How Two Mass Libraries are Approaching Accessibility

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

 Monty Tech students with their instructor Michael Dion.
Left to right Monty Tech students Simon Hoover Joe Besette Jake Cherubini with their Cabinetmaking instructor Michael Dion.

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.

ButtOn chair with non-slip tape
ButtOn chair with non-slip tape

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.

Morrill Memorial Library Eliminates Fines for Overdue Materials

Postcard of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood

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.

Libraries are experiencing worker shortages, too

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.

 

 

 

Lawrence Library, Pepperell adds “Little Free Library” to local food pantry’s “Books to Keep” program

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

Study Links 3rd Grade Reading, Poverty and HS Graduation

New Salem Public Library Offers Racial Justice Programming for Small Rural Communities

On Tuesday, November 9, New Salem Public Library offered its third program in a series on Racial Justice issues from a small, rural community perspective.  The 7 pm ZOOM presentation explored “What is Systemic Racism and How Do We Dismantle It.”

“Planning for the Racial Justice series began after the nationwide protests in the summer of 2020,” explained Library Trustee, Judy Northup-Bennett. “The Trustees wanted to examine more closely our country’s racial history and how our Northeastern rural communities fit into this story. We could no longer say that it’s a problem somewhere else. The Trustees decided to offer programs and book discussions to help people living in small, homogeneous towns better understand our roles in all of this.”

Alpana Chhibber of Molina Consulting helped participants understand the roots of systemic racism in our country, and how this led to the creation of segregated cities and towns. The presentation examined specific case studies which have had devastating effects on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) people as well long-lasting effects on White communities. Participants left the 1 ½ hour ZOOM presentation with a better understanding of how systemic racism has worked over the years as well as specific strategies for dismantling it that will empower them to make changes in their communities. The program is supported by a grant from the New Salem Academy.

Alpana Chhibber is a lead facilitator for Molina Consulting of Baltimore, offering national diversity, equity and inclusion training programs. She currently serves as the Middle School Dean of Students at the Park School of Baltimore. She received counseling and facilitator training from the Stanley King Institute, the Kingswood Oxford Leadership Institute for Educators of Color, and Facilitating for Racial Justice.  She has a BA from York College, PA, and Master degrees in Global Studies and Teaching from SUNY Albany and Union Graduate College.

This program will be followed on Monday, November 15 with a 7 pm ZOOM book discussion of “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson, author of “The Warmth of Other Suns.”  Wilkerson documents the political and economic systems in our nation since the first African slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619 that led to our 400-year caste stem.  She compares this to other historic caste systems.

For more information, visit the New Salem Public Library Facebook page.

National Voter Registration Day: Sign Up Now to Partner!

By Michelle Eberle, Consultant at the Massachusetts Library System

The Massachusetts Library System and Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners are excited to share that we are collaborating on National Voter Registration Day (NVRD) for a second year. We encourage your library to participate, too!  Read on for the official announcement and invitation from the Assistant Director for State Advocacy for the American Library Association (ALA). Libraries can partner by hosting a virtual or in-person event for National Voter Registration Day, or publicizing NVRD social media copy and graphics.  National Voter Registration Day provides an excellent toolkit for organizations to support your voter engagement efforts. Please use the link below to register to help ALA track how many libraries partner for NVRD.  We hope that your library will take part in this important collaboration.

Official Invitation from ALA

I’m pleased to announce that ALA is once again a premier partner of National Voter Registration Day (NVRD), to be celebrated this year on September 28.

In recent years, hundreds of libraries across the country have participated in NVRD and registered thousands of voters for local, state, and national elections. We invite you to join us again this year by registering here: https://bit.ly/ALANVRD.

By signing up, you’ll receive free resources and training opportunities to help you prepare. For academic libraries, NVRD offers the opportunity to connect with Campus Takeover, a student mobilizing effort that provides specialized resources and activities for college campuses.

Library workers are leaders in civic engagement. If you are registering voters or doing other types of voter engagement in the coming months, let ALA know! Please tag us on social media: @LibraryPolicy and #LibrariesEngageVoters.

Register for NVRD today: https://bit.ly/ALANVRD.

Thank you.

Megan Cusick

Megan Murray Cusick, MLIS
Assistant Director, State Advocacy
Public Policy & Advocacy | American Library Association

Nine Massachusetts Libraries Receive ALA Grant

The American Library Association (ALA) recently announced the recipients of the Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC): Focus on Small and Rural Libraries grant. Nine Massachusetts libraries were included in the second round of grantees.

The libraries include:

Belding Memorial Library Ashfield
Field Memorial Library Conway
Millbury Public Library Millbury
Sargent Memorial Library Boxborough
Dighton Public Library Dighton
Town of Southborough Southborough
Scituate Town Library Scituate
Elizabeth Taber Library Marion
Whelden Memorial Library West Barnstable

Participating libraries receive training in how to lead conversations through an ALA e-course on basic facilitation skills; host at least one conversation (in-person or virtual) with community members on a chosen topic; and receive $3,000 to support community engagement efforts. Grant funds may cover a range of expenses, including staff time and collections and technology purchases.

