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COVID-19 Information for Wisconsin Public Libraries

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The DPI agency-wide web page covers basic information about the novel coronavirus, critical government updates, and information on instructional areas and resources for schools. 
This webpage is designated for COVID-19 information relevant to Wisconsin public library systems and public libraries. For additional updates visit the Wisconsin Libraries for Everyone Blog. Visit DLT's Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness for more general information about this and other public emergencies.

Updates from the Library Team

Safer at Home Order - March 24, 2020

At 10:30 a.m. on March 24, 2020, the State of Wisconsin issued a press release regarding Emergency Order #12, the “Safer at Home Order,” that prohibits all nonessential travel, with some exceptions as clarified and defined in the order. The order goes into effect at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, and will remain in effect until 8:00 a.m. on Friday, April 24, 2020, or until a superseding order is issued. The following sections of the Order pertain to public libraries:

Order 4: Closures. The Safer at Home Order expressly orders the closure of all public libraries “for all in-person services, but may continue to provide on-line services and programming.” Compliance with this order would include the cessation of curbside and drive-thru services and any other distanced in-person services currently offered by libraries.

Order 12: Essential Government Functions. This order instructs government bodies such as a library board to continue to follow the guidance provided by the Office of Open Government (OOG) regarding holding meetings, as necessary. At a minimum, library boards should continue to convene monthly to audit and approve the payment of all expenditures of the public library, pursuant to Wis. Stat. sec. 43.58(2)(a). The OOG has issued an advisory on open meetings during the COVID-19 quarantine. For help with additional questions about open meetings requirements, please contact the Open Meetings Help Line at (608) 267-2220.

Other functions exempted under this order could include food distribution and other activities deemed essential by the municipality, such as when the library acts as the municipal polling place. In-person library service to the public is not defined as an essential government function under this order.

Order 14: Minimum Basic Operations. This order allows the minimum necessary activities to preserve the library facility and equipment, address information technology (IT) issues, ensure physical and cybersecurity, process payroll and fulfill business services obligations, as well as activities that facilitate the ability of staff to work remotely from home.

DLT acknowledges that public libraries are a matter of local control. We encourage you to contact your municipal attorney, county corporate counsel, or independently contracted attorney for advice when interpreting legal issues.

Library Closures & Service Priorities in Response to COVID-19 - March 18, 2020

At 1:47 p.m. on March 17, 2020, the State of Wisconsin issued a press release regarding the Emergency Order #5 issued by Governor Tony Evers that prohibits mass gatherings of 10 people or more. The Division for Libraries and Technology (DLT) has determined that libraries fall within this Emergency Order.

A public library may remain open under this order only if it meets all of the following requirements:

The only exemption is when a public library operates as a polling place. This means that the only time during the ban on mass gatherings that the library can have more than 9 people in its space is on election day, and only if the library itself is the polling place.

We understand that this is a difficult time for library administration and municipalities alike, as many decisions must be made regarding library operations. There may be numerous reasons why a library may consider remaining open even under the terms mandated by this emergency order; however, this local decision must consider the welfare of library staff and the public. While DPI does not have the authority to direct public libraries to close, we support a library's decision to close physical library buildings to the public and to shift staff focus to other projects or service priorities for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak. We acknowledge that COVID-19 is a public health crisis and libraries should do their part to reduce the potential for spread, as this crisis affects more than just the physical health of those who are ill, it affects the social, educational, emotional, and economic health of everyone. We encourage libraries to help mitigate these issues where possible.

Under these unique circumstances, some services libraries may provide from a distance include:

  • Online and telephone reference services and assistance
  • Online programming, particularly in support of students and families impacted by school closures
  • Increased access to electronic materials (additional titles and extended borrowing)
  • Outreach and community engagement via social media
  • Enhanced web presence
  • Waiving overdue fees on all materials and extending due dates
  • Keeping WIFI on and expanding access whenever possible
  • Extending library card expiration dates to prevent any stoppages in service
  • Other virtual services as identified by the community

This is also an excellent time for library staff to engage in virtual professional development activities.

