Taxes and Capital Projects: A Conversation with the Division of Local Services

By Andrea Bunker, Library Construction Specialist at the MBLC

Taxes: one of the known inevitable’s in life, and in Massachusetts, a subject with a complicated and storied past. Therefore, it is no surprise that advocates of public library building projects often must address whether or not capital improvements will cause an increase in property taxes for residents. For this episode of Building Literacy, we went to the experts on municipal finance and taxation: The Department of Revenue’s Division of Local Services (DLS). With both regulatory and educational functions, the DLS not only provides oversight but also educational opportunities for municipal finance officials. Their Senior Deputy Commissioner, Sean Cronin, converses with us about the basics and what every municipal official, library building project stakeholder, and resident should know.

This episode is more Massachusetts-focused than many of our others, due in part to the local tax landscape defined by Proposition 2 ½, a property tax reform initiative passed by the voters in 1980. Mr. Cronin discusses the tools and mechanisms available to municipalities within the parameters of Prop 2 ½, such as overrides, debt exclusions, bonding, and stabilization funds. In addition to the basics, we touch upon capital plans and forecasting, even amidst a pandemic. Throughout, he also offers resources that are available through the DLS website:

So, if you think taxes are a dry subject (with the exception of the Boston Tea Party,) you may want to check out this episode! As always, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future episode topics, please email me at

Trustees Orientation Goes Virtual

By Maura Deedy, Library Advisory Specialist at the MBLC

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) Trustee Orientation program held virtually in our living rooms, offices, and kitchens is now available on demand.

The orientations are an opportunity for new trustees to learn about the MBLC and state funding and for seasoned trustees to gain a refresher. We cover roles and responsibilities, legal obligations, advocacy, State Aid, and more. We missed visiting libraries across the Commonwealth and meeting trustees, directors, and library staff. It’s an opportunity to see firsthand the beautiful spaces, learn about challenges and about what makes very library unique.

The fall Trustee Orientation was recorded, and we are pleased to make that available via our YouTube channel with closed captioning.  The video has been edited into eight sections, allowing trustees to revisit topics as needed. This was recorded on October 1, 2020 and some information regarding COVID-19, library services, and policies may have changed. If you have any questions, contact the MBLC. Please watch these and bookmark the Virtual Trustee Orientation packet for the referenced materials.

The future is unknown and we plan on continuing our virtual orientations into 2021. We look forward to making the spring season more interactive with a new series of programs called Trustee Deep Dives meant to strengthen trustee’s knowledge and toolkit in their roles.

Boston Public Library makes thousands of images available free online

The Boston Public Library has made more than 8,000 photos, ranging from pictures documenting the construction of the McKim library building in Copley Square to 19th-century daguerreotypes, publicly available on Wikimedia Commons, according to library officials.

Read more from The Boston Globe

Making Adjustments to Keep Learning Going

Girls holding coding robots
Library users borrow the robots Dot and Dash to take home and learn to code with. Originally an in person program, the Porter Memorial Library in Blandford adjusted it in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The MBLC’s Summer Learning grants began in 2019 as a way for public libraries to offer more out of school learning opportunities during one of their busiest times of year. The thirteen grant recipients for 2020 had some amazing plans for this summer that were derailed by the pandemic. After taking some time to figure out a plan B, these libraries used their grant to adapt to the new needs of their communities in a variety of thoughtful ways.

Libraries are a key provider for out of school learning. With so much of life is taking place virtually, there was a real desire for activities that were offline and hands-on. Randall Library in Stow reallocated grant funds to offer circulating educational backpacks. The backpack themes included music, math, reading readiness, and storytelling/sequencing. Caregivers mentioned how helpful the backpacks were in engaging young children in learning and the benefit of being able to provide something educational that does not require a lot of effort or creativity on their part. Supporting families’ efforts in providing educational experiences for early learners has become even more critical as the pandemic has continued.

With in-person gathering out of consideration, libraries had to rethink the hands-on programming they had originally intended to have. Porter Memorial Library in Blandford switched their planned robotics program into a circulating robotics collection. This allowed participants to have a week to learn coding with a robot. Feedback indicated the longer time frame with the robots results in a greater depth of understanding as well as strong intergenerational learning. It also provided the opportunity for participants who may not have been able to make a specific program time the ability to use the robots. This kind of flexible thinking allowed the community to continue to experience the benefits of the library from the comfort of their own home.

