2020 Census: Now is the time to get involved!

By Maura Deedy, Library Advisory Specialist at the MBLC

Last month, I hosted three 2020 Census 101 sessions around the Commonwealth. These sessions brought together librarians and other community partners together to receive information about the 2020 Census, and think about how to share it with their community.

On Monday February 24, 2020 I spent the morning with 19 librarians from Western Mass at the Massachusetts Library System Northampton office. We kicked off the meeting with introductions and sharing. In that spirit, here are some of the wonderful ideas Massachusetts libraries are doing to support a complete count in our communities:

Greenfield Public Library will have one dedicated laptop for self-response with trained staff available at all times to answer census questions. They’ll host pop up events in the community at the senior center and Stone Soup Cafe.

Many libraries will have a designated computer, like Palmer Public Library and Paige Memorial Library (Hardwick). Libraries may consider removing authentication or modifying time limits to support census self-response and putting a short cut on each workstation.

A few libraries discussed their partnerships with the local senior center or council on aging. Heath Free Public Library and Dickinson Memorial Library (Northfield) are planning on outreach events at local senior centers. They will bring laptops and devices to help with self-response.

Tyler Memorial Library (Charlemont and Hawley) shared that they successfully advocated for additional funding to expand hours to encourage local residents to complete their census at the library using library tech or with their own devices. The disparities in access to broadband internet are more acute in Western Mass, where libraries or municipal buildings are the only places with Wi-Fi available.

Westfield Athenaeum is training their staff on how to answer basic census questions, and put a direct link to the census website on the desktop. They are working on a census focused story time for children with counting activities.

For many of the smaller libraries in Western Mass that may not have the staff to run programs, making passive displays is an excellent solution. Tilton Library (Deerfield) will have displays with information, handouts and an FAQ.

One of the activities in the training was a design thinking workshop about who our hard to count communities are and planning an activity to reach them. Look for that on our 2020 Census guide.

2020 Census Resources:
Census 2020 in Massachusetts: https://guides.mblc.state.ma.us/census

American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/govinfo/census

Secretary of the Commonwealth: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/census2020/index.html

A Message from Governor Baker about COVID-19

Governor Charlie Baker sent out an email to state employees regarding the Coronavirus or COVID-19. Here is what he had to say, and some tips to help prevent the spread of the diseases including the flu and the common cold:

Your health and safety is our top priority. While the risk associated with the Coronavirus or COVID-19 remains low in Massachusetts, I want to discuss what we are doing to prepare and what you can do to both stay informed and to prevent spreading the virus.

We have been working with our federal and local partners daily as we build on our existing plans to deal with this virus, and we will adapt when need be to keep people safe.  Yes, it is very contagious, but it is also not a danger to the vast majority of the people who do catch it.  The threat in the U.S. and the threat in Massachusetts at this time remain low, and our constant surveillance efforts and ongoing dialogue with the health care, infectious disease and public health experts here in Massachusetts will ensure we make appropriate adjustments along the way.

These simple precautions will help prevent the spread of the flu and other respiratory illnesses:

  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, using a tissue or the inside of your elbow.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water frequently and use hand sanitizer.
  • If you have a fever or feel sick, stay home and call your healthcare provider.
  • Clean surfaces that are frequently touched such as doorknobs and countertops with household cleaning spray or wipes.
  • Think ahead about how to take care of yourself and your loved ones if the virus starts to spread.
  • Get the flu vaccine – it is not too late!

The latest information about COVID-19 in Massachusetts is available at the Department of Public Health’s website here: https://www.mass.gov/guides/information-on-the-outbreak-of-2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19

And a printable factsheet is available here: https://www.mass.gov/doc/english-2019-novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-0/download

The latest Centers for Disease Control information about COVID-19 is available here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Additionally, MEMA’s Office of Preparedness and Emergency Management has posted helpful recommendations for what individuals can do to prepare for potential emergencies. That information is available here: mass.gov/KnowPlanPrepare

It is important to remember that there is only a single case in Massachusetts and local health officials confirm that this individual is recovering well.

The folks at HHS and DPH are working around the clock with our federal partners. I want to thank them and everyone across state government for serving the people of Massachusetts.

Age-Friendly Funding Alert: 2020 AARP Community Challenge

By the Mass Healthy Aging Collaborative and AARP

The application period for the 2020 AARP Community Challenge is open!

The AARP Community Challenge provides small grants to fund “quick-action” projects that can help communities become more livable for people of all ages. Applications are being accepted for projects to improve housing, transportation, public space, technology (“smart cities”), civic engagement and more.

Please visit the grant webpage here for eligibility info and other details and the following downloadable materials before starting the application process. When ready, select the “Apply” button to register for the 2020 AARP Community Challenge.


Important Dates

  • April 1, 2020: Applications are due by 11:59 pm (ET)
  • May 26, 2020: Applicants will be notified of their status this week
  • July 15, 2020: The selected grantees will be announced to the public — and the project work can begin — on or around this date
  • November 9, 2020: All funded projects must be completed
  • December 11, 2020: Deadline for after-action reports

Local libraries embrace technology

The first public library opened in Boston between 1711 and 1725. Since then, to say the least, things have changed. Entering the technological age, libraries have had to make great leaps to ensure they keep up with the profusion of new forms of knowledge. While some may still view libraries as places to search through stacks of books – which, of course, they are – they have also become havens of futuristic learning and living.

