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Answers to Common Questions

Topics: Closing and Re-Opening Libraries | Cleaning Library Materials and Facilities | Financial Support for Libraries | Library Services | State Library Services | Human Resources

If you have a library-related COVID-19 question or issue, please email:

This page was updated August 26, 2021.

Closing and Re-Opening Libraries

Will there be additional guidance from Office of Commonwealth Libraries regarding closures or when to step back or resume services?

The science and public health conditions surrounding COVID-19 continue to evolve. Guidance will be updated as necessary when new information becomes available. Pennsylvania's Department of Health (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.

Library responses to local circumstances should remain focused on and driven by CDC Guidance. . Library staff and library boards should work together and cooperate with any locally imposed restrictions to determine changes to operational models.

Each library created its own plan for resuming operations at library buildings after the statewide closure in the spring of 2020. These plans should continue to guide decision-making regarding services and operations as the pandemic continues.  If deemed necessary, libraries may reduce or increase services in alignment with local conditions and public health metrics. Clear communication with the public about services provided via curbside or lobby pickup of materials and how to access resources in the building should be posted.

The Office of Commonwealth Libraries (OCL) provides updates via mailing lists to libraries as needed. View the Level of Transmission in the County data presented on the CDC COVID Data Tracker or the COVID-19 Data for Pennsylvania provided by the Department of Health.

Just as your partners and colleagues in local businesses and non-profit organizations make decisions about their services, you and your board are in the best position to evaluate local circumstances; libraries are empowered to make appropriate decisions on whether to keep the facility fully open to the public or whether your services are available in-person, restricted (like curbside delivery), or remote/virtual. As conditions can change rapidly, libraries should keep their library's status current on the Library Status Form and frequently communicate with their patrons via updates on websites, social media, and signage.

Are face coverings or masks optional?

The statewide Secretary of Health's Universal Face Coverings Order, ended on June 28, 2021.

Libraries can issue policies for use of local facilities as determined by county, municipal, or library decision.

Please continue to post signs and communication to be sure staff and patrons are aware of face covering policies.

Please reference guidance titled When You've Been Fully Vaccinated on the CDC website. Statewide orders were lifted in May and June 2021.

Cleaning Library Materials and Facilities

What recommendations exist for disinfecting returned library materials?

The CDC updated Science Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Surface (Fomite) Transmission for Indoor Community Environments on April 5, 2021. The CDC explains that "It is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomites), but the risk is generally considered to be low."

According to the Journal of Hospital Infection, quarantine of library materials is the most effective known method of disinfection. Suggested quarantine periods for paper-based materials (such as books) range from 24 hours to 120 hours (1 to 5 days). Suggested quarantine periods for non-paper-based library materials (such as plastic-covered books, CDs, DVDs, etc.) range from 72 hours to 216 hours (3 to 9 days).

Additional guidance is available at Safe Handling of Physical Library Materials. 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.

The decision whether to quarantine library materials for any length of time after being used by patrons is a local decision.

Based on the recent REALM study, is there a best practice recommendation regarding the quarantining of materials?

Libraries are empowered to make their own local decisions about the length and practice of quarantining materials. Libraries are commonly choosing to quarantine materials for anywhere from 24 hours to 7 days depending on local processes. Some libraries do not quarantine.

Libraries may choose a quarantine period that is communicated clearly with patrons and meets the risk threshold of patrons and staff. The guidance and data shared above is provided to assist libraries in making local decisions about quarantine periods and frequency of cleaning.

How should I clean my library facility?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility: Every Day and When Someone is Sick. which includes links to Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectants against COVID-19.

Financial Support

What federal programs/funding is available to help my library with pandemic-related costs?

Below are federal programs that may benefit libraries. OCL will update this list as additional programs and funding opportunities become available.

  1. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act enacted in March 2020 provided a variety of financial relief programs that nonprofit employers should review and consider participating, including grants for libraries through the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
  2. The 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. This program ended on December 31, 2020.
  3. 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.
  4. The State and Local Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Fund (Recovery Fund) that is part of the American Rescue Plan Act makes funds available for counties. Libraries may wish to work with local governments to see how these funds may be used for pandemic relief and fiscal recovery.
  5. The American Rescue Plan Act signed on March 11, 2021 will make available $4.7 Million to Office of Commonwealth Libraries through the Institute of Museum and Library Services Grants to States Libraries. Allocation, acceptable uses, and reporting requirements for these funds will be detailed soon.
  6. The Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) is a program to extend connectivity and provide connected devices for educational needs to schools and libraries. Learn more about the program at Emergency Connectivity Fund | Federal Communications Commission (

Library Services

When can libraries can offer in-person programming such as group book clubs, story hours for children, or toddler time?

Libraries may offer in-person programs or use meeting room spaces if applicable state and local health and safety precautions are followed.

Please be aware libraries are not required to offer in-person programming. When local case counts and community transmission is substantial, libraries are advised to implement virtual or take-and-make programs to the greatest extent feasible.

Is there a curated list of virtual content for libraries to promote and share?

Libraries can find virtual content by contacting neighboring libraries and by viewing their websites and social media. Libraries can promote resources from POWER Library such as BookFLIX and TrueFLIX. Libraries are encouraged to share resources from Learning at Home, a collaborative program from Pennsylvania PBS and PDE that provides thousands of hours of educational and entertaining videos, activities, and games.

Share online the 2021 Tales and Tails and Health programs created by Pennsylvania libraries with support from the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.

State Library Services

What services are provided by the State Library of Pennsylvania?

The State Library of Pennsylvania is now open for in-person visits from 10:00AM-4:00PM on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Appointments are required.

Virtual services continue to be provided Monday-Friday 8:30AM to 5:00PM:

  • Makerspace classes and Lunch and Learn programs are offered online.
  • Interlibrary loan requests may be filled if online resources are available.
  • Online resources are available at
  • Chat reference service is available at

Patrons may contact the State Library of Pennsylvania for virtual services as follows:

Human Resources

Where can libraries find information to answer other questions about COVID-19 in relation to unemployment compensation, labor laws, and health testing information?

Refer to the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry websites for general information and answers to questions about employer and employee responsibilities: