In this interview, we’ll hear from Molly Garlick, Assistant Director and Head of Youth Services at the Charlton Public Library. Molly will reflect on how the Charlton Public Library shines a light of hope for community resilience during the pandemic, how the library supports vulnerable and underserved populations, and what additional support and resources would be helpful to do this important work. This interview is part of a blog series highlighting how Massachusetts libraries contribute to community recovery and resilience.
What makes you most proud of your library’s response to the COVID pandemic?
Molly Garlick: Without a doubt, I am most proud of my coworkers. We all worked from home for a few months, and when we were allowed to come back to work, everyone was on board. Things were a little scary at first, but their professionalism and willingness to get back to work serving our patrons made me feel honored to work with such amazing people! Everyone did their part and then some. Even when we were closed to the public, our staff was never idle. They were moving collections, weeding, and even painting walls to keep busy and ready for the day we could open. One of our “COVID projects” was rearranging the Children’s Room to create a play space. The library was awarded an LSTA Mind-in-the-Making grant in 2020, which was ironic considering we were not open to the public and had no idea when we would be. Our staff came together and helped move shelves and furniture to create an even better space than I had originally envisioned. I could not have done it without their support and brute strength!
How has the library shined a light of hope during the pandemic?
Molly Garlick: We did our best to provide our patrons with materials to borrow using our lobby as a pickup location. Our adult services staff worked with patrons over the phone to help them order books or utilize our many digital resources at home. They even called to check in on patrons they hadn’t heard from. And for many of our older patrons, this brief human contact meant the world to them. My youth services assistant worked tirelessly to put together themed bags for families with children containing picture books, crafts, and small activities or trinkets. These were wildly popular! We created online book browsing request forms for families to fill out. Our Children’s Circulation Clerk would then choose a variety of books based on their requests and put them out in the lobby for families to pick up. Patrons were so grateful for this service, as they were not able to browse for themselves. They loved opening the bags to see the book choices. We also started a monthly book box program for tweens and teens. The boxes held 2-3 library books as well as other fun items like crafts & snacks.
Our patrons’ gratitude was overwhelming. This is an email from one of our regular patrons sent before we were able to open for browsing:
“I feel fortunate and grateful for the Charlton Library, and for all the staff there. While I wish I could browse, I still love going to pick up books. My family and I have especially enjoyed the bags for kids that you put together. We have remarked how wonderful it is to have a theme, new books, and a craft or some other amusement. Our grandkids love the stuff (a tiger pop-up toothbrush and fake snow were big hits recently), and our wall is covered with arts and crafts projects my wife and the kids have made together. I was writing to our daughter in NH this morning, bemoaning the tough challenge of living in a COVID winter. I told her I was on my way to get books at the library and felt like I was a man in the desert heading to an oasis. Thanks for being an oasis for us!
Sincerely, Rich P.
P.S. I’m sure we’ll love the library post-COVID, but it is a special blessing now!”
Please tell us about how the library supports vulnerable and underserved populations.
Molly: When we were able to open to the public and set up our brand new play space in June of 2021, families from over 16 surrounding towns came to play. Having a place that all families could enjoy for free was so important for everyone at that point. It was incredible to hear parents talk about their children’s looks of amazement just to be somewhere that wasn’t home, because they could not even remember being anywhere else. One specific group we thought about while we were shut down was the families who came to the library for DCF visits. The Children’s Room was a popular meeting place for estranged families pre-COVID. Being open again and able to provide a new play space was not only good for families wanting to leave the house. Families were now able to spend time together in a space meant to foster parent-child interactions and relationships.
What strengths of the library have been most important during COVID-19?
I think our ability to be creative and think outside the box has been one of our biggest strengths. And I know we are not alone in this. We had to re-think everything we did from checking in books to running programs. Our ability to adapt and our dedication to figuring out how to make things work during whatever phase we were in was what made our library so successful in a time of crisis.
What new resources or support would help your library continue to support community recovery and resilience?
Our next goal is to create a better space for our tween and teen patrons (desperately needed in our community) and we are preparing to apply for the Tween & Teen LSTA grant!
Anything else you would like to share?
We are so grateful to the entire library community for sharing ideas and stories. It helped to know we weren’t alone. And we are also grateful to the Massachusetts Library System for continuing to reach out and offer such amazing support. Thank you!
Interview with Molly Garlick, Charlton Public Library
Interviewed by Michelle Eberle, Massachusetts Library System