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Answers to Common Questions

Last updated: 8:00 am on March 31, 2020
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Where should I send questions about libraries and issues/questions related to COVID-19?

If you have a question about a library-related COVID-19 issue, please contact: RA-EDEMERGENCYRESPONSE@pa.gov

​Library Services

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Why are libraries closed?

The Pennsylvania Department of Education's Office of Commonwealth Libraries knows how important public libraries are in people's lives. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is faced with a unique public health crisis that requires all of us to make the health and safety of every resident our highest priority.

Libraries are, by their very design, unable to practice aggressive social distancing to the degree recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. This means that keeping libraries open at this time has the potential to harm communities more than help.

Therefore, the instructions to close libraries across the state were issued to ensure the safety of all Pennsylvanians. The instructions were issued in accordance with recommendations from Pennsylvania's most reliable public health officials at the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

As the situation evolves and additional authoritative information becomes available, the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Office of Commonwealth Libraries will act on the guidance it receives from public health scientists with the intention of restoring library services as quickly - and safely - as possible.

In the meantime, libraries are encouraged to provide residents with 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;
  • Posting on social media to engage with the community; or
  • Working with local emergency management officials to host a blood drive or some other service needed by emergency management officials.

For information about online library services that are available to every Pennsylvanian, visit POWER Library.

​Will my library lose E-rate funds if our community uses the library’s Wi-Fi network while it is closed?


​No, your library will not lose its E-rate funding if residents use your Wi-Fi network while the library is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On March 23, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission announced (PDF) that schools and libraries closed due to the coronavirus pandemic may open their Wi-Fi networks for public use. The announcement allows schools and libraries to provide connectivity to their communities without fear of losing their E-rate funding.

The notice further stated:

“We leave it to individual schools and libraries to establish their own policies regarding use of their Wi-Fi networks during closures, including hours of use.6 And we remind all parties that health and well-being are paramount, and to follow any applicable health and safety guidelines, including those on social distancing, as may be set out by relevant federal, state, local, and Tribal authorities.”

Can groups meet at the library?

Unless the meeting or gathering is held in cooperation with local emergency management officials, having groups meet at the library shall not be done. When local emergency management gatherings are held at the library people shall at all times carry out their duties consistent with the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) guidelines on aggressive social distancing aggressive social distancing practices must be used.

If a meeting is held in cooperation with emergency management officials, notify the Department of Education's emergency response email account to specify where and when the library will be open at RA-EDEMERGENCYRESPONSE@pa.gov. Please note that in such an instance, the library may remain open only for the meeting with essential personnel but not for the purposes of providing other, in-person public services.

Can the library host blood drives or food distributions?

Hosting a blood drive or a distribution of food would qualify as an exception in which a public library is working in cooperation with local emergency management officials to provide essential community services. In such an instance, the library may remain open with essential personnel to provide these services but not for the purposes of other routine, in-person public services.

If an emergency management event is planned, please send a message to the Department of Education's emergency response email account and specify where and when the library will be open for this purpose at RA-EDEMERGENCYRESPONSE@pa.gov.

What are recommendations for disinfecting returned library materials?

​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.

Can the library hold fundraisers?

​No, the library may not hold fundraisers at the library. As for holding fund raising events outside of the library, this is a local decision if other emergency directives from governing officials do not apply or supersede.

What should my library do about its Federal Depository Library services?

​According to guidance posted on the Government Publications Office (GPO) website on March 13, 2020, "Given the state of emergency, libraries may temporarily block the public's physical access to the depository collection. Libraries that do so are strongly encouraged to advertise the changing access restrictions on their website and in signage visible from outside the library. Additionally, libraries should emphasize how the public may get help remotely over the phone, email, or other virtual means.". This guidance should be followed unless any other emergency directives from governing officials do not apply or supersede.

​State Library Services

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What services is the State Library of Pennsylvania providing?

The State Library of Pennsylvania is closed for in-person visits. Specifically:

  • All Makerspace classes and programs are suspended.
  • Interlibrary loan requests may be filled if online resources are available.

Online resources are available at www.statelibrary.pa.gov. Chat reference service is available at https://powerlibrary.org/chat.

Patrons may contact the library at

Human Resources

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Should library employees report for work?

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. 

  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.

What can library staff do while the library is closed? If they are working, should they be paid while the library is closed?

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's 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.

Are library employees 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.

​Public Library Subsidy Funds

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Are my library's Public Library Subsidy Funds in jeopardy?

​Public Library Subsidy support from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will not be jeopardized due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 public health crisis.

​Keystone Grants Applications

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How will this affect the Keystone Grant Program?

The Office of Commonwealth Libraries (OCL) is extending the application deadline for the 2020 Keystone Grants for Public Libraries program to May 15, 2020.   Applicants must submit an application that is postmarked on or before May 15, 2020.  Late or incomplete applications will not be considered.

The Keystone grant program provides funds to sponsoring municipalities for up to 50 percent of eligible project costs to plan, acquire, construct or rehabilitate public libraries as outlined in the program’s general guidelines. 

​Authority to Close Libraries

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What authority does the Department of Education have to close libraries?

The Public Library Code designates the Deputy Secretary for Libraries as having the "power and duty to coordinate a Statewide system of local libraries" (24 PA.C.S. § 9311 (b)(5). As such, the Deputy Secretary provided instructions to Pennsylvania's public libraries to help ensure the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians.

Instructions to close libraries were consistent with the Governor's efforts to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The notice was issued with the guidance of the Pennsylvania Department of Education working in concert with the Department of Health and a cross-agency pandemic task force.