Cultural institutions acknowledge that the greatest concern during public health emergencies is the safety of their community. COSTEP MA recommends following federal, state, and local guidance on COVID-19. Be sure to connect with your municipal department of public health.

COVID-19 (published 3/17/20; updated 3/15/21)

The following sites are being continuously updated and provide a wealth of resources and guidance for personal and institutional preparedness and response.

Collections guidance

Our collections responses must be informed by experts who better understand the nature of the virus, and in particular, the question of “how long does the virus survive on surfaces?” The World Health Organization (WHO) provides the following guidance (accessed March 13, 2020):

It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).

Q&A on Coronaviruses (COVID-19)

Follow and use the hashtag #CovidCollectionsCare, which was started by the National Endowment for the Humanities twitter account, for resources related to “what cultural heritage practitioners can do to mitigate contagion & secure collections during pandemic for all aspects of collections care, incl. budget assistance.”


  • REopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) is a research project conducted by OCLC, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and Battelle to produce science-based information about how materials can be handled to mitigate COVID-19 exposure to staff and visitors of archives, libraries, and museums. View the research, literature review, and toolkit on the project website.
    • REopening Archives, Libraries and Museums (REALM): Caring for Your Resources During COVID-19 webinar recorded on March 10, 2021 and hosted by the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation (FAIC) Connecting to Collections Care program
    • REALM test results infographic published by American Libraries Magazine that synthesizes the results from five rounds of testing and shows how long SARS-CoV-2-2 lives on common library materials. More information about the poster can be found on this American Libraries Magazine page.
  • Connecting to Collections Care of the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation (C2CC/FAIC) hosted a free webinar, “Collections Care in the Age of COVID-19,” through Facebook Live on April 2, 2020. The speakers were preservation librarians, conservators, and other experts in the field of collections care. The recording is available at the link.
  • The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) hosted a webinar on March 30, 2020, entitled “Mitigating COVID-19 When Managing Paper-Based, Circulating, and Other Types of Collections.” The speakers were representatives from the CDC. The recording is available at the link.
  • The National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT, a division of the National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior) hosted a Facebook live stream on March 23, 2020, now posted to their website, “Covid-19 Basics: Disinfecting Cultural Resources.” Their presentation is largely aligned with COSTEP MA guidance for collections (isolation preferred over cleaning of permanent collections) but with additional details that might be relevant for your institution and collections.
  • We are familiar with some news reports that claim the virus may live for longer periods of time than expected. We are not public health experts, doctors, or scientists, and cannot make judgements about the veracity of those news reports with confidence. We believe the most accurate and vetted information on the nature of the virus will come from trusted institutions like the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and thus we will interpret their public guidance from the perspective of collections preservation.
  • We would like to emphasize more clearly that preventative measures against exposing collections to the virus are the most effective and most efficient methods of preservation. Temporarily restricting public access to the physical collections may not always be possible, but if so, it would preclude the need, cost, and stress of considering wholesale or selected strategies of enhanced cleaning or quarantine/isolation.

Enhanced Environmental cleaning

Enhanced or expanded cleaning strategies are an emerging best practice for public safety. More cleaning of shared spaces with EPA-approved disinfectants is usually complemented by additional access to sanitizers, soaps, and hand-washing stations. Recommendations on cleaning strategies are available from the CDC, among many others.

Institutions may see an increase in staff and patrons using hand sanitizers. A recommendation from the Library of Congress finds that, “while hand washing is recommended over sanitizing, because the former removes dirt and oils where the later does not, if sanitizers continue to be offered at various institutions, water-based formulations are recommended.” For more information see “The Impact of Hand Sanitizers on Collection” from the Library of Congress. (Keep in mind that the WHO recommends alcohol-based sanitizers, so one formulation may be better for public safety while another might be preferred for handling collections.)

Institutions with highly public missions, such as museums, gallery spaces, and academic and public libraries, might employ hourly (or more frequent) cleaning of high traffic areas and heavily used surfaces. Shared equipment such as touch-screen displays, kiosks, and assisted interpretive devices, which cannot be cleaned and disinfected accordingly, should not be used.

Cleaning vs. isolation Strategies

Members of the COSTEP MA network have dealt with questions about disinfecting collection objects that may have been exposed to the virus. COSTEP MA recommends extreme caution in cleaning collection objects. It would be preferable, if possible, to temporary isolate objects and collections for a period in which the virus will not survive, over aggressive cleaning strategies.

It is inadvisable to use liquid or aerosol cleaners on books, unbound papers or prints, or painted surfaces. Guidance on historic objects, furniture, and decorative arts is not clear at this time, but generally, conservators tend not to recommend aggressive cleaning and strong chemicals without knowing their long-term consequences.

Isolation strategies can occur at the object level: double-bag smaller objects in zipper-style plastic bags, and labeling it with object information, date, and reason for isolation. At the collection level, the easiest isolation strategy is to entirely shut off access for a period of time.

It is not recommended to take large scale disinfecting actions for entire collections, or entire storage spaces, as temporary isolation, suggested by the CDC and WHO guidelines on how long the virus can live on surfaces, may do a more reliable job of eradicating the virus with none of the potential damages to collection objects. If large-scale disinfecting strategies are unavoidable, consider enacting your salvage priorities, removing your most important collection objects away from areas to be disinfected, into temporary isolation. Once collection objects are removed, disinfect surfaces such as shelving units by applying cleaning solutions to a cloth or paper towel and then wiping surfaces down.


  • We hesitate to recommend alternative methods of sanitizing such as irradiation (gamma or UV) at this point. While this approach may be relatively accepted against certain types of biological agents, there are a number unknowns about this approach for COVID-19 specifically.