You can read more about the project in this press release.

The JBPL Day After Christmas

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

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

Twas the day after Christmas, and all through Bourne

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

Paper wrappings and ribbons were scattered through the room;

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

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

Ignoring everyone for untold hours still ahead.

The little ones crying, not taking their naps;

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

When at last we thought our sanity restored;

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

All of these toys, yet still nothing to do;

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

I knew an idea was needed quite fast;

Something the family could do that’s a blast.

When what to my wondering eyes did appear,

An item that gave me ideas perfectly clear.

My wonderful Bourne issued CLAMS Library Card;

With so many services, choices would be hard.

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

The library would have something to chase away the blues.

New music! New movies! New audios and eBooks!

Magazines, newspapers, one must not overlook.

Away to the website, bournelibrary.org

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

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

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

So into the living room, the children they flew;

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

We started with Freegal to dance to the Eagles;

But then went to hOOPLA for Snoopy, the Beagle.

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

Qello offered concerts like Paul Simon’s Homeward Bound.

Tumblebooks offered us so many kids’ games,

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

We then went to Mango to learn a new language,

A mouthful of cookies gave us a disadvantage.

We then took a look at the database Great Courses;

Our daughter was hoping to learn about horses.

And though there was nothing much along those lines,

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

We then took a look at the database Kanopy;

For we heard it contained some great documentaries.

And then it was back to the Overdrive app,

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

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

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

All of these resources, it just blew my mind;

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

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

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

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

I wished to tell everyone what I now know.

The library offers so much service from home;

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

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

The JBPL resources are just plain out of sight.

The Community’s Security Blanket

By Deb O’Brien, Director of the New Marlborough Town Library

What started as a conversation regarding connectivity (or the lack thereof) in rural communities quickly morphed into a chat about the connection of small towns and their libraries serving as safe havens during trying times.

A little background: most of the sparsely inhabited but area-wise vast town of New Marlborough has quite poor or simply no internet access.  With the COVID-19 crisis forcing the closing of schools and children being schooled remotely, this situation poses huge problems for families especially if they have more than one child needing to connect to the internet.  Our Board of Selectmen very recently acquired three new hot-spots, one being the town library.  Paul Kissman from MBLC approached me to find out how things were going with our town’s reaction to our suddenly increased connectivity.  From there a conference call was set up between Paul and Celeste Bruno from the MBLC and me.

We discussed how the library parking lot is filled with cars lately, pretty much all of the time, with residents and others using our WiFi.  People are running extension cords from their vehicles to our electric outlets, some are setting up lawn chairs in the bed of their pickup trucks; even children are sitting in backseats of cars ostensibly trying to do their school work (and how many are playing games?).  The conversation came around to the importance, especially for children, to be able to sit at tables to do their work — how hard it is for our library staff (currently of one!) to sit back and not be able to help.  Here’s where the conversation took a turn.

Internet connectivity is one topic, but what matters more is the connectivity of my library to the people of my town, the role it serves as its center and the glue that binds so many of us in this far-flung community.  Our library (and I think libraries in general) are thought of as safe havens no matter what world or local events swirl around us.  We are the community’s security blanket.  Small rural libraries foster intimate relationships with their patrons, and it is mutual.  We share in their life celebrations,  we grieve their losses, and so many of us are bound together with them during emotional times.  During the unprecedented course of this pandemic it has been extremely difficult to sit back and watch patrons struggle, be it with children trying to do school work in the backseat of cars, folks wanting print materials or DVDs (no high speed Internet means no Netflix, no Amazon,  no streaming – period!), or just missing the comfort of coming in for a cup of tea or coffee and chatting.

I want to help my community!  Can we set up tables in the backyard (appropriately distanced and supervised) so the children could have a solid surface to write on?  Can we designate separate space in the library so families by appointment can use our rooms for work without coming in contact with each other?  The answers to all of these are no!

We have folks who walk by the library and knock on the window to wave to me and tell me how much they miss us; when I’m out walking for exercise, children and adults are shouting Hello and We miss you!  It is so frustrating to feel like we are failing our community when folks need us the most.

Just as I hung up from the conference call, the phone rang again.  It was a senior citizen who had just driven back from wintering in Florida.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hello, New Marlborough Library.”
Patron: “Oh Debbie, good, you’re there!”
Me: “Sorry, but we are closed to the public. “
Patron: “That’s okay, I just needed to know you were still there and now everything is right with my world.”

Connectivity is so much more than computers, our phones and all the other devices whose screens consume us.  When the world is out of sync, libraries are and will remain the one constant that people can always rely upon for comfort and security.