Decarbonizing Libraries: Two New Episodes of the Building Literacy Podcast

By Andrea Bunker, Library Building Specialist at the MBLC

The MBLC Construction Team recently released two new episodes of the Building Literacy podcast: Construction and Climate Change Legislation: A Conversation with Eric Friedman and Green Communities Grants and Energy Efficiency Incentives: A Conversation with Joanne Bissetta and Catie Snyder. In Spring of 2021, Governor Baker signed into law “An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy” and signed “Executive Order No. 594: Leading By Example: Decarbonizing and Minimizing Environmental Impacts of State Government”, outlining aggressive fossil fuel reduction and increased energy efficiency goals for the Commonwealth at large and the State’s owned assets, respectively. In short, Massachusetts is working toward a net zero or carbon neutral future. With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC- a body of the United Nations) recently published special report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius on August 9, these two episodes could not be more timely and their calls to action more important.

In “Construction and Climate Change Legislation: A Conversation with Eric Friedman”, learn more about the Commonwealth’s new legislation and Executive Order 594 with Eric Friedman, the Director of the Leading by Example Program, which is a division of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. From a higher level perspective, he discusses what this new legislation means for our municipal libraries and how to reduce carbon emissions and plan for a clean energy future.

In Green Communities Grants and Energy Efficiency Incentives: A Conversation with Joanne Bissetta and Catie Snyder, dig a little deeper into the resources, incentives, and grants that are available to the Commonwealth’s municipalities, and, in turn, libraries, to better position local governments in meeting the State’s ambitious energy goals with Joanne Bissetta, the Acting Director of the Green Communities Division, and Catie Snyder, the Deputy Director of the Leading by Example Program, both of whom are affiliated with the Department of Energy Resources. From lighting upgrades, envelope improvements, and HVAC replacement, to solar arrays and EV charging stations, to designated environmental justice communities, there are funding and incentive programs to help municipalities afford current and newly emerging technologies to decarbonize their buildings and vehicle fleets.

Both episodes also feature advice for how to continue the decarbonization conversation within the community focusing on how the library’s physical building and the library’s larger role as an educational institution can further the goals outlined by the Commonwealth. The one takeaway above all others from these conversations is that this work cannot take place in a vacuum. It requires action on behalf of everyone to mitigate the rising of our oceans and the warming of our planet. We hope you find your library’s tangible, feasible next steps within these episodes. As always, if you have any comments or questions about any of the information presented on Building Literacy or ideas for future episodes, please email Andrea Bunker at andrea.bunker@mass.gov.

Campaign Finance Law and Advocacy

By Andrea Bunker, Library Building Specialist at the MBLC

Have you ever wondered if you’re allowed to advocate for your public library’s building project as a public employee, trustee, foundation member, or friend of the library? In what capacity? To what extent? 

Have you been kept awake at night pondering whether fundraising for a ballot campaign about a library building project is treated the same as fundraising for the actual construction of the library building? 

Are you contemplating using the library’s staff copier to print out “Say yes to our library!” leaflets?

If the answer is yes, then tune into Building Literacy’s newest episode, “Campaign Finance Law and Advocacy”, and get answers to these frequently asked questions and more in this conversation with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance’s Communications and Education Director, Jason Tait. We also consult the State Ethics Commission’s Advisory 11-1 on Public Employee Political Activity from March 2011, which remains the most current on the subject. While Jason describes in detail the work of OCPF, it is important to note that the State Ethics Commission in Massachusetts may have differing opinions on the general activities we discuss. We recommend you contact both agencies (or the equivalent in your State if you reside outside of Massachusetts) with specific questions or scenarios, because even the best intentions could be seen as violations in the eyes of the law. 

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future episode topics, please email me at Andrea.Bunker@mass.gov.

Build America’s Libraries Act

By James Lonergan, MBLC Director

The Build America’s Libraries Act, which was introduced in the U.S. Senate in January by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), and introduced in the House earlier this month by Representatives Andy Levin (D-MI) and Don Young (R-AK), would provide $5 billion to fund upgrades to the nation’s library infrastructure to address challenges such as natural disasters, COVID-19, broadband capacity, environmental hazards, and accessibility barriers. Eligible uses of the funding include conducting facilities condition assessments, needs assessments, and master planning; financing new library facilities; or making capital improvements to existing library facilities, including buildings, grounds, and bookmobiles.

Funding would be distributed through the Institute of Museum and Library Services to state library agencies (including the MBLC), which would then award grants on a competitive basis to libraries in each state. Funding would be prioritized to libraries in communities with underserved populations, such as high-poverty areas. Eligible facilities under the Build America’s Libraries Act include public libraries, tribal libraries, and state libraries that provide service directly to the general public.

