During the yellow and green phases, are public libraries required to provide public restrooms?
If a building, such as a library, is open to the public, then public restroom access is required in accordance with its occupancy classification. Of consideration may be whether a library is operating with limited occupancy such that they may close a corresponding number of required restrooms. To make that determination, the library would need to look at their building plans to determine occupancy requirements, and in many cases, could contact their local building code official to discuss that information.
However, each library must also consider public health. The question of providing public restrooms does not solely pertain to Uniform Construction Code (UCC) and Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) regulations. It also pertains to the Department of Health (DOH) pandemic orders. DOH orders impact the L&I requirements in that DOH orders will take precedence if a library is unable to safely comply with the restroom public accessibility requirements. Any decision by a library to temporarily modify operations, including public restroom accessibility, during re-opening phases to protect employee/public safety and comply with DOH orders and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance will need to be fact-specific based on the unique circumstances of the library building facility.
Libraries are encouraged to consult with their counsel in interpreting application of the restroom requirements and considering its operation in various re-opening phases in compliance with CDC guidance in order to determine whether it is advisable to limit access to restrooms upon balancing competing concerns about public safety and public access.
This guidance is derived from the adoption of L&I regulations in 1996 as authorized by the Restroom Equity Act. Thereafter, however, the Pennsylvania Construction Code Act repealed the Restroom Equity Act. Since 2004, the regulations authorized by the Pennsylvania Construction Code Act that are currently in place contain the Uniform Construction Code. The UCC has incorporated both Chapters 3 and 29 of the International Building Code of 2015 (IBC). 34 Pa. Code § 403.21(a)(1). (Please note: This UCC now references a more recent version of the IBC – previously, it had incorporated the IBC of 2009, but updates were made in 2019 to incorporate the IBC of 2015). The IBC of 2015 contains provisions that govern requirements for plumbing equipment and systems.
Why were 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 has, and 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, distribute food, or some other service needed by emergency management officials
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 close Pennsylvania's public libraries to help ensure the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians. The Deputy Secretary will also issue reopening instructions to public libraries.
Closing and reopening instructions are 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.
Cleaning Library Materials and Facilities
What are recommendations for disinfecting returned library materials?
According to the Journal of Hospital Infection, quarantine of library materials is the most effective known method of disinfection.
For paper-based materials (such as books), quarantine periods range from 1 day (Institute of Museum and Library Services) to 5 days (National Center for Preservation Technology and Training).
For non-paper-based library materials (such as plastic-covered books, CDs, DVDs, etc.), quarantine periods range from 3 days (Northeast Document Conservation Center) to 9 days (The Journal of Hospital Infection).
The Association for Library Collections and Technical Services' website Handling Library Materials and Collections During a Pandemic also has COVID-19 information and resources on handling library collections.
Currently, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, OCLC, and Battelle are collaborating to create and distribute science-based information and recommended practices designed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to museum, library, or archival services' staff and visitors. The project's website, REopening Archives, Libraries and Museums (REALM), provides project updates, a research timeline, webinars, and resources. Project updates are available by email.
How should I clean my library facility?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published
Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes which includes links to Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectants against COVID-19.
How will funds granted by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to Pennsylvania help my library or museum?
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided $50 million to the Institute for 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.
Of this total amount, $30 million will be granted to states, with Pennsylvania slated to receive $1,156,768.
The IMLS stipulates that these funds are to be used:
- Primarily to address digital inclusion and related technical support, using the following types of data to inform targeted efforts:
- Poverty/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Broadband availability;
- Secondarily to address other efforts that prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19.
Grants are also to reach museum partners, in addition to traditionally eligible library entities, where appropriate. To reach Pennsylvania museums, the Office of Commonwealth Libraries plans to collaborate with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Plans are being developed now for the grant program. As details become known, information will be posted here and distributed via the Office of Commonwealth Libraries'
email distribution networks.
Does the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) have any other grant programs available to help libraries or museums with coronavirus-related costs?
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided $15 million to the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to support the role of museums and libraries in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Grant amounts range from $25,000-$500,000. The deadline to apply is June 12, 2020. Learn more about the
IMLS CARES Act Grants for Museums and Libraries at the IMLS website.
What federal programs might help my library with pandemic-related costs?
Several Coronavirus-related federal legislative packages have been approved since March 18, 2020.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires nonprofit organizations that employ fewer than 500 people to provide emergency paid leave for Coronavirus absences and up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave. The costs for these benefits will be covered by tax credits applied to the employer's share of employment taxes.
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides a variety of financial relief programs that nonprofit employers should review and consider participating.
- As part of the CARES Act, the
National Endowment for the Humanities CARES grant program is providing emergency relief grants to organizations working in the humanities (such as libraries) that have been affected by the Coronavirus.
What does the Families First Coronavirus Response Act require nonprofit employers to do?
Effective April 1, 2020, the
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires employers (including nonprofits) with fewer than 500 employees to provide all employees with:
Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee's regular rate of pay where the employee is unable to work because the employee is quarantined (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; or
Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee's regular rate of pay because the employee is unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), or care for a child (under 18 years of age) whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, and/or the employee is experiencing a substantially similar condition as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor.
