How Two Mass Libraries are Approaching Accessibility

Public libraries are for everyone, right? As we gain more knowledge about the needs of neurodiverse patrons, libraries are implementing new ways to serve this population. Here are two inspiring stories from our libraries in Royalston and Medford.

ButtOn Chairs Fidget in the Phinehas S. Newton Library (Royalston)
By Kathy Morris, Library Director

 Monty Tech students with their instructor Michael Dion.
Left to right Monty Tech students Simon Hoover Joe Besette Jake Cherubini with their Cabinetmaking instructor Michael Dion.

If you’ve never heard of ButtOn chairs, you are not alone. In the spring of 2021, Tom Musco, a Royalston timber framer, let me know about a TED talk by Dr. Turner Osler, a trauma surgeon who had left the operating room to become an epidemiologist and spent more time sitting. He got back pain. So, he began to look for a chair that would help and when he didn’t find one, he invented one. Wanting to share his idea, he made the plans available for free. Tom looked at the plans and asked if the Library would be interested in having some. One look at the chairs and the story behind them elicited an immediate yes.  He then spoke to the Cabinetmaking instructor, Michael Dion, at the Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School who was interested in the project for some of his students. Due to the pandemic, the price for the plywood had increased so that the original $5 price increased to $13 each, but that still seemed like a bargain. By the middle of June 2021, we were the recipients of some really cool chairs in two sizes. Kids were mesmerized by them and spent as much time squirming around on them as they did looking at books (sometimes more).

So, what do the chairs do? They allow ‘active sitting.’ As the QOR360 website states, active sitting refers to the idea that your spinal reflexes are free to adjust to your posture from moment to moment while in a seated position. About 80% of all Americans suffer from back pain that requires medical attention. If we can change the way we sit and move, we improve posture and strengthen the back.

ButtOn chair with non-slip tape
ButtOn chair with non-slip tape

This type of chair allows children to squirm as much as they want without leaving their seats. Perfect for the classroom where sitting is enforced. And even more beneficial for children diagnosed with ADHD. Osler sites research that there is evidence that a deficiency in sensory modulation may be the root cause. “The idea is that students who carry the ADHD label simply need additional sensory input, such as fidgeting, to appropriately respond to the world. In this view, facilitating additional sensory input by encouraging movement while seated in class could allow children and their families to avoid more onerous treatments such as stimulants.” The hyperactivity associated with ADHD can be channeled into chair motion.

Because we have preconceived notions of what a chair should look like, Osler felt the place to start was with children. Because of a patron, the free plans, and Monty Tech students and instructor, we were able to introduce them into the children’s room. Kids love them. Ours were slightly adapted from the original plan, in that a lacrosse ball was used instead of a tennis ball, and in emailing QOR, it has also changed to a lacrosse ball. The other thing we observed was that it is definitely active sitting. Both feet need to be on the floor or the child is on the floor. The seats are slippery and when I called the company, they told me that they had created a pad they attach to the seat. We decided that we would use a tape like you use on slippery steps. Many were like sandpaper and but we found one at the local hardware store, 3M® Safety-Walk Gray Indoor-Outdoor Tread – 2”, that felt rubbery. We cut different shapes and attached them and found it solved the slipping problem. My only regret; I didn’t order one for myself.

Sensory Room in the new Charlotte and William Bloomberg Medford Public Library
By Sam Sednek, Head of Youth Services

“We are not a quiet library” is an oft-repeated slogan at Medford Public Library, and we are decidedly not. There’s a particular level of noise that comes with joyful play and discovery and an abundance of children—we welcome it and promote it. However, noise impacts everyone differently and while we want jubilant toddlers to freely express themselves in the playspace, we also want our patrons with sensory sensitivities to find their place in the library too.