While we don’t know if this bill will pass, either separately or as part of a larger infrastructure bill, or how much we might receive in Massachusetts, we have recently held preliminary discussions at the MBLC about how we might potentially use funds from the Build America’s Libraries Act if it becomes law.

In alignment with our new strategic plan—which includes equity as a core principle–we have discussed using Build America’s Libraries Act funds for single-purpose projects including for HVAC upgrades, ADA access, and broadband/technology, and would focus on our most underserved and disadvantaged communities in the Commonwealth.

Massachusetts is one of 15 states with a library construction program. Given these are one-time funds and we are prohibited from using these funds to supplant our current  Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program funding, we want to be careful not to jeopardize the strong support and funding we currently have for public library construction and renovation in the Commonwealth.

For further information on the Build America’s Libraries Act from ALA, please visit: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/buildlibraries.

Advocacy Stories: Marketing and Communication Plans

By Andrea Bunker, Library Building Specialist at the MBLC

Communication is an integral part of connecting with others. For something we all do every day (although it may be a little different these days,) there is both an art and a science to making it effective. Our Advocacy Stories series on Building Literacy resumes with a conversation about communication, messaging, and marketing with the MBLC’s own Celeste Bruno, our Communications Director, and Matthew Perry, our Communications Specialist. While we focus on library building projects in this podcast, the tips and tricks shared are transferable and scalable to all aspects of the mission of libraries and beyond.

From all of our projects, we know that the work of advocacy cannot be done by one person alone. Celeste and Matt discuss how to identify and cultivate allies in this work, how to create an identity, how to draft a communications plan, how to craft clear and consistent messaging, and how to address misinformation. It is never too early to begin this work, even if your project is a twinkle of an idea at this stage. Librarians, trustees, friends groups, foundation members, and library building project stakeholders will want to listen to this informative episode.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future episode topics, please email me at Andrea.Bunker@mass.gov.​

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

By Andrea Bunker, Library Building Specialist at the MBLC

Taxes: one of the known inevitables 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: www.mass.gov/DLS.

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 Andrea.Bunker@mass.gov.

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.

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 andrea.bunker@mass.gov. We hope you learn as much from listening to each one of the episodes as we do creating them.

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 lauren.stara@mass.gov. 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.

Building Literacy: Public Library Construction Podcast

COVID-19 has caused all of us to shift operations and services to meet the needs of those we serve, and, for the MBLC’s Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program, that means moving our in-person workshops and site visits to the digital realm. As such, we, the Construction Team, would like to introduce you to our new endeavor: the “Building Literacy: Public Library Construction” podcast, in which we will explore all topics relevant to the entire construction process.

The first two episodes replace our Sustainability Summit, a summit geared toward anyone seeking to incorporate sustainability into a major building upgrade or a partial or whole building project. In episode one, “Sustainability and Building Performance: An Interview with Building Evolution Corporation”, we talk with Building Evolution Corporation’s (BEC) Wesley Stanhope, BEC’s Founder and CEO, and Ken Neuhauser, BEC’s President, about practical steps you can take to plan for and implement partial and whole-building projects that achieve energy goals while not compromising on other aspects of building performance.

In episode two, “Designing for Sustainability: An Interview with Finegold Alexander Architects”, we discuss how architects approach the integration of sustainable measures within the design process to reduce energy load and usage and how it impacts project budgets in an interview with Finegold Alexander Architects’ Ellen Anselone, Rebecca Berry, Josephine Penta, and Beth Pearcy. We encourage anyone with even a thought of undertaking any building project of any scale to listen to these episodes, as sustainability goals must be identified early and remain a priority throughout the process.

The podcast is  also a response to substantial feedback we received about  our program. It was clear that stakeholders in public library construction projects are seeking as much in-depth information and as many mentorship opportunities as possible throughout the process. An interview-based podcast seemed like a logical mechanism in which to deliver these resources, as listeners can access the episodes as the topics arise in their own building project trajectory.

In future episodes, we hope to cover everything from advocacy and fundraising to what to expect a year after your new and improved public library opens. If you have questions stemming from an existing episode, specific topic suggestions for other episodes, or if you have participated in our program and would like to be interviewed for a mentorship and lessons learned episode, please contact Library Building Specialist Andrea Bunker at andrea.bunker@state.ma.us

In this podcast, companies and firms are and will be featured, sharing their expertise and knowledge with library building project stakeholders in an effort to create a better, more informed experience. In no way does the featuring of these companies or firms on this podcast constitute an endorsement or a promotion of those companies or firms by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. These interviews are meant to serve as an educational resource only.