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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

23rd Annual Letters about Literature Awards Announced

Massachusetts Center for the Book (MCB) has announced the 2023 Top Honor and Honors student writers in its flagship program for students, Letters About Literature (LAL). This Commonwealth-wide reading and writing initiative invites students from Grades 4 to 12 to write letters to authors about the books that have had special meaning to them.

The fifteen honorees, representing the top 1.5% of this year’s program submissions, were celebrated at a virtual awards celebration on May 17. On behalf of the Board of Directors, Massachusetts author Alexandra Marshall welcomed the students, families, teachers, librarians, judges, staff, and fellow MCB board members.  Marshall commended the students on their work and also told them, as a writer, how important it is for authors to hear from readers, because that’s why authors write: “with the wish to be read.”

Representative Lindsay Sabadosa (First Hampshire) provided the legislative welcome to those in attendance and continued the theme of the communications loop that students have completed. She noted that since the time of the ancients, great thinkers have believed that great writing should teach, move, and delight us. She commended the students for showing in their letters how books taught them lessons and also prompted strong feelings and great pleasure. “In turn, your letters have taught, moved, and delighted us with your articulate thoughts about the importance of books in your lives,” she concluded with appreciation.

The Top Honors and Honors Writers in Massachusetts Letters About Literature 2023

Level 1 (Grades 4-6):

Top Honor: Suryavir Jaisinhji Nallari-Jhala of Cambridge, a 5th grader at Belmont Day School and Maria L. Baldwin School, Cambridge, for his letter to Michael Dorris about Morning Girl

Honors: Saabir Ameer of Northborough (Al-Hamra Academy, Shrewsbury); Sofia Celli of Marblehead (Village School, Marblehead); Ash Quasney-Sandler of West Roxbury (The Rashi School, Dedham); Sofia Wolfe of Reading (A. W. Coolidge Middle School)

Level 2 (Grades 7 & 8):

Top Honor: Bryn Rufo of Grafton, an 8th grader at Whitinsville Christian School, for her letter to James Patterson about Jacky Ha-Ha

Honors: Avery Condon of Canton (Montrose School, Medfield); Caroline Euber of Wilbraham (Wilbraham Middle School); Damilola Graciella Olabisi of Marblehead (Marblehead Veterans Middle School); Luca Rice of Westborough (Sarah W. Gibbons Middle School)

Level 3 (Grades 9-12):

Top Honor: Sophie Cutrer of Vineyard Haven, an 11th grader at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, for her letter to Ned Vizzini about It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Honors: Yumna El-Dib of Foxborough (Al-Noor Academy, Mansfield); Maya Johnson of Jamaica Plain (Melrose High School); Jane Lawley of Methuen (Methuen High School); Elyza Tuan of Millis (Montrose School, Medfield)

Commonwealth judges in the 2023 program were Celeste Bruno, Communications Director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners; Trey Jones, Middle and High School English teacher, Northampton public schools; and Daniel Guerrero, audiovisual translator of English, Spanish, French and German.

For additional information and to read some of the letters from the Top Honors & Honors writers, visit

The Massachusetts Center for the Book, chartered as the Commonwealth Affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, is a public-private partnership charged with developing, supporting and promoting cultural programming that advances the cause of books and reading and enhances the outreach potential of Massachusetts public libraries. 

Massachusetts Center for the Book, 17 New South Street, Ste 302, Northampton, 01060.  

Get to Know Commissioner Mary Ann Cluggish

(Commissioner Cluggish in the center of Blades and Lauren Baker at a summer reading event at Tyngsboro Public Library in 2022 .)

What is your favorite thing about being a commissioner?

Since this is my last year on the MBLC, it seems a bit odd to be introducing myself, but here goes. Just being on the MBLC and participating in events is interesting and fun. But speaking at Groundbreakings and Library Dedications is an honor and brings a special satisfaction. MBLC Summer Reading Events are simply delightful and again, a satisfying activity in helping to generate interest in reading in young children.  It has been an honor to represent the MBLC at Legislative Breakfasts, meet Legislators, and advocate for Libraries. I enjoyed served as Chair for a couple of terms and certainly enjoyed the Executive Board.

