently communicate with their patrons.
The science and public health conditions surrounding COVID-19 are continually evolving. Guidance will be updated as necessary when new information becomes available. DOH will continue to monitor community transmission rates and other surveillance metrics and may, in close coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, issue guidance as part of a wider public health mitigation strategy.
When available, additional information and guidance will be distributed via the OCL statewide email distribution lists and posted on our Guidance and Resources for Public Libraries website.
State Mitigation Efforts
As part of every mitigation effort, it is vital everyone:
Wear masks indoors and outdoors if they are away from home.
Keep their distance from anyone they do not live with and avoid crowds.
Keep a physical distance of six feet or more from others.
Wash their hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
Clean and disinfect surfaces often.
The Governor and Secretary of Health have issued orders and advisories to minimize the spread of the disease statewide. Details about all the current mitigation measures are available on the COVID-19 Guidance and Resources page.
Additional guidance for businesses, communities and local governments is available through the Department of Community and Economic Development.
OCL provides a weekly update via email to libraries to share the Level of Transmission in the County data that Pennsylvania Department of Education is using to make recommendations for school instructional models. Libraries are not schools; they serve a wider audience in a different environment. However, this data can still be useful to understanding the regional conditions in which the library is located.
Consider the following when deciding how to safely provide services to your communities.
Use the Pennsylvania Department of Health COVID-19 Data Dashboard to assess cumulative case counts, the incidence rate, hospital occupancy and levels of preparedness.
Collect data on use of services (i.e., circulation, door counts, reference questions, attendance at programs, etc.). Are patrons using the services? Are there times of day when you are close to capacity?
Consider the effectiveness of your facility plan. Do you have enough PPE and supplies to maintain facility plans? Is your HVAC system effective?
Discuss the needs of the community and applicable restrictions with local municipal or county officials.
Consider the needs of your local schools, based on the instruction model they are operating under. Use what you know about the needs of your users to balance support for distance remote learning and controlling access to library spaces and services for public safety.
Survey community members, library patrons, and other stakeholders to assess the community attitude.
Analyze what other services are available and potential opportunities for collaboration. Are there agencies that you could partner with to share the pressure of serving during a time of substantial community spread?
Weigh the costs of staying open compared the cost of closing. Libraries are important services, and health and safety factors can be taken into account similar to how businesses have been operating. If libraries close while other businesses in the community are open, does it harm public perception of being a community anchor institution? How does closing public libraries look to your stakeholders? How does not adjusting services impact public perception?
Develop a personnel plan that addresses the impact on staff health and wellness, retention, and unemployment.
Resources Related to Cleaning and Disinfecting
Cleaning and disinfecting public spaces, including the workplace, schools/libraries, homes, and businesses is an important part of reopening public spaces that requires careful planning. Libraries are advised to consider the resources below when developing, implementing, and maintaining a cleaning and disinfecting plan for their facilities.