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​

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:

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

Trustees Orientation Goes Virtual

By Maura Deedy, Library Advisory Specialist at the MBLC

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) Trustee Orientation program held virtually in our living rooms, offices, and kitchens is now available on demand.

The orientations are an opportunity for new trustees to learn about the MBLC and state funding and for seasoned trustees to gain a refresher. We cover roles and responsibilities, legal obligations, advocacy, State Aid, and more. We missed visiting libraries across the Commonwealth and meeting trustees, directors, and library staff. It’s an opportunity to see firsthand the beautiful spaces, learn about challenges and about what makes very library unique.

The fall Trustee Orientation was recorded, and we are pleased to make that available via our YouTube channel with closed captioning.  The video has been edited into eight sections, allowing trustees to revisit topics as needed. This was recorded on October 1, 2020 and some information regarding COVID-19, library services, and policies may have changed. If you have any questions, contact the MBLC. Please watch these and bookmark the Virtual Trustee Orientation packet for the referenced materials.

The future is unknown and we plan on continuing our virtual orientations into 2021. We look forward to making the spring season more interactive with a new series of programs called Trustee Deep Dives meant to strengthen trustee’s knowledge and toolkit in their roles.

Making Adjustments to Keep Learning Going

Girls holding coding robots
Library users borrow the robots Dot and Dash to take home and learn to code with. Originally an in person program, the Porter Memorial Library in Blandford adjusted it in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The MBLC’s Summer Learning grants began in 2019 as a way for public libraries to offer more out of school learning opportunities during one of their busiest times of year. The thirteen grant recipients for 2020 had some amazing plans for this summer that were derailed by the pandemic. After taking some time to figure out a plan B, these libraries used their grant to adapt to the new needs of their communities in a variety of thoughtful ways.

Libraries are a key provider for out of school learning. With so much of life is taking place virtually, there was a real desire for activities that were offline and hands-on. Randall Library in Stow reallocated grant funds to offer circulating educational backpacks. The backpack themes included music, math, reading readiness, and storytelling/sequencing. Caregivers mentioned how helpful the backpacks were in engaging young children in learning and the benefit of being able to provide something educational that does not require a lot of effort or creativity on their part. Supporting families’ efforts in providing educational experiences for early learners has become even more critical as the pandemic has continued.

With in-person gathering out of consideration, libraries had to rethink the hands-on programming they had originally intended to have. Porter Memorial Library in Blandford switched their planned robotics program into a circulating robotics collection. This allowed participants to have a week to learn coding with a robot. Feedback indicated the longer time frame with the robots results in a greater depth of understanding as well as strong intergenerational learning. It also provided the opportunity for participants who may not have been able to make a specific program time the ability to use the robots. This kind of flexible thinking allowed the community to continue to experience the benefits of the library from the comfort of their own home.

Many grant recipients moved their programming online. Library virtual programs provided important connections for members of their community. A library user at the Jones Library in Amherst shared “In the height of quarantine, your program gave my son something to look forward to. Time learning was something he has always been interested in and interacting with kids his age on the other end was a game changer for him. Your first meeting was the first time in weeks that I saw him smiling. This time is particularly hard on teens and tweens.” The value of social connections has become increasingly apparent during the pandemic. Libraries have continued to provide opportunities for connection, with particularly effort made to reach at-risk populations, such as teens.

With some creativity and a lot of commitment, this year’s grant recipients were able to provide a variety of learning opportunities that worked for their individual community. While summer looked a lot different this year, libraries helped provide a much-needed bright spot for those that needed it.

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.

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,

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.

Happy Holidays from the MBLC

To Our Library Community and Partners,

This year has quite literally been one for the books. It’s created challenges we’ve never had to face but has made us grow closer and realize how much we need each other. You’ve had to reinvent library services and you deserve enormous respect for the many ways you’ve made it work.

As we continue to navigate this new normal, know that we’re so impressed with the creativity and resilience you’ve shown as you work to take care of yourself, those you love, and your community.

You are the reason people love their libraries and your health and safety are what matter most. On behalf of the Commissioners and staff of the MBLC, I wish you a healthy and safe holiday season and hope we can be together soon.

