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, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  2. “Frequently asked questions about COVID-19.” Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public Health, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  3. “How to Protect Yourself and Others.” CDC, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  4. “Safety Standards and Checklist: Libraries.” Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, and (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  5. “Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) Information Hub: A COVID-19 Research Project.” WebJunction, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  6. “REALM Project: Happening Now.” WebJunction, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  7. “REopening Archives, Libraries and Museums: Materials Testing and Resource Overview.” WebJunction, (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, Round 2, Round 3, All retrieved 8/25/2020.
  10. “Guidance on Returning to Work.” United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, (retrieved 8/25/2020). Also,
  11. “What Mail and Parcel Delivery Drivers Need to Know about COVID-19.” CDC, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  12. “Safety Standards and Checklist: Libraries.” Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, and (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  13. “Mitigating COVID-19 When Managing Paper-Based, Circulating, and Other Types of Collections.” Institute for Museum and Library Services, (retrieved 8/25/2020).
  14. “Preservation Leaflets: Emergency Management: Disinfecting Books and Other Collections.” Northeast Document Conservation Center, (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, and  (retrieved 8/25/2020). Other resources from NCPTT include a series of webinars called “Covid-19 Basics:” “Disinfecting Cultural Resources” (, “Re-Entry to Cultural Sites” (, and “Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)” (
  16. “REALM Project Test 3 Results Available.” WebJunction, (retrieved 8/25/2020).

2020 Hurricane Preparedness Week

The Governor has proclaimed the week of July 12 to July 18 Hurricane Preparedness Week in the Commonwealth. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) with Coordinated Statewide Emergency Preparedness (COSTEP) has created important information for cultural institutions to keep in mind as hurricane season progresses.

The peak of hurricane season is in August and September, and this year, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts an above normal season. Although Massachusetts has not seen a hurricane since Hurricane Bob in 1991, it has a history of destructive storms, and the whole state is at risk with the threat of storm surges in coastal areas and high winds, heavy rainfall, and flooding inland. It is important to remember that these storms will continue during the COVID-19 pandemic and that it only takes one storm to severely impact an area.

How Residents Can Prepare

Evacuation Zones: There are several different evacuation zones in the coastal parts of the state. Residents can look up to see if they live or work in one at

Make an Emergency Plan: Develop a plan with the members of your household to prepare for what to do in a tropical cyclone including making an evacuation plan, planning for individuals with access and functional needs, and any extra considerations during COVID-19 pandemic including how you might evacuate and where you might evacuate to. If you are in a high-risk population, the safest option may be to evacuate to a location without the general public such as a hotel, relatives’ home or other destination.

Build an Emergency Kit: Build an emergency kit containing items that will sustain you and your family in the event you are isolated for three to five days without power or unable to go to a store and customize for your family’s needs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, include face coverings, masks, hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies that you may need.

Stay Informed: Every family should have multiple methods for receiving emergency alerts. Learn more about different types of alerting and information tools including the Emergency Alert System, Wireless Emergency Alerts, NOAA Weather Radio, Social Media & Traditional Media, 2-1-1 Hotline, Local Notification Systems:

The Massachusetts Government is working together to help prepare the state. MEMA and the Department of Public Health have developed guidance for the Commonwealth and municipalities for providing and operating shelters and conducting evacuations during COVID-19. In addition, state agencies are adding screening, sanitization, disinfection, and general public health protocols to existing mass care plans; and planning for and preparing to provide sheltering in non-congregate settings such as hotels. This planning is all on top of regular hurricane season planning and outreach efforts with local, state, federal, and non-governmental partners.

More information about hurricane preparedness can be found on the COSTEP website, and a recording of a webinar with Matthew Belk, a Lead Meteorologist for the National Weather Service, Boston, on the 2020 upcoming hurricane season is available here.

Next stop, Plymouth!: The Mass. Memories Road Show celebrates 15 years of collaboration with communities across the Commonwealth

By Carolyn Goldstein, Public History and Community Archives Program Manager at UMass Boston

The Plymouth Mass. Memories Road Show will be held at the Plymouth Public Library on Saturday, November 9, 2019 from 10am – 3pm The event is free and open to the public.

Anyone with a connection to the town is invited to bring photographs—original prints, digital copies on a thumb drive, or cell phone images—that are important to them. A team of UMass Boston staff and local volunteers will be on hand to scan or copy the materials as well as record the “stories behind the photos.”  These photographs and stories will become part of a state-wide digital collection at, also available at

On the eve of the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims, Plymouth Public Library director Jennifer Harris is heading up the local planning team that includes Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth Antiquarian Society, Town of Plymouth Archivist, Destination Plymouth, and Plymouth 400.  “Our goal,” explains Harris, “is to attract at least 400 contributors and we hope that everyone will participate—whether they recently moved to town or have lived here for decades—so that the snapshot we capture of ‘America’s Hometown’ reflects an accurate composition of our community.”

