Even during the pandemic, Massachusetts libraries are finding creative ways to step up and support their communities. Virtual library events, entertaining and educational videos, ebooks, audio books, and research tools, are just part of how libraries are keeping people connected to the services they need. Below, you'll find some examples of the amazing work being done by libraries in their communities.

Using our 3D printer to help our local first responders

Library: West Bridgewater Public Library

The West Bridgewater Fire Department took to Instagram to thank West Bridgewater Public Library for making face mask extenders for their responders. Ellen reported that she’s using the library’s 3D printer to make the extenders, “We’re up to 325 extenders shared out to nurses, MDs, physical therapists, transporters, EMTs, sheriff’s departments, prison guards, “ she said. “It’s been a labor of love and the need to feel useful.” She also shared a bit about the process: With some inspiration from an involved patron, Ellen started the project. They moved the 3D printer out of the library and into her home in Halifax. She tweaked the print model a bit, in response to the feedback she got from the Good Samaritan nurses, making them thinner so they would bend around the head more comfortably. And she created a file that could crank out 5 at time. “My husband actually really got into it and I had him running the printer while I did other work from home for the library, “she added. The library is also hosting Laughter Yoga, Family Trivia Night, and a bunch of online storyhours that are produced on a weekly basis, too.

Wifi: Working remotely in our parking lot

Library: Wendell Free Library

From early morning through late evening the Wendell Library parking lot has a steady stream of 4 to 10 cars with individuals trying to "work remotely" or participate in school assignments. Unfortunately the Library wifi bandwidth has not been enough to meet the demand. Last week our tech guy shifted the bandwidth normally reserved for public computers in the library out to the parking lot wifi. This has helped but more is needed. Today the town is working on establishing a second temporary wifi connection for the public. It's looking positive but it may take another few weeks before it's installed.

Sharing the seed love

Library: University of Massachusetts Amherst Mass Aggie Seed Library

In March 2020, with the closing of the UMass Libraries and spring planting right around the corner, the Mass Aggie Seed Library moved to a virtual library with patrons requesting seeds to be sent to their home. A simple form allowed Massachusetts patrons to request a number of items. The response and seed requests were overwhelming, creating a "be careful what you wish for" scenario. Two hundred eight patron envelopes containing some 1043 seed packets were mailed. We have used this opportunity to connect virtually and hope patrons will someday visit in-person. All information, including a short video of the space, can be found at https://guides.library.umass.edu/seedlibrary

Community Art Night, Library Style

Library: Lawrence Public Library

The Lawrence Public Library through a generous grant from LITT was able to coordinate an art kit giveaway via the school food distribution sites. This giveaway is paired with three upcoming Facebook Live art workshops in partnership with two local art organizations, Elevated Thought and the Essex Art Center. LITT also funded a book giveaway which will take place in June to promote summer reading and share summer program calendars. Through these activities, we are reminded that in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, it is possible to infuse positive vibes in the community through simple acts. The looks on people's faces when they got an art kit for their family while they picked up food confirmed that we need more reminders of hope during this crisis. When all else is lost, make art.

Leominster Library Craft Kits to Go!

Library: Leominster Public Library

We pre-package crafts and some STEAM activities in Manila envelopes or brown paper bags, with all of the craft components that we would normally use during an in-person library program. We include a picture, and directions on how to complete the activity, if needed. We let patrons know the items they will need to supply. We keep the items needed very simple. Glue, markers, or crayons. We supply everything else. Patrons call to reserve a kit(s) and pick them up via curbside pick-up. We have received so much positive feedback. Families are enjoying doing a non-tech activity together at home.

Bringing the books to the students

Library: Fenway High School Library

Our students love to read. Knowing that the school was closing, they took armfuls of books out. But for many, that was not enough, plus there are so many awesome books still being published! Our librarian purchased and dropped off brand new books at students' houses so they could keep reading, or sent them through the mail, giving students the chance to read the latest titles and keep enjoying physical books even when the school library was closed.

Physically Distanced, Socially Connected

Library: Gwendolyn K. Airasian Library Media Center

Our Library Advisory Committee began putting together a podcast this year, and Wilson Middle School’s first episode dropped in January. We were well into recording our second episode, entitled ‘Sports!’, when school was cancelled for the year. Two weeks into lockdown, ‘Sports !’ was finished and went live. Work began on episode 3, entitled ‘Our New Temporary Normal’ and it is set to come out in mid-June. Under our normal school circumstances, these students had really taken it upon themselves to come up with ideas, write scripts, and promote the podcast for all members of the school community. They went above and beyond their normal schedules. Now, despite all the uncertainty, trauma, and whirring emotions— never mind adjusting to an all-digital workload— this group has brought this volunteer effort to fruition. This project is a symbol of a vital piece of Wilson’s library space: collaboration, but completing another episode has added resilience to that quality. Stick together. And check out the Wilson Library Podcast on Anchor.fm.

