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



Amherst council gets go-ahead to use $1M in CPA funds on Jones Library work

In a reversal from earlier in the year, the Community Preservation Act Committee is recommending that the Town Council use $1 million from the account for the proposed build-out of a new special collections room at the Jones Library.

Read more from the Daily Hampshire Gazette

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: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-communities-in-step-1-of-phase-iii-not-designated-lower-risk

For an overview of allowable opening activity under Step 2 Phase III: https://www.mass.gov/news/baker-polito-administration-announces-transition-to-step-ii-of-phase-iii-for-lower-risk

Safety Standards and Checklists for Libraries: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/safety-standards-and-checklist-libraries

How community risk levels are determined: https://massgis.maps.arcgis.com/home/item.html?id=9f5b8ae8d0e24a1b98c55f704aaa24f3

The latest community level data reporting and risk designation, including map interface: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/community-level-covid-19-data-reporting

Frequently Asked Questions: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-communities-in-step-1-of-phase-iii-not-designated-lower-risk#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 www.KidsVoteForBooks.com, 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, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  2. “Frequently asked questions about COVID-19.” Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public Health, https://www.mass.gov/info-details/frequently-asked-questions-about-covid-19 (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  3. “How to Protect Yourself and Others.” CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  4. “Safety Standards and Checklist: Libraries.” Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, https://www.mass.gov/info-details/safety-standards-and-checklist-libraries and https://www.mass.gov/doc/phase-iii-step-1-libraries-checklist/download (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  5. “Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) Information Hub: A COVID-19 Research Project.” WebJunction, https://www.webjunction.org/explore-topics/COVID-19-research-project.html (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  6. “REALM Project: Happening Now.” WebJunction, https://www.webjunction.org/news/webjunction/realm-happening-now.html (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  7. “REopening Archives, Libraries and Museums: Materials Testing and Resource Overview.” WebJunction, https://www.webjunction.org/events/webjunction/realm-testing-resource-overview.html (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, https://www.webjunction.org/news/webjunction/test1-results.html. Round 2, https://www.webjunction.org/news/webjunction/test2-results.html. Round 3, https://www.webjunction.org/news/webjunction/test3-results.html. All retrieved 8/25/2020.
  10. “Guidance on Returning to Work.” United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA4045.pdf (retrieved 8/25/2020). Also, https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/.
  11. “What Mail and Parcel Delivery Drivers Need to Know about COVID-19.” CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/mail-parcel-drivers.html (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  12. “Safety Standards and Checklist: Libraries.” Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, https://www.mass.gov/info-details/safety-standards-and-checklist-libraries and https://www.mass.gov/doc/phase-iii-step-1-libraries-checklist/download (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  13. “Mitigating COVID-19 When Managing Paper-Based, Circulating, and Other Types of Collections.” Institute for Museum and Library Services, https://www.imls.gov/webinars/mitigating-covid-19-when-managing-paper-based-circulating-and-other-types-collections (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  14. “Preservation Leaflets: Emergency Management: Disinfecting Books and Other Collections.” Northeast Document Conservation Center, https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/3.-emergency-management/3.5-disinfecting-books (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, https://www.ncptt.nps.gov/blog/cultural-resources-and-covid-19/ and https://www.ncptt.nps.gov/download/49420/  (retrieved 8/25/2020). Other resources from NCPTT include a series of webinars called “Covid-19 Basics:” “Disinfecting Cultural Resources” (https://www.ncptt.nps.gov/blog/covid-19-basics-disinfecting-cultural-resources/), “Re-Entry to Cultural Sites” (https://www.ncptt.nps.gov/blog/covid-19-basics-re-entry-to-cultural-sites/), and “Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)” (https://www.ncptt.nps.gov/blog/covid-19-basics-personal-protective-equipment-ppe/).
  16. “REALM Project Test 3 Results Available.” WebJunction, https://www.webjunction.org/news/webjunction/test3-results.html (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: https://nationalvoterregistrationday.org/

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.