(2017 Hopkinton Ribbon Cutting)

What do you love about your local library?

What I love about my own Library, is that it’s very well-run and busy. As Trustee Chair, I shepherded the construction of the new library through Town Meeting despite being vigorously opposed for two years by three different groups. I then was intimately involved with the construction for a year and a half; so intimately involved, that the Director and I chose the color of the mortar between the bricks! Whenever I walk into the building, I am so filled with pride that it feels like my head is going to explode. I also participated heavily in raising $3.6 million dollars for the construction of the new building and was part of the team that set up the Foundation. I served as a Trustee for 12 years; I am still active peripherally in various activities.

Plaque honoring Mary Ann Cluggish at Wellesley Free Library.

What do you like to do when you’re not being a commissioner?

Who I am can be summed up in these categories: Travel, the Outdoors, Wildlife, Birding, Water, and Town Affairs. I got the travel bug early, saved my money, and traveled around Europe for a year when I was 22 years old. I’ve been on three African Safaris and to most of the countries in South America. I’ve also traveled the world with birding groups to search for and identify birds.  I’m very proud of the fact that in my lifetime I’ve identified over 1000 species in the wild. On weekends in the winter, I can be found walking the beaches of Massachusetts looking for Snowy Owls.

(Left: Commissioner Cluggish is an avid birder. Do you know what type of bird this is? Right: Commissioner Cluggish in Argentina with a penguin!)

On the water: I volunteered weekly on the Boston Harbor Islands every summer for 13 years, leading tours and answering questions. I’ve done several whale and orca research trips with Earthwatch and similar organizations.  I’ve also been kayaking the rivers of Massachusetts for a long time.

Insofar as Town Affairs go, I was part of a group of 5 women who founded the Town’s Recycling program way back in 1971. It was the first in the state and one of the first in the nation. Both the EPA and Mass Audubon surprised us with awards. I also was part of a group of 13 women who started an Environmental Aide program in the public schools. We took children on nature walks, and taught them winter tracking, simple geology, tree identification, etc.

I’ve been an elected Town Meeting Member for 40 years, served on three elected boards, on the Finance Committee, the Permanent Building Committee, and on several appointed Ad Hoc study committees. I served as chair of an Open Space Management Study Committee, convinced the Town Meeting to approve the merging of 7 different authorities and set up a Natural Resources Commission. As the first Chair, I negotiated the purchase of 42 acres of open space, and persuaded Town Meeting to approve funding the purchase.

Professionally, I was a Vice President of Sales and Marketing for a small company, and then a Trainer/Consultant to High Technology Companies. Both of these positions enabled me to travel both nationally and internationally.

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

As a young reader I was inspired by books about early aviators, with Amelia Earhart leading the bunch of course.

What are you reading right now?

Crossroads by Johnathan Franzen.

(Commissioner Cluggish gives a rousing speech about the continued importance of libraries and congratulates the town’s hard work at Salisbury Public Library in June 2014).

Get to Know Commissioner Vicky Biancolo

What is your favorite thing about being a commissioner?

I particularly enjoy visiting libraries and getting inspired by the professionalism, creativity, thoughtfulness, and care I see in libraries across Massachusetts. I also appreciate being part of important conversations that affect library services for so many.

What do you love about your local library?

I have lived in Massachusetts for most of my life, and I have loved all of my local public libraries, from the tiny reading library in Richmond to Worcester’s large, beautifully updated modern library. I love browsing the stacks, finding a comfortable chair, and tasting many different genres, authors, and subjects. I particularly appreciate that libraries are often the only indoor gathering spaces in a community where people are not required to purchase anything!

What do you like to do when you’re not being a commissioner?

I work full time as the Director of Library Services at Worcester Academy. In my free time I love to travel, hike, kayak, read, and watch movies with my family.