In addition, for workers employed for at least 30 days by an employer with fewer than 500 employees, the employer must provide:
- Up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds the employee's regular rate of pay where an employee is unable to work due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.
Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for exemption from the requirement to provide leave due to school closings or childcare unavailability if the leave requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.
Employee Notification Required
Employers must notify employees of these rights by April 1, 2020. The U.S. Department of Labor has a
mandatory leave rights poster which contains this information. It can be posted (physically or digitally) or sent electronically to employees.
To learn more about the FFCRA, see the U.S. Department of Labor's:
How will my library pay for the FFCRA's required employee benefits?
To pay for these leave benefits, employers will receive a credit in the full amount of the qualified sick leave wages and qualified family leave wages, plus allocable qualified health plan expenses and the employer's share of Medicare tax, paid for leave during the period beginning April 1, 2020, and ending December 31, 2020. If the amount of the credit exceeds the employer portion of these federal employment taxes, then the excess will be refunded to the employer.
To learn more about the FFCRA's tax credit program, see the Internal Revenue Services COVID-19 FFCRA Tax Credits.
Where can I find more information on the FFCRA?
Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO) is helping nonprofit employers understand the FFCRA:
How could the federal CARES Act help my library with pandemic-related costs?
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides:
Paycheck Protection Program – Small businesses and nonprofits with 500 employees or less are eligible to apply for a "forgivable" Small Business Administration (SBA) loan to help cover payroll and other operating expenses like rent, mortgage interest payments, utilities, and interest on prior debt. Loans are forgiven and convert to an SBA grant if certain conditions, such as maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels. The application period opened on Friday, April 3, 2020. Libraries that want to participate should apply quickly since there is an expenditure cap. For more information, the U.S. Treasury Department has also released helpful guidance:
Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Emergency Grant
Program – For eligible nonprofits with 500 or fewer employees, SBA emergency grants of up to $10,000 are available along with low-interest loans to help with temporary losses of revenue. Emergency funds can be used for expenses like paid sick leave, payroll, and meeting increased costs.
Employee Retention Tax Credit – Nonprofits that have been forced to fully or partially suspend operations, or that have seen a significant drop in revenues (including donations), are eligible for a fifty percent credit for wages paid to furloughed or reduced-hour employees. For nonprofits with 100 employees or less, the credit is based on all wages paid, regardless of whether an employee is furloughed. There is an overall limit on wages per employee of $10,000. The credit will first be claimed against the nonprofit's quarterly payroll tax liability and can then be recouped through a refundable tax credit. However, nonprofits are not eligible for the Employee Retention Tax Credit if they participate in the
Paycheck Protection Program.
- Delayed payment of payroll taxes – Employers may delay payment of employer payroll taxes until 2021 and 2022, with 50% of the liability being paid at each date. However, employers are not eligible if they have a loan forgiven under the new
Paycheck Protection Program (Section 2202 of the CARES Act.)
- Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) – The
Institute of Museum and Library Services will receive $50 million to help ensure digital equity, including grants to states to expand digital network access, purchase internet accessible devices, and provide technical support services to public libraries and museums. Specific details about how these funds are pending.
- Benefits for individual donors – Individual donors may be eligible for an "above-the-line" deduction (a universal or non-itemizer deduction that applies to all taxpayers) for total charitable contributions made in 2020 of up to $300. The bill also lifts the existing cap on annual contributions for those who itemize, raising it from 60 percent of adjusted gross income to 100 percent (Section 2104 of the CARES Act.)
- Benefits for corporate donors – Corporate donors may be eligible to deduct qualified contributions only to the extent that the total of such contributions does not exceed 25 percent (Section 2105 of the CARES Act.)
What will the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) emergency relief grants support?
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will provide emergency relief grants to organizations working in the humanities (such as libraries) that have been affected by the coronavirus. Applications are due May 11, 2020.
Applications should seek support for at-risk humanities positions and projects nationwide that have been affected by the coronavirus. Projects should emphasize retaining or hiring humanities staff. In addition to libraries, other eligible organizations include archives, museums, historic sites, independent research institutions, professional organizations, colleges and universities, and other cultural organizations.
The maximum grant award amount is $300,000 for the period June 15, 2020 to December 31, 2020. The
NEH CARES grant application is available now along with a helpful
answers to frequently asked questions (PDF) document.
Will my library's Public Library Subsidy Funds be in jeopardy?
Eligibility for Public Library Subsidy support will not be jeopardized by circumstances related to the COVID-19 public health crisis.
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. 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."
How much latitude does my library have to modify its budget?
Normally, if a library deviates from its Plan for the Use of State Aid, it would need to file a revised plan and obtain the Office of Commonwealth Libraries approval before implementing it.
However, the Office of Commonwealth Libraries is giving each library flexibility to modify the requirement to file a revised Plan for the Use of State Aid for the period covering this calendar year (2020).
Instead, libraries may modify their budgets and operations to use their Public Library Subsidy funds in the areas that will best support service to the community for the remainder of the calendar year (especially as you consider supporting your most valuable resource - your staff).
