At the heart of our mission and as a priority in our strategic plan, the Massachusetts Library System (MLS) supports our members’ initiatives by providing professional development focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and social justice (DEIASJ). In this interview series, the MLS is pleased to highlight the many ways that our libraries contribute to DEI in their communities. Jessica Atherton, Assistant Director, at the Newburyport Public Library, will fill us in about how staff at the Newburyport Public Library applied what they learned from MLS DEI programs.
Please tell us about how your library contributes to DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion).
Multiple staff have attended webinars on various DEI topics, from Pronouns 101, to “White Anti-Racist Allyship: What is our Role in the Struggle?” provided by MLS. Our library director, Sara Kelso, has participated in a DEI training program run by the City of Newburyport, which thus far has included an intensive four-week interactive training program through Visions, Inc. She acts as a member of the city’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) taskforce. This taskforce aims to support the City’s efforts in developing an equitable and sustainable community.
The library continually strives to expand services to our community. In September 2022, the library partnered with another city department to offer free, onsite weekly drop-in consultations to library visitors, which has had a positive impact on service to the community. We run a variety of book groups and recently added a Spanish language book group. We recently expanded our home delivery program to double its service capacity. We recently introduced a weekly Sensory Friendly Movie Matinee. A staff member has developed a Dari/Farsi pocket collection in response to the needs of a local community of Afghan families. We have adapted programming for patrons with various access needs, such as designing a hybrid approach to allow a blind member of our community to regularly participate in one of our book groups.
Feedback from our patrons
On our Home Delivery program:
- “I so appreciate all you do, extra efforts to meet requests, preferences, etc. We are so fortunate to have this service in our community.”
- “What a wonderful blessing to me and I’m sure other disabled people. The librarians are so nice and polite and helpful.”
- Two of our home delivery patrons often share that they are grateful for the program because it’s difficult for them to leave home. One member of this program loves that the library has introduced her to books that she had not considered before, including some Spanish titles. Another patron even recently gave the Friends of the Library a check-in appreciation for what the library does.
On our Spanish language book group:
- “Gracias por darnos la oportunidad de leer/discutir libros en español. No lo haría sin el grupo.” [“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read/discuss books in Spanish. I wouldn’t do it without the group.”]
- “…the conversation went really well, especially because we all had so much interest in the subject—she’s a fascinating person to learn more about. Great choice!”
What DEI services, resources, or programs provided by your library are you most proud of?
Our library collaboration with a social worker has met with great success. She stops by once a week and has filled an important need in the community.
In 2020, we received a small grant to improve services to individuals with low-vision and blindness. This allowed us to offer updated technology, accessibility aids, circulating materials, training, outreach, and additional resources to individuals with unique needs. It also provided an opportunity for us to see where we could further improve accessibility, which resulted in an application for the MBLC LSTA Access for All grant in April 2023, with a focus on serving the needs of individuals whose library experience might be improved with hearing assistive technology and services, sensory aids and programming, and low-vision tools.
We also offer up-to-date resource lists for patrons facing food insecurity.
Requests for materials focused on DEI topics such as LGBTQ+ issues, POC, and people with disabilities continue to increase. Our library makes a concerted effort to continually diversify materials in its collection for readers of all ages, backgrounds, and interests.
How did the DEI trainings offered by the Massachusetts Library System help you with your DEI efforts? What trainings were most useful?
A staff member attended “White Anti-Racist Allyship: What is Our Role in the Struggle?” provided by MLS. Like all of their programs, this webinar was interesting and useful. This training was an important platform for addressing challenges relating to DEI. The presenter was knowledgeable and provided good ideas for action plans and next steps for best practices, as well as options for expanding our DEI offerings.
What advice would you give to a library interested to get more involved with DEI?
DEI benefits patrons and staff. These are important concepts in a library context because they help to ensure that the library is welcoming and accessible to all members of the community we serve. As such, it’s worth the time, energy, money, and administrative support so staff can attend webinars and meetings, review policies, and participate in other activities to make this a part of our library life. Reviewing the MLS calendar of upcoming events is a great way to get started but be ready – those slots fill up fast!
We run an internal program called Bright Spots where staff recognize and share the accomplishments of our peers.
Interview with Jessica Atherton, Assistant Director, Newburyport Public Library
Interviewed by Michelle Eberle, Consultant, Massachusetts Library System