Reverting Back to Step 1, Phase III

By Rob Favini, Head of Library Advisory & Development at the MBLC

This week 134 communities in Massachusetts were reported as “high risk” communities by the Department of Public Health. Communities will revert to operations under Step 1 Phase III of the state’s reopening plan after being designated as high risk for three consecutive weeks in the Department of Public Health weekly reports. Reverting back to Step 1 Phase III should have minimal impact on libraries. The most notable change is building capacity being reduced to 40% occupancy. Curbside services are not impacted.

During the fall and winter months it is likely that more communities will revert to Step 1 Phase III due to increased community positivity results. Below are some helpful links and information to help you navigate the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 Updates and Information page.

For a definition of “low risk community” and a list of communities not designated as low risk:

For an overview of allowable opening activity under Step 2 Phase III:

Safety Standards and Checklists for Libraries:

How community risk levels are determined:

The latest community level data reporting and risk designation, including map interface:

Frequently Asked Questions:

When does a community revert from Step 2 of Phase III to Step 1 of Phase III?
A community must revert to Step I of Phase III of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan, as outlined in the Governor’s COVID-19 Order #51, when the community is designated in the “red” category for three consecutive weekly Department of Public Health weekly reports.

When a community reverts from Step 2 to Step 1, what date is the reversion effective?
The rule changes go into effect the Monday after the data is posted. For example, if a community is red for the third week and the Department of Public Health posts the data on Thursday, then the rules go into effect on the following Monday.

What changes when a community moves from Step 2 to Step 1 of Phase III?
The following types of businesses are prohibited from operating during Step 1 of Phase III: indoor performance venues, roller skating rinks, trampoline parks, obstacle courses, laser tag and escape rooms.

The following types of businesses must reduce capacity to 40% (currently 50%) when operating during Step 1 of Phase III: driving/flight schools, gyms, libraries, museums, arcades, and lower-contact indoor and outdoor recreation businesses. During Step 1, outdoor gatherings at event venues and in public settings are limited to 50 people.

As always safety considerations for staff and library users are job one. Please remember to contact your local health department when making any decision regarding opening or modifying library building access and any expansion of library services.

Take care and be safe out there!

Update on 11/4/2020 at 3:00pm to clarify that towns were deemed “high risk”.

Special election to be held for book-loving kids

While the adults in their lives head to the polls to choose a president, kids across Massachusetts are being asked to participate in another type of election.

Starting Monday, at, young people can choose their favorite books and see if their choices are in the Top 25 when the votes are tallied. Voting is open through Nov. 9.

Read more on Cape Cod Times

Business is booming at Fairhaven, Acushnet libraries

If there’s a service that’s been thriving for municipalities during the pandemic it’s been public libraries.

While internal access to libraries continues to be either very limited or non-existent, use of libraries’ resources, whether physical or digitized, is available and in demand.

Read more on South Coast Today

Project REALM Findings and Their Impact

By Evan Knight, Preservation Specialist at the MBLC

Last week IMLS, OCLC, and their research partner Battelle Labs released updated findings on their library-related research on SARS-CoV-2 through Project REALM. Obviously, these findings can help us to make more informed decisions as many of us ramp up various levels of in-person library services. I’d like to take a few moments to frame their work in the context of larger public safety protocols, summarize their findings so far, and provide links to additional information.