When we were designing the new Charlotte and William Bloomberg Medford Public Library, we made it clear that we needed a quiet space—not a study room (we have those too!) or a hall in which stern proctors glare out at anyone who dares to shuffle too loudly (do those exist still?). We needed something a little different. We wanted a smaller space that could be used by a family that wanted to snuggle up with a good book. We thought there should be a place where a nursing parent could snag a few extra moments with their child. And, of course, where our neurodiverse patrons could dim the lights and exist in our space with a little white noise, a lot less distraction, and a chance to rebalance.

Sensory spaces aren’t designed to be busy and sometimes less is more. The window in the sensory room looks out over a big tree, so the view is very peaceful. We have two soft, lightly rockable chairs and a small nook that allows someone to get away, feel contained, and have a space to themselves. The truly remarkable piece is the LED Bubble Tube— a light changing white noise machine that has truly captivated everyone. The stuffed animals move in and out of the room, but we have found that most of our stuffed animal collection definitely prefers the quiet space to the play space!

Our “Quiet Room” is still a work in progress as we find out how different people use it and how to support users who need it most, but we are so glad that it was a priority in our new library. We hope prioritizing accessibility will help us make an awesome library space for patrons we were unable to serve before. It has been amazing to watch and learn that everyone is enjoying a little quiet in the middle of our Not Quiet Library.

New Toolkit helps Libraries Serve Veterans

During the Fall of 2021, over 250 librarians from academic, public, school, state, and VA libraries who had experience in providing services and programs that serve veterans met during the Libraries and Veterans National Forum. The purpose of this meeting was to help libraries learn how to better serve their local military communities.

Now, as part of this project, a toolkit is available to Massachusetts librarians that provides tools and resources to bring the findings of the forum statewide. Sharon Public Library Director Lee Ann Amend has been involved with the project since the beginning and has been crucial in making these resources available to all librarians in the state.

“The Libraries and Veterans National Forum was begun with a desire to serve the veteran and military communities,” says Amend. “The toolkit provides librarians with a list of lesson plans, exhibit ideas, program outlines, collection development ideas, tips and best practices, and much more.”

The toolkit is now available on the MBLC website as a free resource for any library looking to do outreach or programming for veterans, active military, and their families.

The Libraries and Veterans National Forum is a nationwide project and was funded in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Libraries Take on Cybersecurity

Seven Massachusetts public libraries have been awarded Municipal Cybersecurity Awareness grants from the state to “help local government to improve overall cybersecurity posture through end-user training, evaluation and threat simulation.” The program is overseen by the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security (EOTTS) and the Office of Municipal and School Technology (OMST).

Each municipality that receives the grant trains staff to recognize and thwart cyber-attacks to keep library and municipal infrastructure safe. In total, 121 staff across the Commonwealth will be trained.

“Last fall, we were very excited to discover that this grant program is available not just to municipalities and schools, but also directly to libraries and even to the automated resource sharing networks.”, commented MBLC’s Paul Kissman, Library Information Systems Specialist.  “Libraries are recognizing that they must take proactive measures to reduce the risk of, and be prepared to recover from, a cyber-attack.  Along with resources provided by MassCyberCenter, especially the ‘Minimum Baseline of Cybersecurity for Municipalities,’ libraries can begin to get a handle what otherwise might feel like an overwhelming task.”

The Forbes Library in Northampton is training 20 members of its staff. Director Lisa Downing says, “We are participating because cybersecurity risks are not a matter of if but when,” adding that the library is “requiring all of our regular staff to complete 2 assessments and 4 assignments.”

The assignments take about an hour to complete, and the assessments take an additional five to ten minutes. Forbes is asking the staff to complete one assignment a month and will offer meetings for staff to talk about cybersecurity in relation to the library and to ask any questions they may have. As an incentive for the training, all staff that participate are being entered into a drawing for a gift card. Downing says, “We are already hearing from staff that they have a better understanding of the risks and best practices which makes not only our employees safer from attack but also our library, our patrons, and our network.”

For more information about the Municipal Cybersecurity Awareness Grant Program, visit the EOTTS website.