All People: Pandemic

Library: Beverly Public Library

When we relaunched our English Practice Group online, we had no idea that we would discover a new meaning to the word “pandemic.” Before the library shut down physically because of COVID-19, every Friday morning, volunteers lead groups of two to ten English language learners in comfortable conversation. We were not sure how such a group would work on video chat. Would anyone find us online; would anyone come? But we thought we’d give it a try. Two days after we posted the group on social media, someone registered. Only one person, whose name was written in both the latin alphabet and in arabic. And that Friday morning we met, in his little box, a young Egyptian man raised in Saudia Arabia, who was studying in Cairo and looking for free English language groups. He found us on Twitter. We talked for an hour across the continents. We talked about the pandemic, about Ramadan, about the US in comparison to Egypt in severity and response to COVID, about traffic, friends and family. The next week the group access email never made it to Cairo and no one else had found us, so we were alone in our virtual box. But the following week, eight of our regulars, thanks to the vigilance of a volunteer, were on screen, two of whom were stranded in Spain, sad to be missing the birth of a grandchild in the states. Other regulars hailed from Brazil and Thailand, Germany, Switzerland, and Poland. We talked of special celebrations, COVID, traffic, friends and family. The next week, the young man from Cairo joined us, pleased to see a group, as did two new women originally from Thailand and the Domican Republic. This time we sang Happy Birthday and cheered for a family member who was in remission. Later we talked about the beach and hula hooping and enjoyed a song sung with guitar in Spanish about resistance.. And so the group continues to grow. The word “pandemic” means, as we all know, in reference to a disease, “prevalent over a whole country or the world” (Oxford Languages). The roots of the word “pandemic” come from the Greek “pandemos,” meaning all people. As we were closing down our library and closing ourselves into our homes, we never could have imagined that a pandemic would open us up to offering services to new and old people all across the world.

Redefining Our Essential Services

Library: Turner Free Library

While we have been excited to offer virtual craft programs, story times, computer classes, lectures and more, the Turner Free Library staff have also been collaborating with our town's Elder Affairs department and the Randolph Resiliency Committee (formed in response to the COVID-19 crisis) to ensure that residents in need are able to access face masks, groceries, imperative health information, information about applying for unemployment benefits, and much more. In addition to assembling an extensive Community & Crisis Resource guide that has been shared across town, the library is also coordinating homemade masks to distribute to the community. Volunteers, including many of our own staff, have donated hundreds of homemade masks to assist in these efforts. The library is also proud to serve as the intake center for applications for the Resilient Randolph Fund, a United Way fund that is covering the costs of essential needs such rent, mortgage, food, utilities, medications, and other basic necessities. Far beyond books, we are trying to redefine what it means to be essential to our community.

Connecting with Senior Citizens

Library: Beverly Public Library

I drive the Bookmobile for the Beverly Public Library, which means that I am fortunate enough to get to work with many people who might not be able to enjoy the library otherwise. I get to see entire classes of children and adolescents, I visit Assisted Living Facilities and Nursing Homes, I visit low income housing, and I visit homebound patrons, just to name a few. It is so rewarding to see every day just how much of a lifeline libraries are, which is why I knew the devastating impact that closing libraries would have on the mental and emotional well-being of so many. So to try to combat the loneliness and isolation that would inevitably result from social distancing, I began calling all of my regular patrons on the days I would normally visit them. This began as a way to keep them updated on any news, because many people don't have access to the Internet at home. Then it morphed into my making sure that folks were aware of the community resources that were available to them, such as home delivery of groceries and prescriptions. And eventually it just became me on the phone listening. I listened as my patrons shared their thoughts and fears and funny stories. I listened as they told me how bored they were, or as they talked about their neighbors, or as they shared their concerns about their sobriety slipping, or as they told me stories about their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, or as they shared their anguish that they had a new grandchild and didn't know when they would be able to meet them, or as they cried on the phone telling me how frightened and overwhelmed they were, as they described their own harrowing experiences battling the virus, or as they shared the news that another patron - a mutual loved one - had passed away. I've become closer to patrons I didn't know particularly well before we closed, and patrons with whom I had previously shared a warm rapport have now told me that they love me, and that they consider me a friend. I have shared stories from my own life - about my dog or my family or my failed attempts at cooking or gardening - and I have shared in the stories I didn't know before, but which I feel I am somehow now a part of. I've shared frustrations over not being able to find flour or toilet paper at the store, I've laughed with my patrons over this or that everyday mishap, and in one instance I'll never forget, I've cried with a patron as we both marveled and rejoiced in the miraculous recovery of her husband. Libraries are now starting to reopen, and now when I call everyone shares their hopes that things "can get back to normal." But I hope that the things we have found during this crisis, this new intimacy, this renewed understanding of the importance of human connection, the realization that when things slow down, simple things - like a flower blooming or a bird nesting or finding a book in your house you haven't read yet - are cause for wonder and awe. And I certainly hope we don't forget that when people visit the library, they're not just there for the books.