  1. Remember that virus transmission is primarily through the air.^1,2,3 Minimizing risks of virus transmission through materials is obviously a very serious consideration, and one in which the REALM Project is doing great research. Yet any efforts in the continuing development of safe and rigorous approaches materials handling will be lost if we overlook the fundamental importance of minimizing person-to-person interactions and social distancing.
  2. The Commonwealth’s safety protocols provide a reasonable framework to work with.^4   Safety standards for Libraries have been developed by the Commonwealth and can be useful. They were released last month so they’re not new, but if you haven’t considered them yet, they provide a good starting point framework to safety consider issues, with information organized into four topics: social distancing (including mask protocols), enhanced hygiene procedures, staffing & operations policies, and enhanced cleaning & disinfecting.
  3. Project REALM Results and Quarantine for Materials.^5,6,7 Project REALM released three studies and one webinar which provide helpful information as well as new questions; two more studies are planned and findings will be likely released next month. The following table shows the materials tested so far, and the length of time it took until an initial deposit of virus was completely undetectable (below “LOD”) at ‘normal’ room temperature and humidity.^8
REALM Project Testing Summary^9
Material Storage method Number of Days until below LOD
Hardback book cover (buckram cloth) Open air 1
Softback book cover Open air 1
Plastic book covering (biaxially oriented polyester film) Open air 3
Plain paper pages Closed 3
Braille paper pages Closed 4
Glossy paper pages Closed 4
Magazine pages Closed “Trace amounts at 4 days”
Children’s board book pages Closed 4
Archival folders Stacked together 2
DVD case Open air 1
DVD/CD disc Open air 5
Talking book, USB cassettes Open air Over 5
Acrylic display cases/partitions Open air Over 5
Storage bags (flexible low-density polyethylene (LDPE) recycling #4) Open air 5
Storage containers (rigid high-density polyethylene (HDPE), recycling #2) Open air Over 5

It is important to keep in mind that three important questions remain unanswered from REALM testing that impact how to interpret their results:

  • We do not know how much of the virus would be reasonably deposited by an infected person. Does the amount used in the REALM tests reflect an amount that is reasonable in the real world? We don’t know yet.
  • Every virus has a general threshold of ‘viral load’ before exposure results in infection. How many virus particles are necessary to drive a COVID-19 infection, 10 or 10,000? We don’t know yet.
  • Questions about viral load are impacted by the nature of surface transmission. How well does the virus ‘get back out’ from any material when touched; how viable or efficient is the route of potential transmission from surface-to-human?

Over the past several months the MBLC and MLS have been, and will continue to follow quarantining guidance on two fronts in addition to the REALM project:

  • The IMLS in conjunction with the CDC, offering the information that 24 hours for library quarantines for books would be an overly cautious guideline. ^13
  • Specialists in the fields of libraries, archives, and museums focusing on quarantine as a strategy, using REALM data to inform their recommendations. Including The Northeast Document Conservation Center^14 and the National Center for Preservation Technology & Training (a division of the National Park Service/US Dept of Interior)^15 provide two such examples, and both recommend that length of quarantine depends on the material. Note, these guidelines tend to be much more cautious than those from public health officials, though they (and Project REALM’s conclusions from Test 3)^16 suggest that wiping or disinfecting plastics may be a good complementary approach to general materials quarantine.

Now, how might you use all this information to further develop your in-person reopening plans? First, I think it’s important to remember that CDC, OSHA, and Mass DPH don’t focus on quarantine of materials as a primary strategy to stop viral spread. ^10,11,12 Their guidelines for safety tend to strongly emphasize personal hygiene, social distancing, and disinfection of “high-touch” materials (like doorknobs, handrails, etc.).

The MBLC and MLS acknowledge that each library’s mission, staff, and community needs have unique characteristics that make it very difficult to point to one-size-fits-all guidance in any of these areas. With specific regard to quarantining as a strategy, it is particularly difficult because public health expert guidance doesn’t devote as much attention to it as REALM and library/archive/museum specialists, so there are multiple viewpoints, none of which are ‘wrong.’

In the end, questions of quarantine, as with other issues in reopening, rely on your informed judgement, in coordination with your local health officials. Please reach out to us with questions.