Library Lending

Public and Academic Libraries share their collections widely, and resource-sharing arrangements (Inter Library Loan, ILL) may still be proceeding as usual. Nitrile gloves and heightened attention to personal sanitation strategies are important. To minimize risks to collections and persons, it may be best to suspend or modify lending policies. If regular operations are unavoidable, from the sole perspective of materials preservation (NOT the public safety perspective) enhanced cleaning is not recommended for paper based materials, thought plastics jackets can withstand small controlled amounts of liquid cleaner and mild disinfectant. Consider minimizing contact with returned items or leaving returned items untouched for a couple of days, if possible.


Preparing for Building Inaccessibility

It will be important to prepare your storage areas and collections accordingly if no one will be able to check on their safety periodically. Potential risks of pipes bursting, building leaks, and flooding remain even though you may no longer have access to the building.

The following information from the National Heritage Responders (NHR) was developed for extreme weather events, but the guidelines are applicable in case you will not have access to the building for some time:

With enough notice before a large disaster like a hurricane, you may plan to secure your collections within your building to minimize the chances for loss. These suggestions will help you manage that process.

Move Your Collections to the Safest Space: Inner rooms with no windows on a high floor are the safest place during a water disaster. Move collections from sub-grade storage to higher ground. If possible, keep records of what was moved, and its new location.

Protect Against Water Damage: Raising boxes several inches off the floor will reduce the potential for damage. Store boxes on pallets or 2x4s to raise them off the floor if no shelving is available. Cover boxes with plastic sheeting to protect against leaks from above.

Protect Your Computer Equipment: Place computer equipment in large plastic storage tubs that can be purchased at stores such as Target or Wal-Mart. Include packing lists in each tub. Tape the tubs tightly shut and move to a safe space within your building. Permanent markers can be used to label your tubs.

Sheltering Collections in Place

Other strategies that will help protect your collections, should your institution consider closing the building and collections to collections staff:

  • Cover collections at greater risk of water leaks with plastic/poly sheeting
  • Set environmental monitoring data software on a laptop for off-site access
  • Set up a schedule among essential staff to do a building walk-through every day or every week and make sure everything is functioning as it should be.

The Canadian Conservation Institute shares recommendations for closing a museum building in winter, which are applicable to closing a building for an extended period of time.

Check with your Response and Recovery vendors to make sure they are still able to respond should your collections get damaged from water leaks or flooding.

Continuity of Operations (COOP) plans for pandemics

A fundamental challenge for cultural institutions during public health emergencies, as we are experiencing currently with the COVID-19 pandemic, is determining when and how to alter services and operations. Follow your Continuity of Operations policies or procedures, if you have them, as you consider minor or major alterations to your operations.

Guidance for museums, libraries, archives, historic homes

With the COVID-19 pandemic, many institutions are considering or have already implemented policies and procedures regarding the following:

  • Communications to public and staff
  • Enhanced sanitation and isolation strategies
  • Public closure
  • Total closure
  • Work at home options
  • Periodic re-evaulation of plans

The following organizations have prepared some helpful guidelines to consider, focused on our particular areas of practice:

There is a great deal of information in each of the links. Note the Sample Responses and Policies page compiled by the Mass Library System to stay up to date on what peer libraries are doing in the face of the pandemic.

Gallery, Library, Archive, Museum, and Artisan Responses

  • Academic Museum Responses” from American Alliance of Museums (AAM)
  • Some members of the the Rare Book & Manuscript Section (RMBS) of American College & Research Libraries (ACRL) of the American Library Association (ALA) have volunteered to share their Institutional Responses to COVID-19.
  • Archivists at Home” by the Accessibility & Disability Section of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) compiles resources to support working at home for archivists.
  • Archival Workers Emergency Fund” launched by the SAA Foundation to support archival workers experiencing financial hardship during the COVID-19 crisis. Grants of up to $1,000 will be awarded to financially vulnerable and at-risk workers.
  • NEH CARES: Cultural Organizations grants” – The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has received supplemental funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act  to provide emergency relief to institutions and organizations working in the humanities that have been affected by the coronavirus. NEH invites applications from eligible organizations seeking support for at-risk humanities positions and projects that have been impacted by the coronavirus.
  • Working Remotely — Technical Services — Special Collections” is an unmoderated community document with excellent ideas for distance work.
  • Artisan Resources during COVID-19” from the North Bennet Street School compiles resources geared towards artisans, craftspeople, makers, and people in traditional trades.

Donating Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

There are needs among health professionals and first responders for personal protective equipment. Cultural heritage collections professionals often have emergency supplies, like nitrile gloves, N95/N99 masks, goggles, facemasks, and sanitizing wipes, which they may wish to donate to health professionals and first responders during this pandemic. If you have access to your building and this is an option for you, COSTEP MA provides the following information.

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Guidance

In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency is supporting a coordinated process to collect donations of medical supplies to augment the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  A Donations Management Branch has been established to be the central repository of these requests.  If your department or agency has supplies that you’d like to donate, or would like to talk through the donations process, a new online portal provides information on Donations Management and Volunteers.

MEMA is primarily collecting donations of the following materials:

  • Surgical/procedure masks
  • N95/N99 masks (respirators)
  • Face masks with integrated shield
  • PAPRs
  • Goggles
  • Gloves
  • Protective suits/gowns
  • Booties / shoe covers
  • Head covers
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Sanitizing wipes

Other donation options

#GetUsPPE/Massachusetts lists 71 hospitals and health centers in the Commonwealth, along with contact information and drop-off procedures.

Donate PPE/boston lists over 15 hospitals and health centers in the Boston Metro area, along with contact information and drop-off procedures.