FAQ on Stage 3 Reopening for Ontario Public Libraries 

A lot has to happen in the background to keep our staff and residents safe in our spaces while serving their needs.

We know Ontario’s Library Boards and CEO/Management Teams are working diligently on these staged re-openings.  The intent of this document is to provide clarification on the guidance we have sought and received from the Ontario Government specifically on the issues affecting Public Libraries.  We (FOPL, OLA, SOLS, OLS-North) have reviewed the key clarification questions we know about with the Ontario Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, & Culture Industries.

We know that you’re planning a mindful and considered approach to reopening and that’s very good.  As with Stage 2, you know that this is in your decision-making control for local decision-making because Ontario’s communities are so very different.  We need to rebuild the trust of our communities and staff that public libraries are a safe place to engage with – much like everyone else in our community: government services, restaurants, stores, community centres, attractions. etc. Ultimately, over time, the role of public libraries in the rebuilding of our economy, employment, education, and social vitality depends on this.  

There are two key documents that you should read and have available for your Boards and Staff. We encourage you to read the Stage 3 Overview and Guidelines [https://files.ontario.ca/mof-framework-reopening-province-stage-3-en-2020-07-13.pdf]

The regulations have also been released and these are here: 

Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act  ONTARIO REGULATION 363/20

STAGES OF REOPENING (look here for details of the regions in or not in Stage 3)

Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act  ONTARIO REGULATION 364/20

RULES FOR AREAS IN STAGE 3 (look here for the broader rules)

Basic Principles:

  1.   All public libraries are permitted to reopen when they are allowed to enter Stage 3. This is most public libraries in Ontario with the exceptions of the GTA, Hamilton, Lambton, Haldimand-Norfolk, and Windsor-Essex  (as at July 17, 2020).
  2.   Public Libraries must remain cognizant of the government laws, bylaws, and guidance linked above and outlined here and changes as they are issued.  As always the safety and security of our users and staff are the first priority.
  3.   Public Libraries and their Boards are advised to consult with their local legal Counsel and Public Health Officials on issues of local laws and other interpretations.
  4.   The local Library Board in consultation with the CEO is in control of the library’s decisions to move forward in terms of timeline and policies.  That said, they must be guided by the PLA, other laws and regulations as well as union contracts where applicable.

We are excited to get more of our folks back to work, but there are many questions requiring local interpretation and planning timelines.  This FAQ covers many of the questions we have heard and provides some guidance as to best practices.

Browsing in Public Libraries

Book and materials browsing can return.  Libraries should continue to quarantine returned materials for 72 hours.  Much like lightly browsing books is no different from browsing shelves at the grocery or bookstore, libraries do not need to put the books and materials into quarantine after light browsing.  That said, the regulations do consider more intense use as an opportunity to disinfect or quarantine heavily used items.  For example, if a user uses 5 books on a table for study for 2 hours, then these should go through a sanitization or quarantine procedure.


You may choose to have small indoor programs return as long as social distancing is maintained.  These must be within the limits of your physical spaces and physical distancing must be maintained.  For example, your library can choose to allow small book clubs, small craft sessions like knitting circles, or small story times (probably with no singing and a shield between children and the story-teller).   Indoor events are subject to the public gathering limit of 50 attendees excluding staff.

Outdoor programs can return as long as physical distancing is maintained and the public gathering limit is 100 excluding staff.

Concessions and Food

Your concessions may reopen on the same basis as any other restaurant or take-out operation.  Customers may sit indoors under the same rules as any other food service / restaurant which requires tables to be separated by a distance of at least two metres, or plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier.


We hear that many of you are asking questions about liability.  We cannot provide legal advice. Local governments and Boards may choose to seek advice from your municipal lawyers, and/or the Medical Officer of Health.


Libraries set their own occupancy limits for your locations site by site.  This is mandatory.   Libraries must limit the number of persons in a building so that every member of the public is able to maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from every other person in the building. 

Safety Protocols

The Stage 3 guidance continues all the current standard safety protocols for staff, users, and quarantines that you have implemented.  Continue with staff training and communication as well as very upfront signage about the rules.  You may want to consider, depending on your spatial configuration, one-way aisles in stacks where possible, building occupancy limits, continuing curbside or return protocols as already done, good signage, and positive staff cardholder communication reinforcement.

Some centres – mostly urban – and local laws require masks inside unless it violates the human rights code.  Contact your local municipality for enforcement advice.

[See Ontario Public Services Health and Safety Association: Guidance During COVID-19 For Library Employers https://fopl.ca/news/health-and-safety-guidance-during-covid-19-for-library-employers/]

Joint Facilities

You will need to review your leases and building rules for branches that are co-resident, for example, with schools, daycares, hospitals, and LTC homes etc. if you’re collocated with others with a different regulatory framework than you.

Here are some of the key paragraphs extracted that appear the most relevant to public libraries. It is not exhaustive but it does cover the highlights.:

Here is the document I am referring to: https://files.ontario.ca/mof-framework-reopening-province-stage-3-en-2020-07-13.pdf

We encourage you to read the Stage 3 Overview and Guidelines.  The announcement is long and there are many associated docs but here are some relevant quotes:


  • Libraries were permitted to resume limited on-site services in Stage 2
  • In addition to the services resumed in Stage 2, libraries may reopen for all on-site services, as long as materials that are circulated, returned or accessed within the library are disinfected or quarantined before being recirculated.”


To prevent the spread of COVID-19, public health measures and workplace safety restrictions apply to businesses and services permitted to reopen in Stage 3. Businesses and organizations are required to operate in compliance with all applicable laws, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the advice, recommendations and instructions of public health officials. The following information provides an overview of some of the conditions and restrictions in place.”

Here is the stuff for similar organizations’ issues that may apply to your decision-making as a metaphor:

“Interactive Exhibits at Museums, Attractions and Heritage Institutions

  • Attractions and heritage institutions, including museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites and similar attractions were permitted to reopen in Stage 2.
  • In addition to the exhibits opened in Stage 2, high-contact surfaces such as interactive exhibits and displays may open. They must be cleaned and disinfected frequently.
  • All special events, instructional classes and performances at these locations are subject to gathering limits and physical distancing measures.”

“Playgrounds and Play Structures

  • Outdoor playgrounds and play structures are permitted to reopen in Stage 3.
  • Physical distancing of at least two metres must be in place at all indoor playgrounds and play structures, except between individuals from the same household or social circle. “

“Recreational Courses and Instruction

  • Examples of recreational courses and instruction include music lessons, language classes, tutoring and art classes. • All instructional classes are subject to gathering limits.
  • Physical distancing must be in place for participants, other than when necessary for instruction. Face coverings are recommended in those situations.
  • Equipment must be cleaned and disinfected frequently.
  • Plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier and physical distancing are required for any instruction that involves singing or playing wind or brass instruments. “

“Restaurants (excerpts related to food concessions)

  • Physical distancing of two metres between patrons from different households or social circles also continues to apply to food trucks, food courts, concession stands and tours, including tastings at wineries, breweries and distilleries.
  • All patrons must be seated when eating or drinking at the establishment.
  • Establishments must take appropriate measures to ensure physical distancing of at least two metres between patrons from different tables, unless separated by plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier.”

“Convention Centres, Meeting and Event Spaces

  • Convention centres, meeting and event spaces are subject to physical distancing measures and gathering limits, which apply to the entire facility. “

Thank you for all of your support!