Public Libraries Respond to COVID-19: Survey of Response & Activities

Libraries Respond: COVID-19 Survey Results (May 2020)

As a follow up to PLA’s March 2020 Public Libraries Respond to COVID-19 Survey, a new American Library Association (ALA) survey of U.S. libraries documents a shift in services to support students, faculty, and communities at large during the crisis and phased preparations for the months ahead. More than 3,800 K–12 school, college and university, public, and other libraries from all 50 states responded to the survey between May 12–18, 2020.


While virtually all libraries (99%) report limited access to the physical building, survey respondents shared leaps in the use of digital content, online learning, and virtual programs. Survey responses show that libraries are involved in community crisis response, cautiously planning for re-opening facilities, working to meet the educational needs of students and researchers, reporting increased use of digital services, and anticipating future demands.

  • COVID-19 crisis response: of respondents involved in community crisis response, the majority reported new partnerships, distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), addressing food insecurity, and sharing accurate community information and resources.
  • Caution with facility re-opening: Virtually all libraries have expanded virtual and phone services during the crisis, continuing a trend of library activities beyond physical walls. The survey finds that most libraries have limited access to their buildings while they work to establish health and safety protocols for staff, social distancing requirements for patrons, and processes for sanitizing materials. Curbside pickup, delivery, and by-appointment services are the most common next steps as national and state/local guidance evolve. Over one-third (37%) of respondents expect phased re-opening in June and July, and almost half (47%) are unsure when buildings will begin to re-open to the public.
  • Public demand for library services: libraries overall report increased use of virtual library cards, digital content, and virtual programming. As libraries re-open, they anticipate demand for access to physical and special collections, access to computers and the internet, helping students make up for lost ground, supporting faculty and teacher needs, and application support for government services and employment. More than half of public library respondents reported they were transitioning summer learning programs from in-person to online.

For more information of the results, please view detailed findings and read the announcement press release.

What's Next

  • Additional analysis and resources, including:
    • Re-opening plans: with more than 1,500 responses shared about re-opening plans and processes, ALA now has a vast set of materials to review, catalog, and curate.
    • Aggregate financial and staffing data
    • Results by library type and peer groups
  • Administrators and librarians will discuss results in a free webinar on June 12 at 1:00 PM Central, with a focus on reopening practices and current and projected library budget and staffing impacts related to the crisis. A 13-minute video overview of the survey results can be viewed at Viewing this ahead of time will provide additional information about the survey findings released last week.

PLA will continue to advance its communication and outreach work at the national level, communicating the value and essential roles libraries play now and will continue to play as communities recover from the crisis. In addition to its own analysis, PLA will share aggregate results and findings with key partners, including state library chapters, state data coordinators, and members of the Public Library Data Alliance.

About the May 2020 Survey

The American Library Association fielded the online survey May 12–18, 2020. The online survey link was shared widely by ALA and other library organizations. Research staff from PLA, other ALA divisions and offices, the Colorado State Library’s Library Research Service, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services verified responses and removed duplicates. Survey responses represented ~30% of public library systems, ~20% of academic libraries, and less than 20% of other library types in the U.S.

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) logo

Library Research Service (LRS) logo

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