Later this year, the Office of Commonwealth Libraries will set a deadline for the submission of these plans and reassess requirements as we move into 2021.
Can groups meet at the library?
When a library is designated by the commonwealth as being in the red phase, unless the meeting or gathering is held in cooperation with local emergency management officials, having groups meet at the library is prohibited. 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 social distancing (See CDC’s Definitions of Commonly Used Terms).
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 distributing food is permitted in commonwealth-designated red phase libraries. This qualifies 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
Can a library in a commonwealth-designated red phase county hold fundraisers?
No, the library may not hold fundraisers at the library while it is in a commonwealth red-designated county. As for holding fund raising events outside of the library, this is a local decision unless other emergency directives from governing officials do not apply or supersede.
What should my library do about its Federal Depository Library services?
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 apply or supersede.
State Library Services
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
Patrons may contact the library at
For information about online library services that are available to every Pennsylvanian, visit
What can library staff do while the library is closed?
The Pennsylvania Department of Education's Office of Commonwealth Libraries strongly recommends that virtual and telework operations are implemented, 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.
All personnel decisions shall remain a local library board's decision (The Public Library Code § 9318 (f).)
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.
LSTA Grants Management
What changes are allowed when managing a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grant contract for 2019-2020?
With advance approval, you may charge salaries, wages and benefits to your 2019 LSTA grant as long as doing so is consistent with your organization's policy and it is for those who would normally not be spending this much time on this project. If you suspend project activities temporarily due to COVID-19, you may also charge other costs necessary to resume activities supported by your grant as long as doing so is within the scope of the contract, is consistent with applicable Federal cost principles, and is to the benefit of the project. Advance approval should be submitted on the
Budget Revision Request form.
If you incur costs related to the cancellation of events, travel, or other activities necessary and reasonable for the performance of your grant, or the pausing and restarting of grant-funded activities due to the public health emergency, you may charge these costs to the grant without regard to
2 CFR § 200.403 (Factors affecting allowability of costs),
2 CFR § 200.404 (Reasonable costs), and
2 CFR § 200.405 (Allocable costs). Be sure to highlight these charges on your quarterly reports.
You should not assume that additional funds will be available should the charging of salaries, benefits, cancellation fees, and/or other costs necessary to resume activities result in a shortage of funds to eventually carry out the award activities.
Please note that you must maintain appropriate records and cost documentation as required by
2 CFR § 200.302 (Financial management) and
2 CFR § 200.333 (Retention requirement of records) to substantiate the charging of any cancellation or other fees related to COVID-19 interruption of operations or services. As with other grant recordkeeping, these records and cost documentation are subject to audit.
It is best to avoid being in a situation where a deadline extension is requested. When possible, instead of cancelling in-person events, assess if they can be conducted virtually. Having said that, there are many options for recuperating costs in the event they were no longer spent on expenses related to in-person activities. Below are a few options to consider.
- If you don't have the means to hold virtual convenings, funds could be used for technological infrastructure to support virtual events.
- Funds could go toward more copies of books and connectivity materials for participants, maybe curriculum planning for ways to engage the community virtually, etc.
- Hiring additional staff/interns/etc. to carry the load that these last-minute changes would bring are eligible expenditures. Keep in mind, only work on the LSTA-funded project is an eligible expense.
Grants not fully expended will impact your indirect cost. Although we have received some COVID-19-related flexibilities, we have not seen flexibilities around indirect costs. In the absence of such flexibilities, grantees are only allowed to keep the portion of indirect costs that relates to actual spending on the grant. The concept of indirect costs is that they are internal "expenses" the institution is granted to facilitate the spending of the total, so grantees are only entitled to that amount.
The deadline to submit
budget revisions has been extended to June 30, 2020. You must have prior written approval for all budget revisions if the amount of money to be re-allocated is greater than 10 percent of the total award. The brief justification must include how COVID-19 has disrupted your work.
If you have questions or concerns about carrying out your Pennsylvania LSTA-funded work, we ask that you reach out to your grant monitor or the LSTA office at
ra-LSTA@pa.gov as soon as possible.
Can libraries serve as polling places?
Yes, all libraries may serve as polling sites. In such an instance, libraries in the red phase may only remain open with essential personnel to receive supplies, prepare the space, and monitor the polling operation on Voting day, but not for the purposes of other routine, in-person public services.
Due to the pandemic, there is a shortage of polling places and workers for Pennsylvania's primary on June 2.
Governor Wolf and the
Pennsylvania Department of State (DOS) are asking libraries to help fill this need by using library facilities as polling places should county election boards require them.
To support a safe library-based polling location, state and county elections boards will provide "precinct infection protection kits" that include face guards, masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, and floor tape to aid social distancing. Some counties have also secured plexiglass barriers to separate poll workers and the public.
For more guidance on what serving as a polling place entails, refer to the For Building Administrators and Proprietors: Use of Facilities as Polling Places during COVID-19 (PDF) guidance that the Department of State published for Pennsylvania polling places during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Should you have any questions about the details of your county's election day plan, please reach out directly to your county election officials.