  1. “How COVID-19 Spreads.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  2. “Frequently asked questions about COVID-19.” Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public Health, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  3. “How to Protect Yourself and Others.” CDC, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  4. “Safety Standards and Checklist: Libraries.” Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, and (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  5. “Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) Information Hub: A COVID-19 Research Project.” WebJunction, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  6. “REALM Project: Happening Now.” WebJunction, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  7. “REopening Archives, Libraries and Museums: Materials Testing and Resource Overview.” WebJunction, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  8. Three important questions remain unanswered from REALM testing each of which impact how to interpret their results: 1. We do not know how much of the virus would be reasonably deposited by an infected person. Does the amount used in the REALM tests reflect an amount that is reasonable in the real world? We don’t know yet. 2. Every virus has a general threshold of ‘viral load’ before exposure results in infection. How many virus particles are necessary to drive a COVID-19 infection, 10 or 10,000? We don’t know yet. 3. Questions about viral load are impacted by the nature of surface transmission. How well does the virus ‘get back out’ from any material when touched; how viable or efficient is the route of potential transmission from surface-to-human?
  9. REALM Project Results. Round 1, Round 2, Round 3, All retrieved 8/25/2020.
  10. “Guidance on Returning to Work.” United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, (retrieved 8/25/2020). Also,
  11. “What Mail and Parcel Delivery Drivers Need to Know about COVID-19.” CDC, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  12. “Safety Standards and Checklist: Libraries.” Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, and (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  13. “Mitigating COVID-19 When Managing Paper-Based, Circulating, and Other Types of Collections.” Institute for Museum and Library Services, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  14. “Preservation Leaflets: Emergency Management: Disinfecting Books and Other Collections.” Northeast Document Conservation Center, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  15. “Cultural Resources and COVID-19.” United States Department of Interior, National Parks Service, National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, and  (retrieved 8/25/2020). Other resources from NCPTT include a series of webinars called “Covid-19 Basics:” “Disinfecting Cultural Resources” (, “Re-Entry to Cultural Sites” (, and “Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)” (
  16. “REALM Project Test 3 Results Available.” WebJunction, (retrieved 8/25/2020).

MLS and MBLC Partner on National Voter Registration Day

By Michelle Eberle, Consultant at the Massachusetts Library System

The Massachusetts Library System and Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners have signed up as partners for National Voter Registration Day and your library can too.  National Voter Registration Day is a nonpartisan civic holiday celebrating our democracy. In 2018-2019, 1.3 million voters registered to vote on National Voter Registration Day.  National Voter Registration Day registers voters, mobilizes volunteers, educates citizens, and unites American.  This inspirational statement is featured on their website:  “National Voter Registration Day is a day of civic unity.  It’s an opportunity to set aside differences, enjoy the rights and opportunities we all share as American, and celebrate our democracy.”

Celebrated each year on the fourth Tuesday of September, this year National Voter Registration Day will be held on September 22nd.  The American Library Association is a national partner for National Voter Registration Day.  ALA is providing libraries with resources to promote voter engagement including a Voter Engagement Guide and Tip Sheet for Community Leaders & Partners.  Other partners include Google, the YMCA, the United Way, Twitter, NAMI, Paramount Network, and more.   Over 2000 organizations are partnering on National Voter Registration Day.

National Voter Registration Day provides community partners with a toolkit for organizations including a communications toolkit, a field organizer’s kit, sample social media, and posters & stickers.  MLS and MBLC will be posting the sample social media from the toolkit.  MLS is planning a webinar about National Voter Registration Day with guest speakers in early September.  Stay tuned for more information soon.

If your library is interested to get involved with National Voter Registration Day, you can learn more and sign up to partner at:

For more information about voting in Massachusetts, check out resources provided by the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Elections Division:

Designing Pandemic-Ready Libraries

By Andrea Bunker, Library Building Specialist at the MBLC

As the doors of libraries begin to open to welcome patrons amidst this new normal of pandemic living, agonizing and costly decisions have been discussed, weighed, and decided. Re-opening plans have been carefully crafted and vetted by boards of health, municipalities, and library trustees. There are no easy considerations. There are no roadmaps. There is only ever-evolving information as research efforts try to keep pace with the spread of the virus. “Designing Libraries for a Pandemic”, the newest episode of “Building Literacy: Public Library Construction”, which is available now for download or streaming, tackles issues related to library design during COVID-19 and beyond, recognizing that there are no steadfast answers.

We convened a virtual roundtable of architects from several of the firms who design buildings for libraries that partake in the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program. Some have projects that have recently opened; some have projects under construction; and some have projects currently in the design stage. No project remains as it was pre-pandemic. Each firm leads discussion on a design topic affected by COVID-19, including circulation patterns, furniture design, small vs. large rooms, exterior spaces, flexibility vs, separation, safety and security, bathrooms, HVAC, and long-term impacts. This esteemed and knowledgeable group discusses changes they are considering and have made, given the most up-to-date information available.