DLT COVID-19 Updates - March 15, 2020 5:30pm

We are aware that everyone is responding to a rapidly changing set of circumstances. In the coming days, the Division for Libraries and Technology (DLT) will post major updates to the Wisconsin Libraries for Everyone blog. Regarding library closures, DLT is following the library community’s Google document as well as updates sent to us via email. We are prioritizing COVID-19 support above all else. Regarding in-person events in the coming weeks, DLT has moved all major meetings online. Regarding LSTA grant activities, grant administrators have been contacted regarding necessary adjustments. Our team is available for any specific assistance via phone or email.

Wisconsin Public Libraries: COVID-19 Updates (Google sheet) **DLT is no longer supporting this resource; please see the “Which libraries are closed?” question in the FAQs on Library Administration section below for the most current information.
National List of Public Libraries Closed for COVID-19 (Google sheet, click on "Submit a Listing")

Library Closings Are a Local Decision - March 13, 2020 8:30pm

The decision to close a Wisconsin public library is a local decision to be made by the library board or municipality, according to state statute. At this time, the Division for Libraries and Technology (DLT) encourages library administration to consult with local municipal and education officials to determine whether keeping the library open is the best decision at this time, in light of statewide public school closures. DLT cannot make specific recommendations for libraries, only provide this guidance. We ask Wisconsin public libraries to update DLT on service status using the "Wisconsin Public Library Status during COVID-19" form.

Novel Coronavirus Update - March 13, 2020

On March 12, 2020, Governor Tony Evers declared a public health emergency in response to new cases of COVID-19, by Executive Order # 72. The order designates the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) as the lead agency to respond to the public health emergency, and directs the DHS to use all the resources necessary to respond to and contain the outbreak. It allows the Department to purchase, store, or distribute appropriate medications, regardless of insurance or other health coverage, as needed to respond to the emergency. It also authorizes state funds to support local health departments with costs related to isolation and quarantine, as well as the use of the Wisconsin National Guard.

Decisions about the implementation of community measures will be made by state and local officials based on DHS and CDC guidance, as well as the scope of the outbreak. This is a rapidly evolving situation and we encourage you and the public to frequently monitor the DHS website for updates, and to follow @DHSWI on Facebook and Twitter, or dhs.wi on Instagram. Additional information can be found on the CDC website.

FAQs on Library Administration

What are my best resources on COVID-19?
How do I know if one of my staff tests positive for COVID-19? Can I even ask that?

On February 4, 2020, the State Epidemiologist declared COVID-19 a Category I reportable disease. This means that any suspected case of COVID-19 must be reported immediately by telephone to the patient’s local health officer, and a case report must be filed through the Wisconsin Electronic Disease Surveillance System (WEDSS) within 24 hours. Public health intervention then follows. Each suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 is then investigated, and those with exposure to the patient are assessed for risk. For employers and coworkers this is good news because anyone in contact with a suspected case should be given guidance from health professionals as part of the investigation.

The Wisconsin DHS has provided some very useful guidance for employers. Access this information by clicking the DHS COVID-19 link, then scrolling down the page to the accordion menu section called “Guidance for Employers.”

For more information for employers, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers” page.

Which libraries are closed?

Dashboard of Wisconsin Public Libraries’ Self-Report Status During COVID-19 Pandemic (ArcGIS dashboard). Please note this dashboard is manually refreshed by Division for Libraries and Technology (DLT) staff with the information public libraries provide after staff review. The dashboard does not automatically refresh, so please refresh the page to see any new updates.

We ask Wisconsin public libraries to update DLT on service status using the Wisconsin Public Library Status during COVID-19 form and be sure to check updates from your library system that are specific for the system member libraries and inform them of any changes to your library’s status. This is an ongoing effort, and we aim to collect and disseminate accurate data throughout the course of the pandemic to be flexible with our assistance to public libraries and systems.

The source data for this map can be found in the WI Public Libraries Self-Reported Status during COVID-19 Pandemic sheet. See the tab “From Responses 1” for any new updates starting March 19, 2020. The data from an up-to-recently publicly editable sheet was copied before editing was restricted and is included as a tab called “Copy of Public Sheet 2020.03.19.”

Each library system also has information pertaining to their own member libraries, so see their websites as well:

I heard that my library has to be open at least 20 hours per week or I will lose funding. Is that true?

