Thanks to all who participated in our winter MLS Listening Tour!  Below is a summary.  We learned a lot about what’s happening in Massachusetts libraries and gathered important feedback to inform the future of MLS.  The Executive Board and Leadership Team at MLS is reviewing this information and considering next steps.

General Information

MLS scheduled nine in-person and one virtual listening tour sessions in January 2019.  Six in-person sessions were held at Forbes Library in Northampton, Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Worcester Public Library, Falmouth Public Library, Abington Public Library and Boston Public Library.  Three sessions were cancelled due to low registration at New Bedford Free Public Library, Wellesley Free Library and Parker Memorial Library in Dracut. All sessions were led by MLS Resource Sharing Director Stephen Spohn.  

In total, there were 51 attendees including four from academic libraries and 44 from public libraries.

Member Updates

Common Updates/Themes:

  • Many libraries reported recent staff changes and noted that it takes time for new staff to get situated and that there are impacts on library programs and services.
  • Another common concern was building construction, renovation and maintenance.
  • Many libraries reported on successful grants and on fundraising efforts.  In addition to LSTA, notable grant sources including Community Preservation Committee, Cultural Council and Councils on Aging grants.

Additional Brief Updates:

  • Abington Public Library went fine free the day of the listening tour.  There was a brief discussion on the topic among participants and it was noted that Abington, Marshfield, Quincy and Weymouth are the four OCLN libraries who are totally or partially fine-free.
  • Adams Free Library recently launched a new website.
  • Agawam Public Library recently welcomed its new director, Nancy Siegel.
  • Avon Public Library successfully advocated for a new children’s librarian position using its successful summer reading programs to highlight community demand and interest.
  • Belmont Public Library is dealing with staff changes and in the early stages of a new library of things.  (Note that MLS has a LoT guide.)
  • Berkshire Athenaeum (Pittsfield) is in the midst of a rebranding project including a new website.
  • Boston Public Library / Library for the Commonwealth is about to launch Kanopy and planning LFC road shows for 2019.
  • Cape Cod Community College is facing declining enrollment so has increased faculty outreach to encourage faculty to engage with the library on information literacy.  CCCC has launched the Credo Instruct information literacy tool.
  • The East Longmeadow Public Library director now reports to the town manager due to a change to town government.
  • Edwards Public Library (Southampton) has a community preservation grant application in progress.  The library was received level-funding by override this year.
  • Emily Williston Library (Easthampton) will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year and is getting ready to launch a bike-mobile.
  • Falmouth Public Library mentioned their new bike-mobile, their successful Homebound Delivery service, their successful Falmouth Reads Together community read and their efforts to measure in-house use of library materials.  (They note significant use in the children’s room that was previously not captured.)  Project Bread was a worthwhile addition to their Summer Reading Program.  In addition, they note an increase in people coming in with devices and interested in electronic resources.  Finally, they try to work with people with fines to nurture reading among families. Note that fine free is a hot topic among Cape and Islands libraries.  There was a discussion of auto-renewal functionality among participants with a note that both SAILS and Boston Public Library are doing it.
  • Forbes Library (Northampton) will celebrate its 125th anniversary this year.  They are focusing more on community outreach outside the building and are building energy around special collections and their museum.  Their newly installed self-check machines are responsible for 30% of their adult circulation. Also, they recently combined their circulation, interlibrary loan and outreach delivery service into a Borrower Services Team.
  • Griswold Library (Colrain) built an idea lab and is holding complementary workshops led by “Colrain Crafters.”  Betty Johnson announced that she plans to retire June 30.
  • Holbrook Public Library did a “One Campaign” to target homeowners without library cards by comparing OCLN records against the town registry.  Due to budget increases, the library no longer needed a waiver for state aid this year. Congrats!
  • Jones Library (Amherst) will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year and is hosting a legislative breakfast.  The town also switched to a new model with a city council this year.
  • Lanesborough Public Library recently welcomed its new director, Shiela Parks.
  • There’s much ado at the M. N. Spear Memorial Library (Shutesbury) including an LSTA grant for Science Literacy and an NER/NNLM grant.
  • Massachusetts College of Library Arts won a grant to renovate library space into a learning commons and is launching some OER (Open Educational Resources) efforts.
  • Milton Public Library is trying to sell an old building that hasn’t been an active branch since 1996.  In April, the library celebrates the 10th anniversary since its renovation.
  • Northeastern University has put quite a bit of library materials into storage to create more open spaces in the library and discussed their studio area for 3D printing, projects and media creation.
  • Plymouth Public Library boasts a DESE-funded literacy program that has supported renovated classroom space at the library.  Library Associates are required to have taken two ALA-accredited MLS courses, and Plymouth notes that this has led some to continue on in their education toward the master’s degree.
  • Rockland Memorial Library expressed concerns about OSHA standards that go into effect for municipalities February 1 when there is no central town facilities manager.  (Jennifer Harris at Plymouth Public Library mentioned that the only action she was encouraged to take was the addition of an eye wash station.  (MLS has followed up with MBLC on this topic.)
  • Samoset Middle School (Leominster) is cataloging its collection following a cyber attack that resulted in the loss of their Follett system and data.
  • Scituate Town Library is having good results with its new self-check machines and self-serve holds.  (Patrons have expressed concerns that staff might lose their jobs, and the library has explained to them that this frees their time for programs, etc.)  The library is planning a Library of Things and mentioned a great relationship with a social worker in town who provides library staff development and who accepts referrals (for patrons) from the library.
  • Shrewsbury Free Public Library received a Mind in the Making LSTA grant and also received funding from the Greater Worcester Community Foundation for its English Language Conversation Circles that is also helping to keep its new cafe open.  Visitors and circulation are on the rise – a challenge for the library when staff and resources are not keeping pace. Sadly, the library is facing a challenge by vandals that are inserting Nazi literature into selected library materials.
  • The new East Forest Park branch of Springfield City Library is expected to open late in 2019 and will boast a 100-seat community room with after-hours access.  Springfield also won an LSTA grant for STEM and a grant from Greater Springfield Senior Services for its Let’s ReengAGE program targeting seniors.
  • Storrs Library (Longmeadow) is in dialog with the town and board on roles and responsibilities.  They are also hosting a legislative breakfast.
  • Andrea Bernard of Tyler Memorial Library (Charlemont) was recently quoted in the Boston Globe article on broadband access in Western Massachusetts.
  • Madeleine Charney of UMass Amherst is excited about her upcoming webinar on libraries and climate change.
  • Wareham Public Library was recently recertified and is working hard to build staff, services and programs to serve its community.
  • Westborough Public Library is weeding and reconfiguring to create more open meeting spaces.
  • Weymouth Public Libraries is hip deep in the early stages of its new construction project.
  • Whitman Public Library is working more closely with the town high school on programs to attract teens such as video games and crafts.  So far, it’s working!
  • Woods Hole Public Library is planning in concert with the historical society next door.  They started a patron appreciation week led by trustees with snacks in the library that was very successful.
  • Yarmouth Town Libraries discussed their successful Cookie Stroll fundraiser and Whooville Express events.  Yarmouth, Barnstable and Dennis libraries also partnered with local historical societies to digitize local papers with Community Preservation Grant funding from each town.  Yarmouth is involved in a town-wide effort – Yarmouth 2020 – to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrim’s on Cape Cod including the Sail on By (SOB) event in December 2020.