Mary Ann Cluggish, Chair
Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners

Walk With Ease: Program Opportunity With Positive Rewards

By Tom Cummiskey, Outreach Librarian at the Plymouth Public Library

Just before the COVID shutdown, I was notified by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners of a program opportunity that sounded like it would fit nicely into the Consumer Health programming that I was spearheading at the library.  After I spoke with Julia Chevan, the program coordinator at Springfield College Department of Physical Therapy, I requested 20 of the Walk With Ease guidebooks that would be distributed for free to patrons.  Students in the physical therapy program at Springfield College would be using the material in 1:1 coaching sessions with patrons as part of the internship hours they needed.

The books arrived while we were furloughed, but when we came back in August I began to promote the program through our social media, the Center for Active Living, and a local news article. The response was surprisingly strong, and by Labor Day I requested eight additional books.  Books were picked up by registrants at our curbside pickup area along with a welcome letter explaining how the program would work, and when the Springfield students would be contacting the registrants.

Students began contacting registrants the third week in September and for approximately six weeks, walkers and students began meeting virtually to review the material, learn strengthening and stretching exercises, and to offer walking tips, motivation and suggestions based on each person’s capabilities.

Once the program ended, I began to hear all sorts of glowing comments from the patrons, saying how wonderful and inspiring it was to work with such an enthusiastic group of students.  Many reported that they were now able to walk with more confidence and assurance, all benefits of the program.

When I offered participants the opportunity to meet virtually on a monthly basis throughout the winter as a means of continual support, there was great interest.  We had our first Zoom meeting for 30 minutes on December 2nd.  This further connection provided an adjunct program opportunity without having to do much other than organize the Zoom session, send out the link, and then facilitate the group discussion among the eager participants.  We will offer this monthly meeting through April, with the possibility of group activities once the “all clear” is given post-pandemic.

Feedback has all been positive for both the material presented in the book as well as the attentiveness and guidance of the physical therapy students at Springfield College.  The Walk With Ease program is a fine example of a collaborative effort between public libraries and higher education institutions.  Very little work was needed on our part to ensure participant success and it provided access to expertise and resources that would not have been locally available.  If any other libraries are interested in offering this programming, they can contact Dr. Julia Chevan at Springfield College.

Tom Cummiskey, MLS

Outreach Librarian

Plymouth Public Library

Plymouth, MA 02360



Reverting Back to Step 1, Phase III

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

This week 134 communities in Massachusetts were reported as “high risk” communities by the Department of Public Health. Communities will revert to operations under Step 1 Phase III of the state’s reopening plan after being designated as high risk for three consecutive weeks in the Department of Public Health weekly reports. Reverting back to Step 1 Phase III should have minimal impact on libraries. The most notable change is building capacity being reduced to 40% occupancy. Curbside services are not impacted.

During the fall and winter months it is likely that more communities will revert to Step 1 Phase III due to increased community positivity results. Below are some helpful links and information to help you navigate the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 Updates and Information page.

For a definition of “low risk community” and a list of communities not designated as low risk:

For an overview of allowable opening activity under Step 2 Phase III:

Safety Standards and Checklists for Libraries:

How community risk levels are determined:

The latest community level data reporting and risk designation, including map interface:

Frequently Asked Questions:

When does a community revert from Step 2 of Phase III to Step 1 of Phase III?
A community must revert to Step I of Phase III of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan, as outlined in the Governor’s COVID-19 Order #51, when the community is designated in the “red” category for three consecutive weekly Department of Public Health weekly reports.

When a community reverts from Step 2 to Step 1, what date is the reversion effective?
The rule changes go into effect the Monday after the data is posted. For example, if a community is red for the third week and the Department of Public Health posts the data on Thursday, then the rules go into effect on the following Monday.

What changes when a community moves from Step 2 to Step 1 of Phase III?
The following types of businesses are prohibited from operating during Step 1 of Phase III: indoor performance venues, roller skating rinks, trampoline parks, obstacle courses, laser tag and escape rooms.

The following types of businesses must reduce capacity to 40% (currently 50%) when operating during Step 1 of Phase III: driving/flight schools, gyms, libraries, museums, arcades, and lower-contact indoor and outdoor recreation businesses. During Step 1, outdoor gatherings at event venues and in public settings are limited to 50 people.

As always safety considerations for staff and library users are job one. Please remember to contact your local health department when making any decision regarding opening or modifying library building access and any expansion of library services.

Take care and be safe out there!

Update on 11/4/2020 at 3:00pm to clarify that towns were deemed “high risk”.

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).