Highly unlikely, and misleading. Wis. Stat. sec. 43.15(4)(c)7 states that, in order for a public library to be a member of a library system, it must annually be open at least 20 hours per week. So, if your library is open 52 weeks out of the year, it must be open a minimum of 1,040 hours. Most Wisconsin libraries would not even come close to that threshold, even with extended closure. If you are still concerned about this, see your annual hours open on your most recent annual report or contact your public library system staff.

Where do I find the Governor's executive orders?

To keep up on Governor Evers' executive orders, visit the official website at

How can my library board safely meet during this public health crisis?

On March 16, 2020, the DOJ Office of Open Government, our state's authority on open meetings law, issued an advisory in response to inquiries as to the applicability of the Wisconsin’s open meetings law, Wis. Stat. §§ 19.81 to 19.98, in light of current public health concerns regarding COVID-19. As explained in the advisory linked below, "governmental bodies typically can meet their open meetings obligations, while practicing social distancing to help protect public health, by conducting meetings via telephone conference calls if the public is provided with an effective way to monitor such calls (such as public distribution, at least 24 hours in advance, of dial-in information for a conference call)." The open meetings law “does not require meetings to be held in publicly owned places like the library or city hall; they must be held in places reasonably accessible to members of the public.

The library should communicate with the municipality about how the meetings will take place, local ordinances, and any other issues at hand. Meetings must be properly noticed and the public must be permitted to monitor the meeting in an easily accessible location regardless of format.

If you have questions regarding open meetings law, please contact the Office of Open Government Help Line at (608) 267-2220

See the complete advisory at

How long does COVID-19 live? Are we supposed to disinfect our materials?

Update- March 25, 2020: The Milwaukee Public Library has received guidance from the City of Milwaukee Commissioner of Health regarding  the appropriate duration of quarantine of library materials. Based on that advice, MPL has set a book quarantine of 3 days. This is in alignment with advice put out by the state of Maryland, who also based their quarantine on guidance from an authoritative medical professional/public health officer.

The most recent information available is at

For guidance on cleaning and disinfecting for community facilities, see and the resources linked there.

How can I pay my library staff if we are closed?

There is no easy answer. While the library board has exclusive control of the library under s. 43.58(1), establishes library policy under s. 43.52(2), and prescribes staff compensation under s. 43.58(4), library staff are employees of the municipality, which is why we recommend that library boards and municipalities reach consensus on this issue.

Historically, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities has opined that “a library board cannot enact a rule for library employees which is inconsistent with the terms and conditions of employment established by the governing body for all municipal employees…” and “library employees are subject to the same rules concerning vacation schedules that apply to other municipal employees. The basis for that conclusion was that such regulations relate to the terms and conditions of employment, as opposed to compensation levels, and therefore are outside the purview of the library board. However, municipalities should be aware that the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), Division of Libraries and Technology, takes the position that the public library board determines the benefits for its employees and that these benefits can be the same as, greater or less than, benefits received by other municipal employees.”

If paying your staff is not an option, closure of the library would result in layoff of library workers, which may entitle them to unemployment benefits. See for more information.

UW- Extension has put together this list of financial resources:

Also, on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed into law a coronavirus relief package that includes provisions for free testing for COVID-19 and paid emergency leave. No additional information is available at this writing; federal government response to COVID-19 is found at

Library Services

Examples of Remote Library Services

Under these unique circumstances, some services libraries may provide from a distance include:

  • Online and telephone reference services and assistance
  • Online programming, particularly in support of students and families impacted by school closures
  • Increased access to electronic materials (additional titles and extended borrowing)
  • Outreach and community engagement via social media
  • Enhanced web presence
  • Waiving overdue fees on all materials and extending due dates
  • Keeping WIFI on and expanding access whenever possible
  • Extending library card expiration dates to prevent any stoppages in service
  • Other virtual services as identified by the community

This is also an excellent time for library staff to engage in virtual professional development.

Internet Access for the Public

In response to the FCC’s Keep America Connected Pledge, several Wisconsin providers are offering resources to enable K-12 students to connect to the internet at home. This DPI webpage has a list of offerings that we will add to as they become available. DPI is not promoting any service over any other, but simply sharing the information you need.

On 3/23/2020, the American Library Association issued a press release that recommends libraries leave WiFi open during closures because "America’s 16,557 public library locations are essential nodes in our nation’s digital safety net."

