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.