The Mass. Memories Road Show is a state-wide, event-based participatory archiving program that documents people, places, and events in Massachusetts through family photographs and stories. Archivists and public historians in University Archives and Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collaborate with local planning teams and volunteers to organize free public events where individuals bring photographs to be copied and included in a digital archive. Contributors are invited to describe the photographs in their own words. In addition, they may choose to share “the story behind the photos” on video, have their own “keepsake photo” taken, receive advice on caring for their family photos, and learn from one another about the history of their community.

3 boys, 12 Castle Rock Street, Dorchester, 1950. Contributor: Donna Mulholland.
3 boys, 12 Castle Rock Street, Dorchester, 1950. Contributor: Donna Mulholland.

Since its launch in 2004, the Mass. Memories Road Show has visited over four dozen communities in the Commonwealth, including several Boston neighborhoods. In the process, the UMass Boston team has digitized more than 11,000 photographs and stories from across the state, creating a unique archival record of everyday life in the Massachusetts.

Phitsamay Uy at the Lowell Mass. Memories Road Show, 2012
Phitsamay Uy at the Lowell Mass. Memories Road Show, 2012

To browse the Mass. Memories Road Show digital collection, go to

To learn more about the Mass. Memories Road Show and how to bring the program to your community, visit or contact Carolyn Goldstein, Public History and Community Archives Program Manager at or (617) 287-5929.

The Plymouth Mass. Memories Road Show is sponsored by the Plymouth Public Library Corporation and State Aid to Public Libraries.  No registration is required.  The library has plenty of parking and is fully accessible; please let the library know if you need special accommodations to attend.  For further information, contact Jennifer Harris at 508-830-4250 ext. 215.

Inspiration at Provincetown Public Library

By Evan Knight, Preservation Specialist at the MBLC

Nan and Amy

I had an inspiring visit to the Provincetown Public Library with Amy Raff, Director, and Nan Cinnater, Lead Librarian. If you visit the Library’s website, you’ll see they consider themselves “a cultural storytelling center,” and I couldn’t agree more. Some of the unique collections that help tell Provincetown’s story include:

  • Beautiful art on the walls: the art is actually part of the town’s collection but the Library beautifully showcases the area’s rich artistic heritage.
  • Historic and beautiful building, right in the center of town.

    The Rose Dorothea replica
  • There’s a half-scale replica of a schooner upstairs! The Rose Dorothea replica, dedicated in 1988, was built by Francis A. “Flyer” Santos and a team of volunteers as a “grand tribute to the fishermen of Provincetown and to New England’s shipbuilding tradition.” (N.B. Did you know that the New Bedford Whaling Museum also has a half-size whaling boat, the Lagoda?)
  • The Josephine C. Del Deo Heritage Archives, containing the records and photographs of Provincetown’s Heritage Museum.
  • Digital collections of Provincetown Newspapers and the ambitious and successful Provincetown History Project.

While in their climate-controlled storage area, I leafed through historic manuscript volumes from the early 1700s that seemed to be good potential candidates for LSTA-supported conservation treatment due to their acute condition issues, research value, and high artefactual value. When the name Peregrine White caught my eye, I was happy to learn from Amy and Nan something new, and thrilling: Peregrine White was born on the Mayflower in Provincetown Harbor in the winter of 1620 – the first English child born in the New World. What a story; what a piece of history.

We talked about other potential next steps to enhance the preservation of their unique collections, particularly the Heritage Museum’s Archives, including the potential for taking a more thorough inventory, rehousing fragile objects, and reformatting A/V materials. LSTA grants can potentially help.

I’ll finish with an inspiring quote I found outside their archives storage room engraved on a bronze sculpture:

Bronze by Romolo Del Deo

“…the process of preservation is never finished; it continues for the patient and the brave to address and resolve in each succeeding generation.”

The Watch at Peaked Hill – Josephine C. Del Deo

Here here.

Visiting Eastham and Reading Public Libraries: Town-Wide Preservation Assessments

By Evan Knight, Preservation Specialist at the MBLC

Since joining MBLC as Preservation Specialist last month, I quickly realized how important it is to get know the libraries, people, and collections that make our Commonwealth so culturally rich.

