Can you imagine not having access to the internet? For most, the internet is more than just a way to read news or go on social media. It can be essential for education, work and even health care. With a grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, libraries have been able to bolster their programs for mobile hotspots, allowing more library patrons to “borrow the internet.”
Gloucester’s Sawyer Free Library is closing in on a decades-long goal of updating and increasing the size of its facility with help from new state funding. The state Board of Library Commissioners announced July 7 it is providing Gloucester $9 million for the library’s $28 million renovation and expansion plan. The grant would grow by $316,052 if the project meets green building standards.
The Massachusetts Center for the Book has announced the winners of the annual Letters About Literature (LAL) program, a reading and writing initiative that invites students from Grades 4 to 12 to write letters to authors about the books that have had profound effects on them. The student honorees were celebrated in a virtual awards event on May 25.
As one of the most robust LAL programs in the country, the Center receives thousands of letters from all corners of the Commonwealth each year. The fifteen Top Honor and Honors students collectively represent the top 1.5% of this year’s submissions to the 22nd annual program in Massachusetts.
Representative Natalie M. Higgins welcomed the honored students, families and teachers in attendance. “Congratulations to the 2022 Letters About Literature honorees for showing us how books moved and delighted them, expanding their personal and world views,” Higgins stated. “Let’s all celebrate our love of books and reading!”
Sharon Shaloo, Executive Director of Mass Center for the Book, underscored Representative Higgins’ tribute, noting the remarkable personal letters submitted to the 2022 program. “This event celebrates one of the first programs we established when we were founded in 2000,” Shaloo noted. “In addition to the strength of the writing it always prompts, the students’ reflections reassure us that the young people in our commonwealth will be articulate and thoughtful contributors to life in Massachusetts and beyond.”
Commonwealth judges in the 2022 program were Patrick Borezo, Director of Hadley Public Library; Meena Jain, Director of Ashland Public Library and Chair of Programming for Massachusetts Library Association; and Martha Pott, Distinguished Senior Lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University and member of the Board of Directors of Massachusetts Center for the Book.
The Top Honors and Honors writers in Massachusetts Letters About Literature 2021
Level 1 (Grades 4-6):
Top Honor: Asma Al Ashabi of Hopkinton, a 6th grader at Al-Hamra Academy of Shrewsbury, for her letter to Pam Muñoz Ryan about Esperanza Rising
Honors: Aliasgar Mufaddal Bhagat of Reading (A.W. Coolidge Middle School); Annabelle Butler of Arlington (Lexington Montessori School); Jasiri Cash of Hyde Park (Wellesley Middle School); Sasha Gardella of Marblehead (Village School)
Level 2 (Grades 7 and 8):
Top Honor: Daniel Ng of Arlington, an 8th grader at Lesley Ellis School, for his letter to Gene Luen Yang about American Born Chinese
Honors: Anna Grace Goodman of Newton (Newton Country Day School); Eliana Gunn of Wilbraham (Wilbraham Middle School); Jojo Jané-Leonardis of Watertown (Newton Country Day School); Karolina Robles-Maurer of Wilbraham (Wilbraham Middle School)
Level 3 (Grades 9-12):
Top Honor: Felicity Zhang of Concord, a 9th grader at Concord-Carlisle High School, for her letter to Gene Luen Yang about American Born Chinese
Honors: Dilara Bahadir of Lexington; Kasey Corra of West Roxbury (Montrose School); Zaynab Khemmich of Attleboro (Al-Noor Academy); Jemella Pierson-Freedman of Berlin
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.
For more information, contact email@example.com or call 617-872-3718.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
- 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.