Many grant recipients moved their programming online. Library virtual programs provided important connections for members of their community. A library user at the Jones Library in Amherst shared “In the height of quarantine, your program gave my son something to look forward to. Time learning was something he has always been interested in and interacting with kids his age on the other end was a game changer for him. Your first meeting was the first time in weeks that I saw him smiling. This time is particularly hard on teens and tweens.” The value of social connections has become increasingly apparent during the pandemic. Libraries have continued to provide opportunities for connection, with particularly effort made to reach at-risk populations, such as teens.

With some creativity and a lot of commitment, this year’s grant recipients were able to provide a variety of learning opportunities that worked for their individual community. While summer looked a lot different this year, libraries helped provide a much-needed bright spot for those that needed it.

Children’s librarian Kay Lyons to retire: ‘I found I had a way with children’

Librarian Kay Lyons has journeyed with local children for almost three decades to places like Wonderland, Narnia and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but when she retires in March, it’s her turn. She and her husband, Rick Roy, will take some trips of their own, though never forgetting the joy she’s known.

Read more from the Greenfield Recorder

Library Space During the Pandemic and Beyond

By Lauren Stara and Andrea Bunker, Library Building Specialists at the MBLC

Libraries all over the world are striving to satisfy the needs of their patrons during this pandemic, some in buildings and spaces that were inadequate prior to these unprecedented times. The staff of the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program have been working to help librarians navigate their physical space needs and address pandemic related changes that may continue beyond these difficult times.

Last month, in collaboration with Sasaki, we released Library Space: A Planning Resource for Librarians, a planning tool that creates a formal set of best practices for designing library space that may be applied to libraries across the nation. The guide empowers librarians, administrators, space planners, and architects with tools for the planning and design of public library buildings. Early in December, we added a 4-page Pandemic Addendum, which aims to capture the knowledge and lessons learned from experts and practitioners who have been in the trenches of pandemic library services.

On December 10, 2020, we held a virtual “guided tour” of the document, to introduce the concepts and answer questions. We had representation from all types of libraries, – public, academic, and special, and librarians participated from all over the country, including from Georgia, Oregon, and Hawaii. The questions were thought-provoking, and many were focused on the Pandemic Addendum – not surprising since we’re all focused on the potential for lasting changes in the wake of COVID-19.

The core tenet of the main document, though, holds true in the addendum as well: planning with flexibility in mind.

Library services are changing and evolving at an astonishing rate, and bricks-and-mortar buildings are often not designed to keep up. This reality was spotlighted in 2020, as library buildings closed and later reopened with limited services and often jury-rigged barriers and pathways. Librarians improvised quarantine procedures for collections and figured out how to circulate materials with as little physical contact as possible. While we know the pandemic will end, we predict there are some services and considerations that will continue indefinitely:

  1. Curbside is here to stay: It’s so convenient for patrons that we don’t think the public will let us stop it. We need to modify or plan new buildings to accommodate amenities such as outdoor pickup lockers and walk-up or drive-through service points.
  2. Outdoor programming: We need to maximize the potential for activities that take advantage of fresh air when weather permits. Even in bad weather, an outdoor area with a roof and/or portable exterior heaters can work for library services just as well as for restaurants.
  3. Attention to HVAC and indoor air quality: Virus transmission is enabled by stagnant indoor air. We think new and renovated buildings will pay much closer attention to the design of their mechanical systems, and existing buildings should assess and upgrade their ventilation and filtration where possible.
  4. Furniture choices: While we look to hospital-grade furniture now, we think there will be a revolution in materials for furniture in the next few years, to increase the ability to clean and disinfect easily.

Many aspects of library design will remain the same, regardless of these extraordinary circumstances. Please visit the MBLC’s website to download both the main pdf and the Pandemic Addendum, or to view Library Space via ISSUU.

The JBPL Day After Christmas

By Patrick Marshall, Director of the Jonathan Bourne Public Library, Bourne, MA

The JBPL Day After Christmas (With apologies to Clement C. Moore)

Twas the day after Christmas, and all through Bourne

All the children were playing, while the parents were worn.

Paper wrappings and ribbons were scattered through the room;

While Mom sat there hoping someone would just grab a broom.

The teens were all playing X-Box on their beds;

Ignoring everyone for untold hours still ahead.

The little ones crying, not taking their naps;

How long were us parents to put up with this crap?

When at last we thought our sanity restored;

Here comes another child saying, “Mom! Dad! I’m bored”.

All of these toys, yet still nothing to do;

It just makes us want to cry, a hearty boo hoo.

I knew an idea was needed quite fast;

Something the family could do that’s a blast.

When what to my wondering eyes did appear,

An item that gave me ideas perfectly clear.

My wonderful Bourne issued CLAMS Library Card;

With so many services, choices would be hard.