Much of my work here at MBLC is either project consulting (for annual LSTA direct grants) or general advisory services for collection management and risk assessment (e.g., water, fire, theft, intellectual control, light, temperature, humidity, pests, etc.).

So a few weeks ago, I reached out to Debra DeJonker-Berry, Director of Eastham Public Library, to learn more about her experiences leading recent projects in Eastham that related to both of those aspects of my work: an LSTA-funded Town-Wide Preservation Assessment and Collection Identification, and MBLC’s environmental monitoring program.

What a visit! She arranged a number of meetings around town with a couple of the local institutions who were a part of the Town-Wide grant, first with the volunteer staff of the Eastham Historical Society.

Gloria, Eileen, Sylvia (l-r), Eastham Historical Society
Debra DeJonker-Berry, Eastham Public Library

We talked about their continuing work to process their collections, best practices in the preservation of scrapbooks, and their digitization projects with Digital Commonwealth (and the challenges of preparing metadata), as we toured their Archives and storage spaces. The next visit was with the Town Clerk’s Office, who maintain and preserve some of Eastham’s oldest legal and historical documents (among many other responsibilities!). The public library plays a role in sharing and interpreting some of these old documents, the “ancient records” as they’re called, by providing electronic copies on CD and online. This is just another example, in the same spirit as the Town-Wide Assessment grant, of the collaborative vision Debra has for the Eastham Public Library. One of the greatest values of the Town-Wide project, as she put it, was having everyone at the same table talking about big-picture issues regarding their collections, now and for the future, together.

The Eastham Library, by the way, occupies a beautiful building, opened in 2016, that is worthy of a visit in its own right. We discussed their environmental monitoring report for their archives storage room, and although we didn’t find major concerns, they’re continuing to check their data every month to make sure the humidification system is working correctly.

Sue, Cindy, Linda (l-r), Eastham Town Clerk
Interior views, Eastham Public Library

Reading Public Library is another institution pursuing an LSTA-funded Town-Wide Preservation Assessment and Collection Identification, and wouldn’t you know it, they have a beautiful building too, recently renovated! Amy Lannon, Director, hosted me for a recent visit to get to know their collections and better familiarize myself with their goals in this project.

South façade panorama, Reading Public Library

The Reading Antiquarian Society, the Reading Historical Commission, and the Reading Town Clerk will all participate with the Public Library to analyze their collections and determine their preservation needs.

Amy, Eileen (l-r), Reading Public Library

On my visit, I also spent a lot of time looking at the collection and the storage area with Eileen, Local History Librarian, to talk about collection development policies, security, oversize maps, environmental monitoring, and what to expect in the Assessment process.

It was a great pleasure to visit all of these institutions, and I was happy to see the work that MBLC is helping to support. But what I like most is meeting the folks who manage the collections and do the day-to-day work to preserve the cultural heritage of the Commonwealth. Thank you!

Visiting Historic Collections in Worcester

By Evan Knight, MBLC Preservation Specialist

On December 10, 2018, MBLC Library Advisory Specialist Maura Deedy and I visited the Worcester Public Library to discuss their current LSTA preservation grant. While there, we met with Genealogy and Local History Librarian Joy Hennig, Public Services Coordinator Pingshen Chen, and Public Services Supervisor of e-Resources and Periodicals Priya Subramanian.

They pursued the LSTA grant as an opportunity to rehouse a significant portion of books from one of their oldest and most unique collections, the books of WPL founder Dr. John Green. The approximately 8,000 books were given to the library in 1859 and quite literally were the first collections WPL ever had. It was a great visit where we talked about how the project was going, how they are working to make the collection more accessible, and some of the continuing challenges and opportunities involved in longer-term issues like preservation, conservation, and digitization. They are looking forward to opportunities for engaging their community with these collections, online and in person, while also incrementally enhancing their level of preservation. It was a pleasure to get to know them and work together with them on this great project!

Joy and Pingshen Caption: WPL staff members Joy and Pingshen.
WPL staff members Joy and Pingshen

After working with WPL, we drove up the road to visit with Babette Gehnrich of the American Antiquarian Society, who graciously toured us around their building for the better part of the afternoon. For those who might not know, AAS was founded in 1812 and is a preeminent collection of early Americana (before 1876). Babette has been a leader in conservation and preservation for thirty years, so it was a treat to see some of her practices for housings and collections storage.