Hometown Weekly’s communities provide perfect examples of just such technologically-enhanced libraries.

Read More on Hometown Weekly

Looking Ahead to 2020

Patrons exploring the Valente Branch of the Cambridge Public Library

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

One of the most interesting parts of my job involves providing outreach and advisory services to librarians, directors, trustees and friends groups. It is a unique perspective that affords me a front row seat to what’s happening in libraries across the Commonwealth. With the start of the New Year, I’ve been thinking about the important trends that I will be following in 2020. I’d like to share my top 5 in no particular order.


Libraries have been dealing with challenges around eBooks for quite some time now. First there were logistical problems to solve around platforms and policy. In 2019 a new set of challenges was brought to the forefront with MacMillan Publishing’s embargo of new title access to public libraries. With consumer eBook sales slowing and library eBook circulations exploding Macmillan is making the argument that libraries hurt book sales. The proposed embargo unified libraries in opposition and resulted in dozens of letters to Macmillan’s CEO John Sargent from Massachusetts libraries and organizations and an ALA national campaign and petition.  Libraries and publishers will be following this case very closely throughout 2020 as it may set a new industry standard.


To borrow Eric Klinenberg’s term from his book Palaces for the People, libraries continue to play the important role in maintaining social infrastructure, the glue that binds communities together. Across Massachusetts, libraries have become a driving force of social infrastructure with innovative programs and services that used to be unique but are now commonplace. Library programs and services around STEM, ESL, Citizenship, Wi-Fi hotspots, library of things, workforce development (the list can literally go on and on) are now common. In 2020 libraries will continue to adapt services to social needs as they address the ongoing opioid crisis, the 2020 Census, community food/housing insecurity, and a presidential election to name just a few.


The MBLC’s advisory services to library Boards of Trustees and Friends Groups covers a lot of territory from trustee orientation sessions to fielding inquiries on dozens of topics every day. The amount of activity speaks to the important role that these groups have in the promotion and advancement of public libraries. When Trustees and Friends are well informed and aligned with the goals of the library they become powerful advocates. As crucial as these allies are, there are many libraries with unfilled trustee seats, or open positions on their Friends’ boards. The health of Trustee and Friend boards directly impact the health of our libraries. Attracting active participation from all voices in the community is critical and pays big dividends. Current Trustees, Friends, and library staff should always be on the lookout for the next great addition to their boards.


The list of skills needed to run a successful library seems be growing at an accelerated pace. In addition to the demands created by innovated programing mentioned earlier, library managers are increasingly finding themselves in uncharted territory. Today’s library manager has to have expertise in human resources management, budget analysis, local political/regulatory process, environmental science and public relations. To make things even more complicated, every municipality is unique so even library managers with experience are challenged. The good news is that efforts in 2019 by the Massachusetts Library System with their Library Director Round Table series and the Massachusetts Library Association’s Leadership and Management Section have started a conversation and support network for library directors and managers.


2019 saw a growing number of libraries go fine free in Massachusetts and across the country. Earlier in the year the American Library Association passed a resolution declaring library fines an economic barrier to library access and a form of social inequity. Many libraries have come to the conclusion that in their communities fines are not an effective way to ensure that materials are returned in a timely manner, and many make the argument that fines have become a barrier to library access disproportionately impacting younger and lower income users. Recent libraries that have announced going fine free include the Robbins library in Arlington, The Jones Library in Amherst, the Morse library in Natick, and the Burlington Public Library. In addition the Boston Public Library announced the abolishment of fines for library users under the age of 18. This is a trend that is picking up momentum, and will no doubt continue in 2020.

How are these trends impacting your library? What’s on your radar for 2020? Leave a comment and join in the conversation!

Nothing but Net Zero!


Sustainable construction is an essential component in the fight to mitigate climate change. While the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program (MPLCP) has funded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) incentive since 2008, code has evolved and sustainability measures have become more common practice. Materials, technology, and costs continue to improve and propel green building forward with products and systems that offer smarter, more efficient solutions.

Some of the practices growing out of this innovation include the passive building and net zero movements.  Passive building standards strive for optimal energy efficiency to reduce the amount of energy needed to sustain a building’s operations. This type of construction assists net zero energy goals where energy usage is completely offset by renewable energy that is produced on the property or purchased. Public libraries in Massachusetts are beginning to adapt to this method of building as part of municipal pacts to lower or eliminate fossil-fuel use in public buildings.

On November 4, 2019, the Cambridge Public Library’s new Valente Branch, a component of the King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex, opened as a net zero ready building, which means the infrastructure for net zero is in place. The last component for full net zero operations is the purchase of green electricity produced elsewhere. With 100% of building systems running on electric power, there are no fossil fuels used throughout the complex, adhering to the City of Cambridge’s commitment to make all public buildings net zero by 2040. The complex contains 190 geothermal wells approximately 500 feet down in the earth, and will collect solar energy from 74,070 square feet of on-site photovoltaic array. When the sun is not shining, the rain that falls is harvested for toilet flushing and irrigation. This use of the existing environment has the complex, including the library, on track for a targeted LEED level of platinum.