It is important to note that information about COVID-19 and its transmission and behavior is ever-evolving. The discussion of safety measures in this episode are based on research and guidance up until August 4, 2020. We cannot know what further pertinent information will arise in subsequent weeks, months, or years, but we will strive to update this episode to include new information and guidance gleaned from ongoing research in the late fall or early winter.

Over the past five months, we have witnessed you, our talented and dedicated library community, alter spaces, redesign rooms, install protective barriers, create new pathways around your buildings, catapult virtual programming to new heights, and implement procedures to maximize the safety of staff and patrons. You have adapted and changed to provide important library services. While we share with you the thoughtful perspectives of design professionals in this episode, always remember that it is your experience and your expertise in serving your communities that inform library design. We remain in awe of your ability to pivot, the action that defines this year and this decade so far. Thank you for listening.

New Season of Construction Podcast: Looking to the Past in an Uncertain Present

By Andrea Bunker, Library Building Specialist at the MBLC

Thank you for helping the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program’s (MPLCP) podcast “Building Literacy: Public Library Construction” reach close to 450 downloads!

In our second season, we look to our past- wisdom from former library building specialists, a primer on the history of the MPLCP, and our response to a 105-year-old speech about faults commonly found in Massachusetts libraries constructed during that era. A common thread weaves through all these episodes: although time ticks forward and technology and building materials evolve, human behavior, attitudes, and resilience remain consistent.

As we look to the future of library design and construction, the best way to develop a responsive plan is to truly understand all that has preceded and influenced our present. Patience Jackson and Rosemary Waltos provide us with a well-rounded perspective of the design challenges and construction errors they encountered during their years as library building consultants for the agency in “Words of Wisdom.” They follow up this advice with an in-depth conversation about the origins and evolution of the MPLCP, which has weathered many economic storms in its 30-year existence, in “The History of the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program.”

While recording the first two episodes of season two, Patience called our attention to a speech from 1915 that exists in our files. The writer and speaker was Alice G. Chandler who, in addition to being a Trustee at the Lancaster Public Library, made advisory visits to libraries across the Commonwealth for the Free Public Library Commission, critiquing everything from their buildings to their cataloging systems. In her speech, which our colleague Liz Babbitt reads in its entirety at the end of the episode, “Some Things Never Change,” Ms. Chandler relays the numerous concerns related to recently constructed library buildings throughout Massachusetts. As library building specialists, we were taken aback by how relevant and true her statements remain. Therefore, we discuss the similarities between our common comments today and those made 105 years ago. We don’t cover every aspect of planning, design, and construction, but we hope you find some useful information for your own project.

The first few episodes of season three are forthcoming. We recently zoomed with several architects who design public libraries in the Commonwealth and beyond to learn more about pandemic-related changes they are contemplating and any lasting ramifications in their work on libraries. We have also begun collecting the building project stories of Directors and Trustees who have recently completed new or renovated and expanded libraries or lost their votes to secure approval. We plan to have topical episodes including issues like advocacy, fundraising, building committees, and much more, integrating these narratives from both successful and unsuccessful (for now!) projects.

As always, if you have any suggestions for future episode topics, please email me at We hope you learn as much from listening to each one of the episodes as we do creating them.

Disinfectant, Gloves And Quarantined Books: How Massachusetts Libraries Are Coping As They Slowly Reopen

The public library in Franklin has been loaning books for 230 years — the town boasts the first continuous public-lending library in the nation. It was founded in 1790 with a donation of books from Benjamin Franklin. But when the pandemic hit, like all other libraries in the state, the Franklin library closed its doors — leaving patrons like long-time resident Safdar Mahmud eagerly awaiting its return.

“I’m a teacher. … So, for me, libraries are very important,” Mahmud said. “Just to have the distinction of Franklin being one of those historical places — there’s even books in there that were sent by [Benjamin] Franklin, and some of the original books going back to the early 1700s are actually housed in there.”

Read more from WGBH

The Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program is pausing offering new awards for FY2021

By Lauren Stara, Library Building Specialist at the MBLC

Because of the uncertainty with municipal budgets brought on by COVID-19, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners has decided not to award any new provisional grants in the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program (MPLCP) in Fiscal Year 2021.