Morrill Memorial Library Eliminates Fines for Overdue Materials

Postcard of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood

In Norwood, overdue fines were made history by an unanimous vote of the Trustees of the Morrill Memorial Library when they approved a revised borrowing policy at their meeting on December 14, 2021. This policy change removes barriers and increases access to the library’s resources.

For many years Norwood’s senior citizens have enjoyed fine-exempt status., and at the beginning of the Covid-pandemic the Morrill Memorial Library stopped collecting overdue fines. The Morrill Library joins a growing list of libraries permanently eliminating fines, including many in the Minuteman Library Network of which they are members, the Boston Public Library, and the New York Public Library in Manhattan.

“We know busy parents who have told their children they can’t check out books because they don’t know when they will be able to return to the library and are afraid of getting charged late fines,” says Library Director Clayton Cheever. “People with limited economic means are most adversely impacted by fines that many of us would consider trivial and insignificant. That’s why we’ve been happy to waive fines for seniors for so long. I’m very grateful our Trustees have voted to eliminate this barrier for everyone.”

Historically less than one percent of the library’s annual revenue came from overdue fines. In recent years this has been more than offset by the library’s revenue from passport fees, which the Federal Government mandates be collected.

Research has shown that collecting overdue fines is expensive and ineffective at getting people to return items to the library faster. Libraries that have eliminated fines get materials back at the same rate or sooner. The Morrill Memorial Library will continue to email overdue notices and charge borrowers for items not returned.

Libraries are experiencing worker shortages, too

By Celeste Bruno, MBLC Communications Director

Does it seem like there’s a lot of job openings?
You’re not imagining it. According to a recent CBS news report, the labor force remains 2.2 million people short of its pre-pandemic size and many people aren’t returning to work because of long COVID, symptoms that affect people even after they’ve recovered from the disease.
Education is one of the hardest hit industries. In fact, it’s one of the industries with the highest number of workers quitting.
At the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), we wondered if libraries are like other industries experiencing labor shortages during the pandemic. So, we asked. At the end of January, we did a quick poll. Currently 60 of the 167 respondents are experiencing staffing shortages.

Are you currently experiencing staffing shortages due to COVID-19, or have you in the past?

Paul Kissman, Library Information Systems Specialist at the MBLC, dug deeper and looked at the number of job postings on the MBLC’s job board. He pulled data for public, school, academic, and special libraries as well as automated networks into a tableau visualization, which reflects the pandemic rollercoaster. Public libraries had the most openings, followed by academics, special, and schools. Openings in public libraries, hit a high in July 2021 and were a whopping 227% higher than July 2020. While openings have settled a bit since then the number of openings in January 2022 was still 37% higher than in January 2021.



With so many openings and so many people starting new positions (think of all you had to learn when you started your current job!), it may be safe to say that Massachusetts libraries will be feeling the effects of COVID even after cases decline and restrictions are lifted.

 

 

 

Lawrence Library, Pepperell adds “Little Free Library” to local food pantry’s “Books to Keep” program

The Lawrence Library recently installed a Little Free Library to the exterior of their local food pantry, PACH Outreach. Thanks to the Friends of the Lawrence Library, the library staff is able to supply new or gently used books from the numerous donations they receive for their annual book sale. The Little Free Library is the latest addition to the library’s Books to Keep program at PACH.

In 2015, the Lawrence Library launched Books to Keep, along with the Friends of the Lawrence Library, to become the first public library in the United States to launch a Chapter of the Books to Keep Program. Books to Keep was founded in The Villages, Florida by a neighborhood book club in 2013 (www.bookstokeep.org). The goal of the organization is to provide new and gently used books to children and teens in need through local food pantries and/or soup kitchens so they can create their own personal libraries.

In June 2016, the library added adult books to the baby, children’s, and young adult selection of books. Similar to the Little Free Library, these books are sourced from donations for the library’s annual book sale. With a growing number of lower income families becoming disenfranchised within their own communities, the library staff felt it was important to have a presence at the food pantry to serve as a reminder that our doors are open to all.