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

In high school I was introduced to Jane Austen, which started a life-long love affair with Regency-era drama. It was the first time I realized that people’s hopes, wishes, and challenges of the past were pretty similar to those of today, and thereby made literature–and history–come alive for me.

What are you reading right now?

I tend to have two books going at the same time, one fiction and one nonfiction. At the moment I am reading Anxious People by Fredrik Backman and Africa Is Not a Country: Notes on a Bright Continent by Dipo Faloyin.

Get to Know Commissioner George Comeau

What is your favorite thing about being a commissioner?

I love traveling the Commonwealth and seeing the richness of the collections and offerings at public libraries. I once held an original draft of “Stopping By the Woods” by Robert Frost – and it was in the archives at the Jones Library in Amherst, Massachusetts. This was transcendent for me, and something I will never forget. You can walk into almost any public library and experience a world beyond the imagination. Knowing that librarians are at the core of knowledge and helping unlock questions – it is a power that I appreciate the most about these institutions and speaks to the highest of democratic ideals. 

A photo of the original draft of Stopping by the Woods” that Commissioner Comeau shared. From a note he wrote in 2014: ‘Today I got to behold the original Robert Frost poem, Stopping By Woods. Plus an original manuscript of A Further Range. Interestingly, the person before me that photographed the poem was Annie Leibovitz.’ “

What do you love about your local library?

I love the staff, the patrons, the special collections, and the fact that we have been opening minds for such a long time. 

What do you like to do when you’re not being a commissioner?

I keep bees. I preserve old buildings. I travel. I produce large events and help market Downtown Boston as a destination. I also write historical essays. My favorite activity though is hiking with friends and spending time in the solitude of the woods – just like Robert Frost!!

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

For sure… Endurance – the story of Shackleton’s voyage. Also, The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran is a book that has spoken to me in each stage of my life thus far. Every few years, I will turn to that book for new reflections upon my own life and where I am going.

What are you reading right now?

Ah, the NYT recommended a true crime book called Who Killed Jane Stanford and I recently wrote about Leland Stanford and a fabulous racehorse he sold and was stabled in my hometown (Canton, MA). So, the book is on my iPhone courtesy of Libby and it is a real digital page-burner. 

Former MBLC Director Robert Maier and Commissioner Comeau present Patience Jackson with a commemorative map of the 177 successful construction projects in 2013.

Get to Know Commissioner Karen Traub

What is your favorite thing about being a commissioner?

I love visiting libraries throughout the Commonwealth and hearing the many ways they serve their communities with materials, programs and events. I’m proud to live in Massachusetts, a longtime leader in the nation when it comes to libraries.

Commissioner Traub & Blades at East Forest Park in 2022.

What do you love about your local library?

The MN Spear library in Shutesbury is one of three jewel-box libraries designed by 19th century architect Roswell Putnam. In spite of the fact that it is a tiny, one room cottage with no running water, it magically offers access to millions of books and digital content including eBooks, audiobooks and movies that I can enjoy from home or on the road.

What do you like to do when you’re not being a commissioner?

I enjoy my work as an acupressurist and my hobbies of hiking the Quabbin woods, historical research, and reenactment, and performing with the Crescent Dancers Middle Eastern Belly Dance troupe. 

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

When I was a tween, reading the biographies of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan transported me from the safety of my loving home to the horror of a 19th century poorhouse, showed how words can bring light to the darkness, and made me believe it’s possible to overcome challenges to create a meaningful life. 

As an adult, my mind was blown by Layne Redmond’s book “When the Drummers were Women; a Spiritual History of Rhythm.” I didn’t know drumming used to be a part of women’s spiritual practice, that history is biased by the fact it was written by the conquerors, and that there was an ancient Egyptian goddess of libraries. I now have a tattoo of Seshat on my right leg. 

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading “Cleopatra: a Life” by Stacy Shiffer (hardcover) and “Rachel to the Rescue” by Elinor Lipman (audio on the Libby app).

Commissioner Traub at the Grand Opening of Reuben Hoar Library in Littleton in 2021.