Whether home or away, so much from which to choose;

The library would have something to chase away the blues.

New music! New movies! New audios and eBooks!

Magazines, newspapers, one must not overlook.

Away to the website,

I hope there is a video of the Pianist Victor Borge.

As I call the family over, we’ll have so much to do;

When we do things together, we are quite a crew.

So into the living room, the children they flew;

With their library cards at the ready to try something new.

We started with Freegal to dance to the Eagles;

But then went to hOOPLA for Snoopy, the Beagle.

On the website we searched, and were surprised to have found;

Qello offered concerts like Paul Simon’s Homeward Bound.

Tumblebooks offered us so many kids’ games,

I knew that our family time would never be the same.

We then went to Mango to learn a new language,

A mouthful of cookies gave us a disadvantage.

We then took a look at the database Great Courses;

Our daughter was hoping to learn about horses.

And though there was nothing much along those lines,

I did find one called “Great Meals in Less Time”.

We then took a look at the database Kanopy;

For we heard it contained some great documentaries.

And then it was back to the Overdrive app,

To find a good book while the dog sat in my lap.

We managed to find the book “Elf on the Shelf”;

And I laughed when I saw it, in spite of myself.

All of these resources, it just blew my mind;

I couldn’t believe the library was such a great find.

To get a library card, it’s not that much work;

Why, there are even sources for the kid’s homework.

As I looked at all the options, my face all aglow;

I wished to tell everyone what I now know.

The library offers so much service from home;

No matter if you use Mac, Firefox or Google Chrome.

I’ll end it with this, for I know it’s airtight;

The JBPL resources are just plain out of sight.

Happy Holidays from the MBLC

To Our Library Community and Partners,

This year has quite literally been one for the books. It’s created challenges we’ve never had to face but has made us grow closer and realize how much we need each other. You’ve had to reinvent library services and you deserve enormous respect for the many ways you’ve made it work.

As we continue to navigate this new normal, know that we’re so impressed with the creativity and resilience you’ve shown as you work to take care of yourself, those you love, and your community.

You are the reason people love their libraries and your health and safety are what matter most. On behalf of the Commissioners and staff of the MBLC, I wish you a healthy and safe holiday season and hope we can be together soon.

Mary Ann Cluggish, Chair
Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners

Walk With Ease: Program Opportunity With Positive Rewards

By Tom Cummiskey, Outreach Librarian at the Plymouth Public Library

Just before the COVID shutdown, I was notified by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners of a program opportunity that sounded like it would fit nicely into the Consumer Health programming that I was spearheading at the library.  After I spoke with Julia Chevan, the program coordinator at Springfield College Department of Physical Therapy, I requested 20 of the Walk With Ease guidebooks that would be distributed for free to patrons.  Students in the physical therapy program at Springfield College would be using the material in 1:1 coaching sessions with patrons as part of the internship hours they needed.

The books arrived while we were furloughed, but when we came back in August I began to promote the program through our social media, the Center for Active Living, and a local news article. The response was surprisingly strong, and by Labor Day I requested eight additional books.  Books were picked up by registrants at our curbside pickup area along with a welcome letter explaining how the program would work, and when the Springfield students would be contacting the registrants.

Students began contacting registrants the third week in September and for approximately six weeks, walkers and students began meeting virtually to review the material, learn strengthening and stretching exercises, and to offer walking tips, motivation and suggestions based on each person’s capabilities.

Once the program ended, I began to hear all sorts of glowing comments from the patrons, saying how wonderful and inspiring it was to work with such an enthusiastic group of students.  Many reported that they were now able to walk with more confidence and assurance, all benefits of the program.

When I offered participants the opportunity to meet virtually on a monthly basis throughout the winter as a means of continual support, there was great interest.  We had our first Zoom meeting for 30 minutes on December 2nd.  This further connection provided an adjunct program opportunity without having to do much other than organize the Zoom session, send out the link, and then facilitate the group discussion among the eager participants.  We will offer this monthly meeting through April, with the possibility of group activities once the “all clear” is given post-pandemic.

Feedback has all been positive for both the material presented in the book as well as the attentiveness and guidance of the physical therapy students at Springfield College.  The Walk With Ease program is a fine example of a collaborative effort between public libraries and higher education institutions.  Very little work was needed on our part to ensure participant success and it provided access to expertise and resources that would not have been locally available.  If any other libraries are interested in offering this programming, they can contact Dr. Julia Chevan at Springfield College.

Tom Cummiskey, MLS

Outreach Librarian

Plymouth Public Library

Plymouth, MA 02360