PACH has very limited hours, especially given the fluctuating Covid restrictions, and this new Little Free Library allows for easy access 24/7. This opportunity has allowed our library to help foster the love of reading to all while promoting the many free services the library offers.

The Lawrence Library believes that it is paramount to encourage reading in the community, especially at a young age, based on the following statistics*

  • One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.
  • More than 1 in 5 children in the U.S are living in poverty.
  • 30% of children raised in poverty do not finish high school.

The Lawrence Library, located at 15 Main Street in Pepperell, MA is part of the CWMARS consortium. PACH is located at 66 Hollis Street in Pepperell, MA. For more information on the library and our services, please visit http://www.lawrencelibrary.org or contact Deb Spratt at 978-433-0330.

*Statistics taken from The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Study Links 3rd Grade Reading, Poverty and HS Graduation

Massachusetts Libraries Receive Prestigious Architectural Awards

The Woburn Public Library on a snowy night.
Woburn Public Library – Photo courtesy Andrea Bunker

By Lauren Stara, Library Building Specialist at the MBLC

Public library buildings are civic hubs and as such, they are often designed to serve as enduring symbols of public good. They are opportunities to demonstrate community values in the built environment. The Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program focuses on functionality and efficiency of library designs, but it’s a fact that inspiring and beautiful buildings are ones that people want to visit again and again.

For a library building, an architectural award is something to celebrate. This year, Massachusetts public libraries have received an unprecedented FIVE awards from the American Institute of Architects’ New England Chapter, and two of those buildings also received national recognition, receiving awards from the joint committee of the American Institute of Architects and the American Library Association.

2021 AIA/ALA Building Awards

  • Boston Public Library – Roxbury Branch / Utile, Inc Architecture and Planning
  • Cambridge Public Library – Valente Branch / William Rawn Associates Architects

2021 AIA New England Design Awards

  • Best of the Boston Society of Architects
    • Woburn Public Library / CBT Architects
  • Honor Awards
    • Woburn Public Library / CBT Architects
    • Boston Public Library – Roxbury Branch / Utile, Inc Architecture and Planning
  • Merit Awards
    • King Open Schools Complex, which includes the Cambridge Public Library – Valente Branch / William Rawn Associates Architects
    • Eastham Public Library / Oudens Ello Architecture
  • Citation
    • Norwell Public Library / Oudens Ello Architecture

All of these buildings received funding from the MBLC through the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program, and we add our congratulations to all these libraries and their architects.

New Salem Public Library Offers Racial Justice Programming for Small Rural Communities

On Tuesday, November 9, New Salem Public Library offered its third program in a series on Racial Justice issues from a small, rural community perspective.  The 7 pm ZOOM presentation explored “What is Systemic Racism and How Do We Dismantle It.”

“Planning for the Racial Justice series began after the nationwide protests in the summer of 2020,” explained Library Trustee, Judy Northup-Bennett. “The Trustees wanted to examine more closely our country’s racial history and how our Northeastern rural communities fit into this story. We could no longer say that it’s a problem somewhere else. The Trustees decided to offer programs and book discussions to help people living in small, homogeneous towns better understand our roles in all of this.”

Alpana Chhibber of Molina Consulting helped participants understand the roots of systemic racism in our country, and how this led to the creation of segregated cities and towns. The presentation examined specific case studies which have had devastating effects on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) people as well long-lasting effects on White communities. Participants left the 1 ½ hour ZOOM presentation with a better understanding of how systemic racism has worked over the years as well as specific strategies for dismantling it that will empower them to make changes in their communities. The program is supported by a grant from the New Salem Academy.

Alpana Chhibber is a lead facilitator for Molina Consulting of Baltimore, offering national diversity, equity and inclusion training programs. She currently serves as the Middle School Dean of Students at the Park School of Baltimore. She received counseling and facilitator training from the Stanley King Institute, the Kingswood Oxford Leadership Institute for Educators of Color, and Facilitating for Racial Justice.  She has a BA from York College, PA, and Master degrees in Global Studies and Teaching from SUNY Albany and Union Graduate College.