A “provisional” grant means that a municipality has been awarded an MPLCP grant and has six months to secure the required local funds that make up the balance of project costs. A contract with the MBLC cannot be executed without this funding in place.

The two libraries that were scheduled for provisional grants in FY21 were East Bridgewater Public Library and the Jones Library in Amherst. These two libraries remain at the top of the waiting list and will be offered provisional grants in FY22. Please see the FY21 Construction Grant FAQ for more information.

This pause in the awarding of new grants will not affect the overall time frame of the waiting list. The projects that were originally scheduled for grants in FY22 will likely be delayed for one year, but subsequent years won’t be affected. As projects are being completed and final payments made on libraries going back to the 2010 grant round, as well as the grants awarded in 2017, we have eight grants that will be retired in FY21 and FY22. This frees up room in the annual cap for new projects.

The timing of grant awards is always in flux, because of two main factors:

  • The annual capital budget allotted to us in a given fiscal year by the Department of Administration and Finance may be the same as the previous year, but it may be increased or decreased. Each year we must cover payments to all the projects in process before awarding new grants.
  • The ability of municipalities higher on the waiting list to secure their local funds is unknown. If a project fails at Town Meeting, City Council, or an override vote, the grant funds from that project then become available to projects down the list. This means we move through the list more quickly. Even times of economic stability, we see a drop-out rate of about 25% in our waiting lists; in difficult economic times, historically the drop-out rate has been higher.

We will not have any trouble spending our annual cap this year because we can give partial payments to three projects farther down on the waiting list that have already started or completed construction. Note that this does not mean that these projects move to the top of the list.

The scheduling of grant awards is extremely complicated, and I encourage anyone with questions about this to contact me at The mission of the MPLCP is to improve library services throughout the Commonwealth by improving library facilities, and there’s nothing we like more than successful projects. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted everything, and we hope that this pause will help everyone, including ourselves, to move forward.

2020 Hurricane Preparedness Week

The Governor has proclaimed the week of July 12 to July 18 Hurricane Preparedness Week in the Commonwealth. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) with Coordinated Statewide Emergency Preparedness (COSTEP) has created important information for cultural institutions to keep in mind as hurricane season progresses.

The peak of hurricane season is in August and September, and this year, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts an above normal season. Although Massachusetts has not seen a hurricane since Hurricane Bob in 1991, it has a history of destructive storms, and the whole state is at risk with the threat of storm surges in coastal areas and high winds, heavy rainfall, and flooding inland. It is important to remember that these storms will continue during the COVID-19 pandemic and that it only takes one storm to severely impact an area.

How Residents Can Prepare

Evacuation Zones: There are several different evacuation zones in the coastal parts of the state. Residents can look up to see if they live or work in one at

Make an Emergency Plan: Develop a plan with the members of your household to prepare for what to do in a tropical cyclone including making an evacuation plan, planning for individuals with access and functional needs, and any extra considerations during COVID-19 pandemic including how you might evacuate and where you might evacuate to. If you are in a high-risk population, the safest option may be to evacuate to a location without the general public such as a hotel, relatives’ home or other destination.

Build an Emergency Kit: Build an emergency kit containing items that will sustain you and your family in the event you are isolated for three to five days without power or unable to go to a store and customize for your family’s needs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, include face coverings, masks, hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies that you may need.

Stay Informed: Every family should have multiple methods for receiving emergency alerts. Learn more about different types of alerting and information tools including the Emergency Alert System, Wireless Emergency Alerts, NOAA Weather Radio, Social Media & Traditional Media, 2-1-1 Hotline, Local Notification Systems:

The Massachusetts Government is working together to help prepare the state. MEMA and the Department of Public Health have developed guidance for the Commonwealth and municipalities for providing and operating shelters and conducting evacuations during COVID-19. In addition, state agencies are adding screening, sanitization, disinfection, and general public health protocols to existing mass care plans; and planning for and preparing to provide sheltering in non-congregate settings such as hotels. This planning is all on top of regular hurricane season planning and outreach efforts with local, state, federal, and non-governmental partners.

More information about hurricane preparedness can be found on the COSTEP website, and a recording of a webinar with Matthew Belk, a Lead Meteorologist for the National Weather Service, Boston, on the 2020 upcoming hurricane season is available here.