Food and Meal Access

The DPI Wisconsin School and Community Nutrition Teams have created a webpage to help School Food Authorities and Summer Food Service Program sponsors navigate the options for serving children meals in a non-congregate setting in the event of a school closure due to COVID-19.

Financial Resources for the Public

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension offers valuable resources for managing your personal finances in tough times in a FAQ format specific to the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The Department of Workforce Development answers frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the COVID-19 Coronavirus and Wisconsin Unemployment Benefits.

Supporting Children and Families

For information on copyright, visit DPI's COVID-19 resources for school libraries web page.

Many vendors and service providers are working with the benefit of children in mind. However, beware of scams and data trolling. An abundance of free tools and special offers due to school closures mean we need to practice cybersafety and exercise critical thinking when curating and sharing resources with others. Be especially vigilant about those that request an email address or ages of kids. This document from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) outlines some reminders.

Check with your local school district regarding virtual learning, technology needs, and meal services for area students. The District Planning and Implementation Resources for Virtual Learning webpage from DPI continues to be updated with valuable information. Connect with your school librarian for more information.

Visit the DPI agency wide COVID-19 webpage for specific tools for early learning and K-12 instructional areas.

Virtual Library Program Attendance

For information on copyright, visit DPI's COVID-19 resources for school libraries web page.

When thinking about quantifying your library’s efforts to provide programming virtually - whether that be livestreaming on social media, recording programs and posting the recording to a video sharing website, or some other method for connecting with your library users - be sure you are tracking that attendance in a way that is meaningful to your library.

For the Wisconsin Public Library Annual Report, it is important to remember if you are providing virtual programming for your users you may only include livestreaming views and live interactions with programs in the Programs and Program Attendance Annual Count portion of the annual report. Views of program recordings (after the fact) are not counted on the annual report, though you are encouraged to share those numbers with your library board if you track them.

We have made extensive resources available in the Wisconsin Public Library Annual Report Instructions Library Programs section to help you determine the difference between what counts as a program and program attendance and what is something you may be interested in counting locally to help quantify your local efforts but is not reported on the annual report.

We anticipate seeing a decline in hours and weeks open to the public, program numbers and program attendance, circulation of traditional materials, and public computer use in Wisconsin public libraries. It is more important that you can communicate in a meaningful way to your library board and your community your efforts to serve them during a public health crisis by discussing the ways your service has adapted to meet users where they are. Telling your story to your community and being available to serve them is the most important thing you can do right now.

Statewide Online Library Resources

BadgerLink, Wisconsin's Online Library
From personal interest to educational research, BadgerLink provides Wisconsin residents with licensed trustworthy content not available from free search engines. See the latest Badger Bulletin for public library tools.

Wisconsin Public Libraries Consortium - OverDrive (WPLC)
Wisconsin's Digital Library is a project of the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC), with funding from Wisconsin Public Libraries and Public Library Systems. Additional support is provided by Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds awarded to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction by the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services

Recollection Wisconsin
Recollection Wisconsin brings together digital cultural heritage resources from Wisconsin libraries, archives, museums and historical societies and shares them with the world in partnership with the Digital Public Library of America.

Wisconsin Digital Government Archives
The Wisconsin Digital Archives is a growing collection of documents about the activities, functions, and policies of Wisconsin State Government. The collection contains documents from 2001 to current published by the Executive and Judicial branches of Wisconsin State Government, state government task forces, initiatives, boards, commissions, councils and special study groups.

Professional Development for Library Staff

This is great time to engage in virtual professional development activities. System and State Continuing Education Coordinators are working hard to bring fresh content on a wide variety of subjects pertinent to our profession. 

The following blog posts link to a range of virtual learning options:


Due to library closures and suspension of SCLS Delivery, requests for physical materials should not be placed or filled until at least April 7th. Requests for nonreturnable articles can be placed as usual during this time. For more information, join the WISCAT/ILL listserv by sending a blank email to Contact the WISCAT team with questions at

Census 2020

U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham on Operational Updates: As of 3/18/2020 U.S. Census Bureau has suspended field operations for a minimum of two weeks. The public is strongly encouraged to respond to the 2020 Census online using a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet, and can also respond by phone or mail.

For questions about this information, contact Shannon Schultz (608) 266-7270, Tessa Michaelson Schmidt (608) 267-5077