Babette in front of storage.
On our tour of AAS in one of their storage rooms



Boxes with photos on spine.
Among the many tips we learned for enclosures: take a photo of the object inside and adhere it on the box instead of a label, which you can see here







WPL and AAS are fantastic neighbors (they are less than 2 miles from each other!) and their collections are truly important components in the cultural heritage of Worcester.  Thanks to them and their great staff for offering MBLC an opportunity to learn more and help support some of their good works.

Revolutionary History at a Massachusetts Library

A photograph and a replica of the flag sit outside the room where the original is stored.

By Outreach Coordinator Matthew Perry

On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere took his famous ride through Middlesex County warning the residents that British troops were marching west towards Lexington and Concord. The following day, the American Revolution began with battles fought in those two towns. We remember that famous date and year on the 3rd Monday of April, now known as “Patriots Day”. Although it may be better known today as “Marathon Monday”, Patriots Day is still marked with parades and reenactments in both Lexington and Concord, as well as a reenactment of Paul Revere’s ride in Boston’s North End.

You don’t have to settle for just a reenactment however, because at the Bedford Free Public Library, there is a piece of history that links back to that day sitting upstairs. As Minutemen from the surrounding towns gathered to help in the fight against the British, Bedford’s Nathaniel Page took what is now known as “the Bedford Flag” with him to the Old North Bridge in Concord. According to the library’s website, it “is the oldest complete flag known to exist in the United States.” The exact origins of the flag are unknown, but it is believed to be a cavalry flag produced in Massachusetts sometime in the early 1700s.

The library’s website elaborates on what the flag looks like:

The flag is a piece of crimson silk damask measuring about 27” long by 29” wide.  This small square shape indicates that it was a cavalry flag.  Into the rich red damask is woven a pattern of pomegranates, grapes, and leaves.  The design is painted on both sides of the flag, mainly in silver and gold.  The emblem consists of a mailed arm emerging from clouds and grasping a sword.  Three cannonballs hang in the air.  Encircling the arm is a gold ribbon on which the Latin words “VINCE AUT MORIRE” (Conquer or Die) are painted. On the reverse of the flag, the design is slightly different: the sword extends in front of the ribbon instead of behind; it is held left-handed; and the motto is read from bottom to top instead of top to bottom.

The library has been in possession of the flag since the late 1800s. In 1998, it was taken to the Textile Conservation Center in Lowell Massachusetts to be restored and preserved for future generations to enjoy.

“Bedford is very proud of the Flag” says library director Richard Callaghan, adding “when the Library addition was completed in 2000, funds were donated to display the flag properly, so now it has its own climate controlled, secure room.”

Any visitor to the library is allowed to view the flag in its secure room during the library’s normal hours. In order to see it, stop by the main desk and in exchange for your ID, you are given a magnetic key card to the room where the flag is held. Only five people can be in the room at a time, and no flash photography is allowed.

This year, as you’re getting ready to celebrate our Country’s push for independence, consider stopping by the Bedford library and seeing a flag that was there to witness it all first hand. The Bedford Flag is one of many great treasures found in Massachusetts Libraries. For more information about the flag, and the Bedford Library’s hours, visit their website at

5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know Are In The Digital Commonwealth

The MBLC is now accepting applications for this year’s Town-Wide Preservation Assessment grant round. It’s an opportunity for Massachusetts libraries to work with a consultant to help them assess, organize, and ultimately digitize their historic and archival collections in the Digital Commonwealth.

Right now, there’s over 440,000 items from 130 participating institutions in this statewide digital repository. It’s a great tool for educators, historians, researchers, students, artists, authors – anybody with an interest in exploring the past through ultra-high resolution photographs, maps, letters, books, paintings, postcards, and more.

With so much content, there’s some bizarre and unexpected stuff tucked in as well. Below are five highlights from four of the most unique collections in the Digital Commonwealth.

1. Birdwing butterflies from the Solomon Islands, part of the Harry C. Belcher Lepidoptera Collection at Tufts Library in Weymouth.

birdwing butterflies from the Solomon Islands

2. Pheasant sculptures from the Castonguay Carved Bird Collection at West Yarmouth Library.

carved pheasant scupltures

3. Food pouches from the Natick Soldier Systems Center Photographic Collection.

food lab food pouches

4. 1974 photo of the “Smithsonian Center for Short-Lived Phenomena” in Belmont, part of the Boston Public Library’s Spencer Grant collection. (By the way, this place actually existed – but fittingly enough, only from 1968-1975.)

Smithsonian Center for Short-Lived Phenomena computers and bulletin board

5. Robot (ca. 1991) at the Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center. Also from the Natick Soldier Systems Center Photographic Collection.

robot at Natick r&d and engineering center