On October 29, 2019, at the Groundbreaking of the Medford Public Library, Medford’s commitment to net zero public buildings by 2050 was proudly celebrated. Using a unique arrangement of photovoltaic array on the waved roof of the new library, the building is projected to be net zero with no fossil-fuel use upon opening. The project is on target to be Medford’s first public building reaching LEED certification or higher.

Achieving sustainability at the LEED and net zero levels requires forethought and prioritization of those goals throughout the design process. At Library Journal’s Design Institute in Austin, Texas, Gail Vittori, the Co-Director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, shared the detailed timeline for the Austin Central Library’s platinum-level LEED building. Planning began in 2007, with the team having to anticipate future advances in LEED requirements for a building that would not come to fruition until ten years later. John Daniels, the LEED AP and Interim Facilities Director at the Austin Central Library, emphasized that if sustainability is not a priority, essential elements can fall prey to cost-cutting measures to remain within budget. From selecting a site that allows for production of renewable energy to constructing a building envelope that utilizes principles of passive building design to choosing finishes that are local, recycled, and environmentally-friendly, each step must be approached with sustainability as a driving factor.

For libraries that already stand, a growing body of case studies and best practices for deep energy retrofits has emerged within the last decade. Deep energy retrofits usually involve a whole building approach, but as mechanical systems and building envelopes may have different life cycles, libraries may have to pursue each upgrade piecemeal. Just as with new construction, prioritizing energy efficiency and reduced or eliminated carbon emissions in each decision can forge a path toward a passive building or a net zero building.

The most successful green initiatives are whole-community initiatives, with pledges like Cambridge’s and Medford’s to make all public buildings models of efficiency and sustainability by a targeted year. The support of community members and their local officials, who vote to provide the matching monetary-backing of public library projects, is essential for ensuring buildings that work for the best interests of future generations and the environment. Forward-thinking design and construction is possible with detailed planning and unwavering commitment.

Our commitment to helping libraries achieve sustainability continues with targeted programming this Spring, beginning with a Sustainability Summit at the Shrewsbury Public Library on April 29, 2020, from 10 AM to 1 PM. A link to registration and more information will be provided as the date approaches.

Question 1 passes: Greenfield to get new library

The city will get a new library now that the ballot question passed. The $19.5 million library was approved by a vote of 3,294 to 2,108 Tuesday. Ed Berlin stood reading the tickets taped to the wall across from the Greenfield High School gym. Berlin saw that he won by precinct in the seven of the eight available, and turned to his fellow library supporters to say, calmly and quietly, “We did it, we did it, we did it.”

Read More at the Greenfield Recorder

LSTA Grants: More Than Funding

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

What do kids coding, a town’s 300th anniversary, a community garden, and engaging citizens in civic discussion have in common? They are all centerpieces of library programming in Massachusetts funded by Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants administered by the MBLC. If you haven’t thought about applying for an LSTA grant, now may be the time!

The LSTA grant season has kicked off with the approval of the FY2021 grant round by the Board of Library Commissioners at their November meeting.  In addition to funding, LSTA grants have a positive impact on library staff, communities, and beyond. I’d like to point out just a few.

Prove a Concept: With limited resources it is difficult to engage in new programming. Having an outside funder takes a degree of risk away from a library when engaging in new programming, or services that serve new user populations. An LSTA grant is a great way to focus thinking around a programming idea, set schedules, and determine measures of success. The grant application process ensures that all aspects of the program are set before any spending happens. Successful grants are often used to demonstrate the need for continued support. It is not uncommon to see a popular LSTA grant become ongoing program funded by the municipality, friends group or other funding entity.

Staff Development:  Grants are a great source of outside funding, yet few libraries have the in house capability to identify and apply for them. An LSTA grant is an excellent way to build staff expertise in grant writing and execution. Applicants to the grant program will receive extensive training and consultation through the life of the grant. MBLC grant specialists work with grant recipients to ensure success.

Community Partnerships: Many LSTA grants serve as a catalyst for library engagement with community partners. LSTA grants have funded libraries to work with local historic commissions, social service providers, arts and cultural institutions, and schools. Programming with partners increases a library’s visibility and reach to their users. In many cases libraries build vital community relationships that last well beyond the life of a grant.

Tapping into the Latest Trends: Library programming is constantly changing. The MBLC staff is constantly introducing new grant programs designed to meet the ever evolving needs that libraries meet. Need some programming inspiration? Take a look at our grant offerings.

Promoting your library: Showcasing LSTA Grants are a great way to shine a light on your library. Publicizing LSTA grant programming shows your library at its innovative and creative best. In addition, highlighting the use of outside federal funding demonstrates your commitment to fiscal responsibility.To learn more about this year’s LSTA Direct Grant round visit: https://mblc.state.ma.us/programs-and-support/lsta-grants/application-index.php  Here you will find grant project fact sheets, timelines, application requirements, and FAQ.