This program will be followed on Monday, November 15 with a 7 pm ZOOM book discussion of “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson, author of “The Warmth of Other Suns.”  Wilkerson documents the political and economic systems in our nation since the first African slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619 that led to our 400-year caste stem.  She compares this to other historic caste systems.

For more information, visit the New Salem Public Library Facebook page.

MBLC Celebrates the Boston Book Festival

We never stop learning. Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) ensures that all residents, no matter where they live, have equal access to library services that improve their lives, including free-to-all eBooks, audiobooks, reliable research databases and access to more than 53 million items. Libraries help people learn a language, figure out the latest technology, improve health and financial literacy, explore ancestry, become a citizen, or learn a new skill like beekeeping, creative writing or coding.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been working hard to keep access available to everyone even when they are unable to go into a library building. We created a map of libraries with Wi-Fi signals available outside of their buildings, funded a Wi-Fi hot-spot program for libraries across the Commonwealth, made a statewide calendar of virtual library events, and helped fund eBooks and audiobooks to get the books you want on your device quicker.

Are you a Massachusetts resident and want to get started using these resources? Find your local library to get a library card or sign up for a BPL Virtual eCard to get borrowing today!

The MBLC is a state government agency with statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate, and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth

Decarbonizing Libraries: Two New Episodes of the Building Literacy Podcast

By Andrea Bunker, Library Building Specialist at the MBLC

The MBLC Construction Team recently released two new episodes of the Building Literacy podcast: Construction and Climate Change Legislation: A Conversation with Eric Friedman and Green Communities Grants and Energy Efficiency Incentives: A Conversation with Joanne Bissetta and Catie Snyder. In Spring of 2021, Governor Baker signed into law “An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy” and signed “Executive Order No. 594: Leading By Example: Decarbonizing and Minimizing Environmental Impacts of State Government”, outlining aggressive fossil fuel reduction and increased energy efficiency goals for the Commonwealth at large and the State’s owned assets, respectively. In short, Massachusetts is working toward a net zero or carbon neutral future. With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC- a body of the United Nations) recently published special report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius on August 9, these two episodes could not be more timely and their calls to action more important.

In “Construction and Climate Change Legislation: A Conversation with Eric Friedman”, learn more about the Commonwealth’s new legislation and Executive Order 594 with Eric Friedman, the Director of the Leading by Example Program, which is a division of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. From a higher level perspective, he discusses what this new legislation means for our municipal libraries and how to reduce carbon emissions and plan for a clean energy future.

In Green Communities Grants and Energy Efficiency Incentives: A Conversation with Joanne Bissetta and Catie Snyder, dig a little deeper into the resources, incentives, and grants that are available to the Commonwealth’s municipalities, and, in turn, libraries, to better position local governments in meeting the State’s ambitious energy goals with Joanne Bissetta, the Acting Director of the Green Communities Division, and Catie Snyder, the Deputy Director of the Leading by Example Program, both of whom are affiliated with the Department of Energy Resources. From lighting upgrades, envelope improvements, and HVAC replacement, to solar arrays and EV charging stations, to designated environmental justice communities, there are funding and incentive programs to help municipalities afford current and newly emerging technologies to decarbonize their buildings and vehicle fleets.

Both episodes also feature advice for how to continue the decarbonization conversation within the community focusing on how the library’s physical building and the library’s larger role as an educational institution can further the goals outlined by the Commonwealth. The one takeaway above all others from these conversations is that this work cannot take place in a vacuum. It requires action on behalf of everyone to mitigate the rising of our oceans and the warming of our planet. We hope you find your library’s tangible, feasible next steps within these episodes. As always, if you have any comments or questions about any of the information presented on Building Literacy or ideas for future episodes, please email Andrea Bunker at andrea.bunker@mass.gov.