Positive Notes

  • Participants responded well to upcoming planned marketing efforts related to Cooperative Purchasing with MHEC including new thematic marketing brochures, e.g. construction, renovation and building maintenance.  MLS may wish to consider another contract for library maintenance contract providers, e.g. Lyngsoe, if they do not already fit within another contract.
  • Delivery was positively mentioned at every tour stop.  Participants did, however, mention dissatisfaction with the cost for the optional holds sorting service and noted that bins needed washing.
  • Mediated Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery received praise at a few sessions.
  • Summer Library Program often received praise.  Participants asked about the libraries that do not use the service to see if small libraries were overrepresented in that group.  55 of the 77 public libraries that do not participate serve populations under 5,000 people.
  • In addition, there was consistent praise for these listening tours and the new value dashboards.

Constructive Notes

  • “Local” services such as consulting, continuing education and general member outreach were greatly impacted by the consolidation.  As a result, many member libraries lack a strong connection to MLS.  Members want more proactive outreach and more responsive consulting and continuing education.
  • Members want more networking opportunities to share with one another – both general and topical sessions.
  • Members find our website cumbersome and difficult to use to find answers and people who can assist them.
  • MLS communications are unbalanced and are inadvertently inflating the profile or special initiatives over important core services. 
  • It was noted that emails don’t always have clear subject lines or a prominent call to action and often fail to explain acronyms and abbreviations that may not be understood by all recipients.
  • Participants suggested a marketing warehouse where members could easily grab items for their libraries and their local marketing efforts.
  • Finally, it was clear that many members, even seasoned Massachusetts library veterans, lacked a good understanding of the statewide framework of services, resources and support for libraries.