Survey Results: Library Services for Justice-Impacted Individuals

To better understand library services to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, Ally Dowds, Consultant to Special Populations at the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, recently conducted a survey of public, school, academic, and special libraries. Of the 48 respondents, 9 currently provide outreach services to incarcerated individuals and 4 support reentry efforts in their communities. “The results confirm that libraries want to do more to provide services, but they need support, staffing and funding to do so,” said Ms. Dowds. Many libraries stated that they simply “don’t know where to begin.” Libraries also reported needing better connection to community partners and access to continuing education to prepare staff. The survey is the first step in the MBLC’s ongoing efforts to support libraries as they provide services to incarcerated people and reentry services or support for returning citizens at libraries.


• 48 Respondents
• 40 Public Libraries

• 9 currently provide outreach to incarcerated individuals
• Blend of book donations, legal support and comprehensive services

Outreach Needs:
• Continuing Education and Staffing were primary needs of those currently providing outreach services
• New outreach – 29 responded “Where do I begin?”; 25 needed connection to a partnership. Continuing education also a big factor

• 4 libraries currently provide reentry services or support returning citizens at the library
• 37 libraries reported they do not

Reentry Needs:
• 24 reported needing more information
• 26 reported “Where do I begin?”
• 23 reported needing access to community partners
• Continuing education, community partnerships were top responses

Survey Responses

Survey question "Please select your type of library" with responses 40 public, 1 school, 1 academic, 6 special. The special libraries are all law libraries.
Survey question "Does your library currently provide outreach services to a local jail, prison, or youth detention center?" with responses 9 yes, 38 no, and 1 other

Type of outreach reported 

  • Book donations and access to book sale items 
  • Institutional library card for staff to reserve and check out items to bring back to facility 
  • Outreach visits to facilities to give book talks, book groups, technology and art programming, and occasional author talks 
  • Greenfield Community College offers courses and library services at Franklin County House of Corrections 
  • Legal reference question support 

    *”Yes” respondents were (1) juvenile detention center, (5) county jails or House of Corrections, (3) state prisons. 
Survey question "If yes, does your library need additional support?" with responses 1 funding, 4 staffing, 6 continuing education, 2 other.
Survey question "If your library provides outreach services to incarcerated individuals, do you collect data (statistical or anecdotal) to show the impact or efficacy of your services?" with responses 4 yes, 8 no.
Survey question "Would your library be interested in partnering with a local jail, prison, or a youth detention center to provide supportive library services to individuals experiencing incarceration?" with responses 6 already do, 13 yes, 13 maybe, 16 need more information.
Survey question "If yes, or considering, outreach to incarcerated individuals, what does your library need?" with responses 18 continuing education, 25 partnership or connection to institution, 15 funding, 29 where do I begin?, 5 other.

“Other” response: 

  • More staff 
  • Method of delivery of materials to institution 
  • Loss prevention around materials 
  • Inactive library cards 
Survey question "Does your library currently provide services, resources or programs for returning citizens or reentry support?" with responses 4 yes, 37 no, 7 other.

Types of re-entry support: 

  • Re-entry fairs and Re-entry Center partnerships/drop-in services 
  • Legal support 
  • Internet access 
  • Digital literacy and tech support around social service applications (ie, Registry of Motor Vehicles, housing)
  • CORI-sealing workshops 
Survey question "If yes, does your library need additional support?" with responses 4 funding, 4 staffing, 8 continuing education, 8 community partners.
Survey question "If your library provides reentry services to returning citizens, do you collect data (statistical or anecdotal) to show the impact or efficacy of your services?" with responses 1 yes, 6 no.
Survey question "Would your library be interested in providing reentry support services to returning citizens?" with responses 2 already do, 16 yes, 6 maybe, 24 need more information.
Survey question "If yes, or considering, reentry support services at your library, what does your library need?" with responses 20 continuing education, 23 community partners, 16 funding, 26 where do I begin?, 4 other.
Survey question "Does your library have a librarian that could or does provide outreach in the community?" with responses 27 yes, 7 no, 11 would like to, 3 developing a new position.

If yes, who?

  • Admin (Director/Assistant Director): 5 
  • Adult Services: 5 
  • All departments: 5 
  • Outreach Librarian: 4 
  • Youth Services: 5 
  • Other: 3 

If no, reasons? 

  • Funding, funding, funding 
  • Time 
  • Staffing 
  • Development of new position  
  • Community/administrative support, funding, continuing education, blueprint for how to create position 
  • Need community input, interest and prioritization 
  • Justification and buy-in to bring library services beyond library walls  

Additional Comments: 

  • Barriers to library card signups such as ID requirements, lost materials, old charges, etc. 
  • Collaboration with initiatives such as the Prison Book Program or Prison Library Support Network 
  • Map or directory of youth detention centers, points of contact for carceral facilities  
  • Library programs/support to expunge records 
  • Continuing education on topics such as outreach partnerships (establishing, maintaining), library services to incarcerated individuals  
  • Library to library collaboration to share outreach responsibilities, alleviate burden on staffing and funding, etc.   

“I would like to see social work and other services available right here in the library…” 

“We would be interested in learning more…” 

“A huge barrier is finding prisons and jails with libraries [and] staff tasked to manage them.” 

“I…believe that helping people who are incarcerated is incredibly important and would like to see our library organization do more…” 

“… be a known ally [for incarcerated youth]…” 

“…extremely important work… I’m grateful for all libraries that are providing this for incarcerated individuals… potential to have life-changing outcomes…” 

“…[I]t’s important for libraries to provide more than just materials to incarcerated patrons…” 

Benefit of My Public Library to me as a Person with a Disability

By Penelope Ann Shaw, PhD.

I live in a nursing home. When I first came to the facility 21 years ago I was not able to go out because I was too sick. But my local public library – Thayer Library in Braintree, MA – brought me books to read. These helped me to pass my time meaningfully. 

After I had recovered sufficiently from a rare disease I got an electric wheelchair. I have now been able to go to this library in person and be less isolated – as it is within driving range and accessible.

The library is especially important in winter – when it is cold – and I need an indoor activity.

Library staff there are very helpful. They assist me in many ways. They move the chair in front of the computer I will use so I can put my wheelchair there. I sometimes need the computer moved over a little to align my chair with the screen. Staff assist me in charging my cell phone – as I cannot reach to plug it into the computer. 

At the library I like to use a computer in the adult computer area. These work properly, unlike the resident one in the facility where I live – which additionally is also in a common area with a distracting blaring T.V.


I especially like the library because I am a published writer. It is a quiet peaceful environment where I can concentrate. I can do internet research on my current topic and then print out the articles I researched.

I read these articles in bed at night. Then – when I am at the library – I edit and print each piece multiple times over many visits. This work is self-actualizing intellectually – stimulating reflection, learning and personal growth. A satisfying activity for a former academic. 

The computers I use at the library are close to the reference desk – where there is always someone who can help if I have a technical problem while working. 

The library also has a terrific used-book sale area where I can buy books I want for only $1. I read them primarily to get ideas for topics to write about. Gathering these ideas for my writing is something I can do in my facility when I cannot get to the library because of bad weather.

These books are also essential to my well-being and mental health – giving me something interesting to do in bed at night. This is because once I am lift-transferred to bed, being paralyzed I cannot get up again until morning. I can use my time there productively reading.

At the library in the reference area there a long shelf with flyers. Patrons can pick up flyers and can learn about community resources and activities. Subjects include a list of venues for volunteering. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of the Gerontology Institute at UMass/Boston courses and activities available at our library. Town of Braintree Elder Affairs newsletters.

Through inter-library loan at my library I was able to get a bound copy of my doctoral dissertation – from the University of Michigan archives – to read. My copy having gotten lost years ago when I ended up in a hospital and became disabled.

There is more than information at my library. Patrons benefit by services as well. As a published writer I can scan my pieces into files to share with others. There’s a copy machine if I want copies of something. Staff assist me with these. I can do neither independently as I am unable to stand or reach to complete these tasks. There are also wonderful tables at wheelchair-height where I can do my “table work” – editing drafts of my writing, for example.

Very important is the warm friendly environment created by library staff. My friends enjoy their free time travelling. On a cruise or a road trip. Playing indoor tennis. Going to their local senior center. Activities I cannot do because of my disability.

I also personally dislike passive activities – like concerts or movies – where I must sit still for an extended period of time. This is because it is only when I am in my wheelchair that I have a sense of movement, being paralyzed. At the library I feel movement in simple ways like going back and forth between a computer and the printer. 

It is a normalizing experience. I am socially integrated. So I look forward in advance to my next visit where I will be able to do what other library patrons do – be in the community, use the internet, get books. A place where library staff treat me like other patrons. I lead a full rich life when I am there.

Clearly this library makes a difference in my life. Not just educationally. Socially working at my library compensates for my disability. When I am there I am not institutionalized as I have been for almost 22 years. It is a normalizing experience. I am socially integrated. So I look forward in advance to my next visit where I will be able to do what other library patrons do – be in the community, use the internet, get books. A place where library staff treat me like other patrons. I lead a full rich life when I am there.

I leave the library only when I have worked to the point my energy level is dropping. I then know it is time to stop working. But I am not happy with the idea of returning “home” – as there I will be patronized as someone they provide care for, not as someone living a real life.

Networks Tackle Cybersecurity with MBLC State Grants

Identity theft, ransomware attacks, phishing and other types of cyber-risks are dangers that have become part of our daily existence, both as library workers and digital citizens.  In response, the websites we use now require multi-step logins, also known as multi-factor authentication or MFA.  Changes are even more striking in the workplace. Many of us log into staff applications via a VPN, or virtual private network, involving multiple steps and a dedicated phone. While our systems providers try to streamline our workflows, our computers and work phones are locked down, requiring more work simply to begin work.  Simple, shared passwords are a thing of the past. Data backup and recovery strategies are important for anyone using the internet, even casual home users.

Two years ago, news of large-scale cyberattacks exploded in the national media. The Colonial Pipeline attack in May of 2021 stood out in particular.  In July of 2021, I was made aware of some new guidance generated by New York State on ransomware attack prevention and response.  I myself had just become a victim of a ransomware attack at home, through a security hole in my backup software; the irony did not escape me. My music files were locked up and held for ransom.  At that time, I asked the nine automated resource sharing networks whether they were prepared. Were they confident with their cybersecurity posture? Were they on top of protecting core library services and patron data? Did they have the ability to quickly recover should they experience an attack?  Should all the networks, possibly with help from the MBLC, work individually or together to improve network resilience in the face of seemingly inevitable cyberattacks?

Three weeks later, on August 25th, 2021, the Boston Public Library (BPL) was hit by a ransomware attack which brought the BPL and Metro Boston Library Network systems down for a full week.  David Leonard, the President of the BPL was kind enough to meet with network administrators a few weeks later to share lessons learned — to describe what had happened, how it might have happened, how the BPL had recovered, and what step the library was taking to protect itself in future.

MBLC Awards State Cybersecurity Grants

The BPL attack showed how broadly disruptive a cyberattack can be on library services.  Networks provide the mission critical, core business functions on which every library operates.  When an attack occurs, patron records, the catalog and circulation system all become unavailable.  Ancillary systems, email, websites, access to electronic resources may all be affected.

The MBLC decided to offer a cybersecurity grant opportunity of up to $25,000 per network using state funds from account 7000-9506, Library Technology and Resource Sharing.  In total, we awarded $181,093 to eight networks.   The program ran from May 2022 through June 2023.

Each network used grant funds to address its own priorities as each was in a different place in its thinking, planning and overall preparedness.  To provide an overall framework, MBLC asked networks to categorize their activities according to the four goals laid out in the Minimum Baseline of Cybersecurity for Municipalities from MassCyberCenter. Though designed for cities and towns, the framework proved equally well suited for a common perspective on network grant activities.

The four goals are:

Not surprisingly, all eight participating addressed Goal 4. Providing technology is a network’s bread and butter. Four networks also identified staff training, and one network focused on response planning.

Minimum Baseline GoalsNetwork
Trained and Cyber-Secure EmployeesCW MARS, FLO, MVLC, SAILS
Improved Threat Sharing 
Cyber Incident Response PlanningSAILS
Secure Technology Environment and Best PracticesCLAMS, CW MARS, FLO, MBLN, MVLC, NOBLE, OCLN, SAILS

Staff Training

It’s almost a truism that human beings are the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain. Therefore, thorough training is essential. Besides a series of instructional sessions or webinars, training often includes a series of phishing tests. A security vendor will send out phishing emails or smishing texts (phishing via SMS) to see whether staff recognize the malicious messages or instead, open the message or message attachment, actions that might in the real world have led to a damaging security breach.  FLO reports that their “phish-prone percentage” came down to 7.8% from a 50% mark (half of FLO staff) at the beginning of the program, and that since January 2023 no FLO staff member has clicked on a phishing email at all, easily surpassing FLO’s objective of 5% originally set out in their grant application.

MVLC experimented with a suite of free security training tools to gauge their effectiveness. Having obtained encouraging results in participation, they will consider making this part of their annual training regime in future.

Cyber Incident Response Planning

SAILS undertook formal planning as part of the grant.  SAILS’ incident response plan, when complete, will cover the steps to be taken should there be a security breach. It will include who will be notified: the network attorney, the system vendor(s), the cybersecurity insurance provider, telecommunications support provider, the network internet service provider, and, of course, member libraries.

The plan will address the following six phases:   preparation, identification, containment, eradication, recovery, and lessons learned.

SAILS recognizes the importance of sharing the plan with member libraries. An incident can start at the library.

The Boston Public Library /MBLN network, which had suffered that significant cybersecurity attack in 2021, hired a consultant to develop a security roadmap to improve its overall security posture. Preliminary direction will have been guided by vulnerability scan and penetration testing. BPL also intends to hire a full-time Cybersecurity Analyst.

Improved Threat Sharing

No network explicitly identified threat sharing as a grant goal.  However, as part of incident response planning, networks recognize that registering with regional and national threat resource centers, such as MS-ISAC, the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center, and the New England regional office of CISA, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, is critical.  Networks will proactively hear about threats that might affect them and will know whom to inform should an attack happen to them.  Networks will be better prepared to share threat information with each other in a timely fashion.

Secure Technology Environment and Best Practices

The majority of grant-related work focused on ensuring that networks’ core systems, backups, were secure, and that shared work environments being accessed by both central site staff and library staff were controlled by technologies, policies and procedures to minimize risk.

The Library System Hosting Environment

Two networks, CW MARS and NOBLE, had locally hosted library system servers. Recently, either as part of this grant, or slightly before, both networks had moved their servers into a Google Cloud environment under the management of Mobius Open-Source Solutions (MOSS).  Large-scale cloud hosts such as provided by Google and Mobius, bring assurances of a much more secure environment than any local installation could manage.  This includes physical security, system and software patching, vulnerability testing, standards, access controls, authentication, and backup and restore options.

Through a consultant, NOBLE audited the security of their servers’ new home, and especially the cloud-hosted data backups.  NOBLE’s consultant provided a series of recommendations back to Mobius that should benefit not only NOBLE and CW MARS, but other similarly situated library systems as well. NOBLE also now takes more frequent system backups, housing them in a separate location, a more secure approach.

CLAMS took a hard look at the hosting environment for their new Koha/Aspen Discovery library system from Bywater Systems. Bywater has tested incident response and business continuity plans.  Bywater had several recommendations for CLAMS, including the use of a reverse proxy server, regular vulnerability scans, an intrusion detection and prevention system, and IP access control for all Koha admin interfaces.

Equipment Replacement

OCLN and NOBLE replaced older routers in members libraries with state-of-the-art advanced firewalls that included intrusion prevention features. Intrusion prevention systems proactively check for real-time threats or attacks and take action to stop the activity.  The new routers will better protect not only the network, but also local library LANs, attached equipment and data.

The change to remote or hybrid work environments that we’ve seen over the last three years means that staff are no longer necessarily accessing the library system through library-owned computers on library-managed LANs.  As part of the grant, networks focused on ensuring that secure VPN connections are always used by both central site and library staff.  The newly purchased firewalls have made possible simplified VPN sessions for staff working remotely, and a much more manageable overall VPN environment for central site. As an example, OCLN reports that it now has single-sign-on capabilities through Google, so that staff can sign onto the VPN via a regular browser and using the same credentials that they use for Google Workspace.  And no more shared passwords among library staff!

Staff Applications: Google Workspace and Microsoft 365

Central site and numerous library staff use shared applications.  Several audits found that access to Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 needed better access controls. A clear, and near-term goal is to enforce multi-factor authentication for administrative users, and if possible, extend the requirement to all library staff.  CLAMS purchased MFA “security keys”, a small USB device for all staff to use when working remotely.  Security keys obviate the need for passwords and thereby avoid the danger of phishing attacks designed to capture passwords.

Password Strengthening and Management

CW MARS obtained a business class password management platform which enabled password strength to be audited.  By the end of the grant period, they reported that for central site staff, “Our average password strength was 94%. 0% of staff had a weak master password. 0% of staff had a reused password.”  Based on its security audit, MVLC intends to pursue a similar solution.


Tighter network email attachment policies, better email verification via mailing system standards —DKIM and DMARC in particular– have been identified as ways to improve trust in email messages both coming into libraries and going out.

Penetration Testing and review by 3rd party

FLO was one of several networks that did vulnerability testing. FLO really dug into this issue, using Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) techniques to see whether there was information on potentially harmful attack vectors “out there” on the internet that might impact FLOs systems. As a result, they decommissioned an outdated server using an old operating system along, among other actions.

Not Just the Central Site – Including Member Libraries

Though some projects focused exclusively on central site systems and staff, others had broader reach. For example, MVLC’s security audit included 28 of its member libraries.

Next Steps

Every year, the MBLC provides network infrastructure grants from account 9506.  For FY24, the total grant round was increased by 33% to $400,000.  Cybersecurity investments are now allowable expenditures under this grant.   The initial MBLC cybersecurity grant round kicked off an ongoing process. Networks will take what they learned, and at the very least, invest in training, planning, plugging holes, updating policies, communicating cybersecurity roles and responsibilities to member libraries, and working together with their peers across the state to make Massachusetts libraries, resources, and library patron information safer and more secure.

Main Image: Lightning striking a rural building during a storm: onlookers react in terror. Engraving, 16 –. Weather. Lightning. Work ID: hfz9n5qe : under CC BY 4.0.

Building Intention in Canaan

By Andrea Bono-Bunker, Library Building Specialist

A holistic approach to sustainability considers both the environment and those who inhabit it. In construction, so much of our focus is on emissions, embodied carbon, and the breakdown of waste, but what about the human toll of building? As institutions with values that foster freedom, democracy, and self-fulfillment, do we have a responsibility to ensure that the materials and products used in our projects are sourced and manufactured in ways that also uphold those values? And how does a commitment to those values translate to the spaces we create for library staff and the public? 

The Building Literacy: Public Library Construction podcast has two new episodes that explore the issues above with a case study of the New Canaan Library in New Canaan, CT. In episode one, President and CEO, Lisa Oldham, and Environmental Social Governance (ESG) Coordinator, Miki Porta join us to discuss their dedication to an all-electric future, their pilot project with local nonprofit Grace Farms on their Design for Freedom initiative, and fundraising best practices for a project where 75% of the funding came from private donors. In episode two, we delve into how intention in the design and construction process led to welcoming, well-used spaces and their decisions’ impacts on the library’s service model as it relates to the community they serve. We will hear about everything from unexpected connections to a learning framework meant to enhance each part of the library experience for all ages.

Episode 1: Holistic Sustainability in the New Canaan Library Project

Episode 2: Curating Services in Intentional Spaces at New Canaan Library

The New Canaan Library recently was featured in American Libraries’ 2023 Library Design Showcase under the Climate-Conscious category. To learn more about the project and its history, visit the library’s website.

While typically Massachusetts- focused, the Building Literacy: Public Library Construction podcast covers topics and material of interest to any stakeholder in a public library construction project. No matter where you are in your journey to a new or improved library, check out other episodes on this podcast and Library Space: A Planning Resource for Librarians.

MPLCP Revealed!

By Lauren Stara, Library Building Specialist

(Visit our new website by clicking the image above or link below.)

Are you curious about the impact of the MBLC’s Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program (MPLCP) on your community? We are delighted to announce that we have a new website showing the entire history of our grant program, now live at

Here you will find all the grants we have awarded, searchable by municipality, with the grant year, the grant amount, the type of project, and the architect. In many cases, we have more data, like the dedication date, contractor, OPM, and total construction cost. Note that if your city or town does not appear in the drop-down list, it means that you have never received an MPLCP construction grant.

You can also scroll down to see a map of the entire state, color coded to show the status of past and current construction grants. We’ve had this map in printed form for many years, and we’ve finally gone digital! You can download a printable PDF of the map if you like the paper format.

(Click the image to download the PDF printable map.)

The great thing about this site is that we can update it periodically to reflect the progress of current projects and add new projects as we go through the 2023-2024 grant round.

Sincere thanks go to Celeste Bruno and June Thammasnong, our amazing Communications Team, as well as Andrea Bono-Bunker, Library Building Specialist and Rosemary Waltos, former Library Building Consultant. The site is the culmination of years of struggling with how to make our wealth of data available to the public – we’ve been working toward this since I started with the agency, over 10 years ago.

For more information about the MPLCP, visit the construction section of the MBLC website. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at or Andrea at

Meet your new MBLC Commissioner, Barbara Barros!

What are you looking forward to as a new Commissioner for Massachusetts libraries?

I’m looking forward to understanding the role I am in, what is expected of me and how I can make a difference.

What do you love about your local library?

There is something magical about entering a library; it’s the “old school” feeling where it takes me back to being a child spending my Saturday afternoons at my local library. Even though many things have changed over the years and not always for the better, the library has remained intact as a place to read, research and just be at peace in a nice quiet environment.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time I garden, I write and I raise chickens. I also make soap and I belong to a dance group.

What book changed your life?

The book that changed my life I would say is Jonathan Kozol’s book Death at an Early Age. It was the first book I read that had my own writing in it. Jonathan was my 4th grade teacher and he included a composition I wrote into his book. Seeing my writing in print for the first time was inspiring and even though it took me years to begin my writing career that has always stuck with me.

What are you reading right now?

I’m presently finishing my summer reading. I’m reading Golden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand and just finished several of her books; Winter in Paradise, Endless Summer and Nantucket Nights.

Commissioner Barros is pictured here at a book signing with the novel and two children’s books she’s authored.

Beyond book bans: how book challenges are impacting librarians and libraries in Massachusetts

Book challenges are not new; but in the past few years, book challenges have been occurring in record numbers. According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were 45 book challenges in Massachusetts in 2022 affecting 57 titles. That’s more than the past 9 years (2013-2021) combined which totaled 38 challenges. Nationwide, ALA reported 1,270 book challenges in 2022, up significantly from 350 in 2019.

To date, no books have been banned in Massachusetts, however the Joint Task Force for Intellectual Freedom, with members from the Massachusetts Library Association (MLA), Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), Massachusetts Library System (MLS), the Massachusetts School Library Association (MSLA) were interested in whether the challenges were having other impacts on library services.

In July 2023 the task force conducted an informal survey to better understand the impact book challenges are having on library services and staff. The survey was open to library directors at all types of libraries who were asked to report on activity from June 30, 2022 to July 1, 2023.

Respondents by library type:
Public:  199

School:   35

Academic: 2

Special: 1

Significant Findings:

11 public libraries with a total of 59 challenges (one library had 32) were not reported to ALA, MLA, or MSLA during June 30,2022 to July 1, 2023.

Nearly 25% of school and public librarian respondents combined reported being harassed on social media; 22% reported being harassed via email; 18% report being harassed in person related to book challenges or program challenges.

48.5% of school library respondents reported that they reconsidered displays and books or items featured due to negativity surrounding book challenges.

18% of public library respondents reported that they eased up on publicizing an event which may be considered controversial.

The Massachusetts Library Association, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the Massachusetts Library System, and the Massachusetts School Library Association recently released a statement in support of libraries and intellectual freedom. Individuals can show their support by signing on at These organizations also provide information and support to librarians and communities experiencing book and program challenges. Intellectual Freedom & Censorship: Impact in Massachusetts and Beyond and More Licensed School Library Teachers, Less Book Banning have more information. For full survey results please contact or .

Meet our new Commissioner, Joyce Linehan!

Commissioner Joyce Linehan was recently appointed as Commissioner to the MBLC by Governor Maura Healey. She was sworn in on July 12, 2023 by Lt. Governor Kim Driscoll (pictured).

What are you looking forward to as a new Commissioner for Massachusetts libraries?

I am so excited to be a Commissioner, and I am grateful to Governor Healey and Lieutenant Governor Driscoll for the appointment. Libraries have been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was raised by a single working mother in Dorchester, and she really relied on our local branch library (shoutout to the Adams Street Branch of the BPL!) to keep us occupied after school and in the summer. So I am most looking forward to giving back, and to doing all I can to make sure that everyone in the Commonwealth has free and equal access to libraries. I am also very interested in and disturbed by the library censorship that’s happening around the country. Library boards are an important backstop for that kind of dangerous activity. I truly believe what T.S. Eliot said: “The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man.”

What do you love about your local library?

I am a voracious reader, and I am a heavy user of library e-books. I love the ease with which I can build a queue and books just appear like magic when they are ready. My local is the glorious Boston Public Library system, and I have been to all but a few of the 25 branches. As a child, at my branch, I took acting and writing classes, saw plays, music performances and poetry readings. Through college I spent copious amounts of time in the stacks at the Copley Square BPL, where my world was really opened up. Some of those libraries – like the main branch at Copley and the one in East Boston are architecturally stunning. Some have such strong communities and active friends groups that they serve as neighborhood institutions, providing all kinds of resources and support. All of them are cherished stewards of knowledge and information, and community anchors. In 2010, there was a proposal to close several Boston neighborhood branches, and that idea was met with such outcry and community organizing that it didn’t happen. People really communicated all that libraries mean to their communities.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like to read! I read once that the average American female reader finishes 735 books in her lifetime (684 for men), and that’s not a lot of books. So I’m on a bit of a mission. I write for fun, and publish a Substack about music. I am a small-time art collector, and really wish I had more money and wall space to pursue more seriously. I also like to attend live theater and music performances, and I have been known to host author readings in my house. In fact, we had Matthew Desmond (Evicted, and Poverty, By America) and he won the Pulitzer after visiting with us. Coincidence? Though I like to read, my dog, Mercy, would prefer I do something else.

Commissioner Linehan’s dog, Mercy, attempting to interrupt reading time!

Commissioner Linehan displaying a work of art she just purchased with the artist, Franklin Marval.

What books have inspired you? *or* What book changed your life?  

Oh, that’s a long list, and I suppose it depends on the day. I was inspired by Madame Secretary, George Martin’s biography of Frances Perkins, the first female cabinet secretary in the country, who really pushed FDR in designing and implementing The New Deal. Michael Patrick MacDonald’s All Souls was inspirational to me. I’ve known Michael since we were pretty young, and his courage in telling the until-then untold story of poor people in South Boston still inspires awe. Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law, which tells the history of racism in American housing was hugely important to me when I was then-Mayor Marty Walsh’s policy chief, as was Elizabeth Hinton’s From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America. And it’s relatively new, but Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste is an important book to me.

What are you reading right now?

I usually have one fiction and one non-fiction book working at the same time, and I just finished Howard Fishman’s remarkable To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music and Mystery of Connie Converse. I was glad to find out that I am not the only one who is completely obsessed with Converse’s story and music. I also just finished Louise Kennedy’s Trespasses, which is one of the best works of fiction I’ve read of late. It’s sort of a love story set against The Troubles in Belfast in the mid-70’s. It’s as funny as it is heartbreaking. Bonus: Louise didn’t start writing until very late in life, so there’s hope for many of us! As soon as I hit send, I am off to Maine for a quiet weekend, and I am bringing Catherine Lacey’s Biography of X, and Kerry Howley’s Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs: A Journey Through The Deep State.

The End of a (Construction) Chapter

By Lauren Stara, Library Building Specialist

We are delighted to announce the completion of the waiting list from the 2016-2017 Grant Round for the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program (MPLCP). In July of 2017, the Commissioners approved immediate funding for nine construction projects and placed 24 municipalities on a waiting list for funding as our annual capital budget allowed. Because of escalating construction costs, it’s taken six years to make our way through the waiting list. The final three communities’ provisional grants were awarded by the Commissioners at their monthly meeting on July 13.

Despite the effects of the pandemic, the proportion of declined grants is in line with MPLCP history. Between 25% and 30% of municipalities have declined MPLCP grants in rounds over the last 35 years.

2016-2017 Construction Grant Round – statistics to date:

  • 33 projects approved for funding in 2017
  • 13 projects completed
  • 2 projects under construction
  • 5 projects in final planning
  • 2 projects awarded provisional grants with local funding approved & final planning underway
  • 1 project awarded a provisional grant with local funding to be approved
  • 10 grants declined

(2023 Map of New Libraries in MA and library construction in the past 20 years.)

For more details about the projects and municipalities funded, visit the MBLC’s website page on Construction Programs and Support.

As you may know, we have already launched the the 2023-2024 grant round, which follows a new competitive, single-application process, combining the old Planning & Design grant round with the old Construction grant round. This streamlining eliminates approximately two years from the former project timeline, which we hope will result in more success in passing local funding and lower escalation for awarded projects. As a result of our Small Library Pilot Project, we also added a new grant category for small population towns of under 2,500. We received 27 Letters of Intent to apply for the new grant round, with applications due in May of 2024. We anticipate that the Commissioners will approve these grants in October of 2024, after the independent review process.For more information about the new grant round, visit the MBLC’s Construction Programs and Support page.

If you have any questions about the MPLCP, please contact me at or Andrea Bono-Bunker at

Help Spread the Word about MassHealth Renewals!

Dear Massachusetts Library Staff,

We are reaching out from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services to ask for your help in an essential community outreach campaign that is happening this year. The campaign is focused on educating and preparing communities for MassHealth renewals.

  • What is MassHealth? – MassHealth is the state Medicaid agency. MassHealth provides health care coverage for 2.4 million people in Massachusetts including children, families, seniors, and people with disabilities. About 1 in 3 children are covered by MassHealth.
  • What are MassHealth Renewals? – A renewal is when the state “checks” a member’s eligibility by making sure that the member still meets federal and state requirements for the program. Renewals began on April 1, 2023. MassHealth will renew all 2.4 million MassHealth members over the next 12 months.
  • Why is there an outreach campaign this year? – The 2023-2024 eligibility renewal process will generally be the first time that members are at risk of losing their coverage since February 2020, when the federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency began. It is essential that members are aware and successfully complete their renewals so that they and their families continue to have health care coverage.

In preparation for this effort, MassHealth has collaborated with health care providers and community-based organizations across the Commonwealth to help educate and prepare members to successfully renew their coverage.

We are asking for Massachusetts Libraries to join our outreach efforts. Please support our effort by sharing the materials in MassHealth’s Redeterminations Outreach Toolkit in your library spaces and social media channels.

This toolkit includes key messages as well as downloadable flyers, posters, and other materials in 9 languages. Libraries are encouraged to print and display the posters and flyers.

You can learn more about the upcoming redeterminations process at

Thank you for your partnership in supporting our members!


MassHealth & the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services

The Executive Office of Health and Human Services is the largest secretariat in state government and is comprised of 11 agencies and the MassHealth program. EOHHS seeks to promote the health, resilience, and independence of the nearly one in every three residents of the Commonwealth we serve.