Contact Tracing and Libraries

By Maura Deedy, Library Advisory Specialist at the MBLC

This post is intended to educate the library community, and is not and should not be interpreted as legal advice. We recommend specific questions should be addressed with a local Board of Health or local legal counsel.

Librarians have been concerned with some of the sector specific guidelines that required keeping a log of visitors for contact tracing, such as office spaces. Directors and library staff have reached out to Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) for clarification. MBLC staff communicated these concerns to the Department of Public Health (DPH) and communicated with Privacy Officers about concerns that visitor logs would be a violation of MGL Chapter 78 Section 7 which states “the part of the records of a public library which reveals the identity and intellectual pursuits of a person using such library shall not be a public record”.

The Governor’s specific guidance for libraries that was released on June 8 does not include keeping a log of visitors. MBLC does not recommend keeping such a log. We do not see a role for keeping this kind of information according to the state’s current contact tracing strategy.

Give current library operations, which most are curbside or circulation desk pick up, or appointment based services the amount of interaction between library staff and patrons should be very limited and very short. Future phases may include limited browsing or access to technology, which may increase the amount of time people are interacting but may not be sustained close contact.

That said, we wanted to share with the library community our understanding of contract tracing:

When a person tests positive for COVID-19, DPH will contact the local board of health (LBOH) where the person lives. The LBOH reaches out to the positive resident to learn who they have been in contact with. The contact tracers will ask for a list of all the people the covid-19 positive person has been within six feet of during the two days before they had symptoms or close contact as defined by the CDC. If the person does not have symptoms, the contact tracers will ask about the activity during the two days prior to diagnosis.  The contact tracers will ask for the phone numbers of those people, and follow up with them. The name of the person who tested positive is kept private, as part of HIPAA laws.


Close Contact Definition: “Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated” according to the CDC. Source.

July 7, 2020 Update:
Sector specific guidance that was released on July 6 for libraries included this mandatory safety standard: “Maintain a log of workers and patrons to support contact tracing (name, date, time, contact information) if needed”.

We will continue to communicate our concerns to the Department of Public Health and the Reopening Advisory Board that contact tracing in libraries violates patron privacy laws. We do not see a role for this information. While contract tracing is essential for public health, we have concerns that the library community was not consulted on the inclusion of this mandate nor was our recommendation that it not be included heeded.
We will update this blog post as needed.

Best Practice for Trustees: Town and City Charters

By Rob Favini, Head of Library Advisory and Development at the MBLC

The laws that establish the authority and role of library trustees can be found in the Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 78. It is important to know that in some instances, state laws governing Libraries and trustees are superseded by local laws found in town and city charters. Trustees should be aware of all established and proposed local laws that pertain to the organization and management of their library. Today’s Trustee Handbook Focus looks at local charters and how they impact libraries.


Some Massachusetts municipalities are governed by special legislation or a charter, components of which may or may not relate directly to the library. It is critical for trustees to know if their municipality has such a charter or has plans to implement one, and if so, how its provisions affect their library. While trustees have traditionally looked to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 78 to delineate the rights and responsibilities of trustees to exert “custody and management” over public libraries, a local charter will take precedence over Massachusetts General Laws.

If your community is planning a charter change or adoption, make sure that at least one trustee becomes familiar with the charter reform process, and is informed every step of the way about proposed changes. A proactive board is a well-informed board which serves as a partner in the change process. It is much easier to keep unfortunate changes out of the charter than to try to fix problems after the fact. The following are issues which may not constitute the main thrust of the changes to the charter, but may somehow “sneak” in if trustees don’t pay careful attention:

  • Who will the director report to? In some towns, the town administrator has the authority to appoint department heads. Make sure that the power of the library board is not eroded; in other words, make sure it is spelled out in the charter that the board of trustees governs the library and appoints the director.
  • Will the library be grouped with other town departments for purposes of efficiency? The library could lose its status as a separate department, becoming combined with other departments which do not share common missions or organizational/operational methods.
  • Will all human resource functions be centralized? Under whose control? Trustees should help develop a municipal plan for the transfer of employees between departments. Make sure the library director has responsibility for the hiring, dismissal, and supervision of library personnel.
  • Any charter proposal should contain provisions specifying the duties and powers of the board of trustees. Make sure the board has control of the library’s budget, personnel issues, and policy making authority.
  • Another issue that might be introduced is the number and kind of trustees. Monitor for proposals that would change the way trustees are elected or appointed. Who has the authority to appoint trustees? Will there be ex-officio trustees (those appointed by virtue of their office, i.e. selectmen and clergy) who may change the constitution of the library board?

If your municipality is considering a charter or home rule change, it is imperative for your board to be involved and aware of the seriousness of the issues at stake. If charter reform, home rule petition or other effort is underway to revamp municipal power and decision-making, the library should get involved from the start to advocate for wording which exempts the library from being under the control of another municipal department or officer.

Trustee Tip!
Successful boards of trustees know what’s happening in their communities and are active players in the local political process. Remember that it is your responsibility as a trustee to advocate for the best possible library services and practices. Library boards that stay active and involved in community affairs yearround are better positioned to make their case for the library than boards that wait until “crunch time” to get involved.

Today’s Trustee Handbook Focus can be found on pages 39 – 41 of the Massachusetts Public Library Trustee Handbook.

For more information about all services and resources available to trustees please visit the MBLC Trustee page (

Have a question relating to your board? Contact Maura Deedy ( or Rob Favini (

Please join us at the MBLC’s Trustee Institute, April 27th! For information and registration: