ALA Statement on COVID-19

March 13, 2020

On March 13, American Library Association (ALA) Executive Director Tracie D. Hall issued the following statement regarding COVID-19.

The American Library Association is committed to supporting its members, staff, and all librarians and library workers during these uncertain times.

We are closely monitoring the rapidly evolving COVID-19 developments. We know that in times of crisis, libraries of all kinds play invaluable roles in supporting their communities both in person and virtually. We are stewards of accurate information. We connect library users with local public health resources and services. Libraries can be key partners in empowering members of our community to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

ALA is continually updating this resource page for the library community about pandemic prevention, including guidance on disinfecting workplaces and what individual staff and their library users can do to reduce risk of contagion.

We are also providing the following guidance for members and their institutions:

Stopping the spread of the virus:

Libraries should follow local health department and CDC guidelines about whether to remain open during the pandemic.

ALA is aware that many higher education institutions are suspending or moving classes online and are making decisions about sustaining library services. We recognize that these decisions about whether to remain open are best made locally and should include consideration of the wellbeing of staff and library users. We also know that in the last several days, many public library systems across the US have made the difficult decision to close. Similarly, as school systems send students home or move to remote learning, school libraries are closing, too.

If libraries stay open, they should follow CDC recommendations for environmental cleaning and disinfection. They should also encourage their staff and users to take basic steps to avoid spreading germs, including:

♦ Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.

♦ Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

♦ Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.

♦ Staying home when you are sick.

♦ Covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throwing the tissue in the trash.

Serving our communities during the pandemic:

Libraries and librarians are trusted information specialists, and we can play a role in not only slowing the spread of the disease but also the spread of misinformation. Point library users to vital websites like the World Health Organization, CDC, local public health websites, and other trusted sources. Consider putting up COVID-19 resources on your library’s home page (see, for example, Seattle Public Library’s digital response.) Ensure that library users and non-users alike know about the valuable resources libraries have to offer, such as support for teachers and students engaging in online instruction; access to hotspots, ebooks, subscriptions to online magazines and news sources; and curated lists to COVID-19 news and examples of best-practice responses.

We know that many libraries are facing closings in light of regional public health strategies, while others are being asked to expand their services at this time. Please stay in touch with ALA and tell us how we can be of further support.

We also applaud the numerous examples of librarians creating rapid response information sources and serving on community-wide task forces to help with messaging, information resources, and other preparedness measures. We know many of you are doing the hard work on the ground right now, and your perspective and experience is invaluable. Keep up the great work and please continue to share the resources you are creating with us.

Public Programming:

Libraries are local institutions and decisions about how and if to continue to hold programs should be made using the best and most recent information available from local public health agencies. Libraries are gathering places and serve as integral parts of their communities. Decision makers will need to weigh the well-being of staff, library users, and the community when making changes to library service hours, programs or policies given their local contexts.

A Note About Conference and Other ALA Events:

Many organizations have restricted non-critical travel, which will impact attendance at local events as well as state and national industry convenings. Some municipalities and states have limited gatherings of large groups. ALA is mindful of the valid concerns and questions from members regarding the 2020 Annual Conference & Exhibition (June 25-30, 2020, Chicago). At this time ALA is proceeding with the event as planned and monitoring the situation daily. In response to our conversations with many of you, we have extended the early registration rate through April 1.

The health and safety of our members, staff, and conference attendees is our primary concern and will influence all decisions we make. We are also considering contingencies. We recognize that traveling to conferences is a choice that each attendee will need to make based on their individual situation. ALA will continue to monitor the latest developments and will provide updates regarding any changes in conference schedules or travel issues.

We recognize that librarians around the globe are making decisions about COVID-19 in real time and, in many cases, are on the front lines of this outbreak. As your professional organization, we commend you and seek to support your work through regular updates. Be well and take good care.


Updated March 13 to change “large public library systems” to “public library systems.”


Novel coronovirus 19 (Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Libraries and Pandemic Preparedness

Addressing COVID-19 with facts and outreach