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Library Closures & Service Priorities in Response to COVID-19

Wednesday, 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. A blog post dedicated to this topic will follow later this week.

For additional information, please see the DLT’s Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness website.

For the latest updates on the pandemic, see the CDC and WI DHS websites.

We are overwhelmed by the collaboration and creativity we are witnessing across the state library community. Not surprisingly, you are once again showing how essential your services are within your communities.

Thank you.

Submitted by the Library Team, Division for Libraries & Technology

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