In these unprecedented times, we are keenly aware of what is truly important: the health of our family and loved ones, the critical work of first responders and the medical community, and the basic needs of the most vulnerable in our community. Each one of you is playing a vital role - staying home if you can, flattening the curve through isolation and helping to bring Cambridge and greater Boston through this global crisis.
We know that you also care deeply about the Cambridge Public Library and that its closure is difficult, particularly now. I am writing with an update about how the Library and Foundation are evolving and responding to this crisis, and how you can continue to access Library services from the comfort of your own home.
What is happening at the Library?
All seven library branches are currently closed for business, with no timeline for reopening. When they do reopen, you can expect a slow return to normal. But rest assured that the most anticipated community events will be rescheduled. These include the opening of The Hive, the Library's new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) makerspace, and the unveiling of the donated Kehinde Wiley print, Portrait of a Girl Veiled.
While the buildings are shut down, the Library is operating in an enhanced capacity in its virtual form, with new resources, virtual programming and collections. You can read a comprehensive message from Library Director, Dr. Maria McCauley, here. A couple of highlights include: Your Next Great Read, where a Librarian will help you find your next favorite book based on a short questionnaire; virtual Family Story Time at 11:00am on Thursdays for Cambridge’s youngest residents; and special STEAM programming for teens. Additionally, you and your family can access streaming and eServices, including eBooks, movies, classes, historical documents and more for both education and entertainment.
The Library is also building out some virtual programming around the arts that will both support local artists and bring the arts to people in their homes. You can find more information about that program here.
Finally, Library leadership is working to get books into the hands of the most vulnerable in Cambridge. They are exploring partnerships with local organizations providing food assistance and COVID-19 health services to get free books to individuals and families to keep as gifts.
We are so grateful for the Library’s provision of expanded and enhanced free resources for the community during this challenging time, and for the public service of Cambridge’s dedicated Library leaders and staff. We are also very grateful to all of you who have been advocates and donors for years, supporting the strong public library infrastructure that is making all the difference in Cambridge right now.
What is happening at the Foundation?
With our staff working from home, the Foundation continues to operate as normally as possible. Since the closure, the Foundation has provided increased funding for programming and collections, and has been working to promote the eServices of the Library.
We have also created the Foundation blog you're reading right now, featuring an ongoing series that will profile some of the Librarian super-stars that you know and love. Our first piece, about Youth Services Manager Julie Roach, is live now! We look forward to continuing to bring you good news about the Library and its amazing staff. The Foundation's work to support the Library is a constant, despite the world spinning around us.
I am sending each and every one of you best wishes for good health and safety. The Foundation will continue to bring you the comforts, joy, power and promise of the Library as best we can during these uncertain times.
Katie Welch, Director
P.S. The Foundation will do everything that we can during this pandemic, and will be ready to support the Library when the doors finally reopen. Please feel free to support us now, if you feel moved and if you can. We are truly grateful.
It's no secret: we love the Cambridge Public Library staff! From circulation to admin, facilities to youth services - the enthusiasm, warmth, and dedication of Library workers makes Cambridge an amazing place to live and be.
While we look forward to life returning to normal, we'd like to share a series of conversations with Library staff members conducted by the Foundation last month. We hope that reading about their work brightens your day, and reminds you that no matter what goes on the world, the Cambridge Public Library will continue to support our community. First up: our conversation with Julie Roach, a familiar face around the children's room.
What do you do at the Library?
I manage youth services at the Library. That means I am responsible for coordinating public programs, outreach, collections, and face-to-face service for kids, teens, families, and anyone associated with them – teachers, counselors, students, and other librarians.
What’s a typical day at the Library look like for you?
Every day is dramatically different at the Library! I have a team that I manage of professional and paraprofessional librarians. We want to make sure that the spaces are friendly, welcoming, and open, that people are getting what they need, and that librarians are getting out, bringing the library to other people. We’re also making sure that our collection is in good shape, and we are planning for what’s coming.
What would you say is your favorite thing is about working in the Library and working with kids specifically?
My favorite thing that happens in the Library is getting kids connected to what is personally exciting to them. If there’s a book that resonates with them, I think that being the conduit for that is one of the most magical things that happens.
And the circulation in the children’s room is really high, right?
Yes! We own about 80,000 items and about 35,000 go out every single month. Children and families in Cambridge are real readers! They are very passionate and dedicated to the Library.
Why do you think the circulation is so high?
Having a strong collection on the shelf is really important. Also, I think that the staff, the professional children’s librarians in Cambridge, are exceptional at readers’ advisory. The children’s librarians are reading in their personal time, all the time. They’re reading at home, they’re reading on their commute, they’re reading all the time to try and stay up to date so that they can talk to kids about books and help kids find what to read next.
A librarian is not a parent or a teacher. They can build a relationship or a rapport with a child over pleasure reading in a way that it can be hard for another adult to. We work hard to build that trust with kids, so that they can see that we like and appreciate things that they do, that we can help them make choices that they’ll actually like, rather than what someone else might say is good for them. We’re always trying to connect kids with books that are going to speak to them, and we’re perhaps less concerned with what could be something that they could, you know, learn from. We want to try and spark their personal interest so that that learning will be more self-driven.
I can imagine – it’s such an empowering thing, to be a kid and be able to go in and just check out anything that you want. I don’t think there are a lot of places in your life where you can do that, especially when you’re five!
I think the Library is the one place that a child really has some agency. We’re very committed to a child’s privacy in the library, and for them to be able to check out whatever they want. If a child wants a book that’s too easy for them or too hard for them, you know, who cares? I always encourage families to borrow it anyway! Getting to make that choice is going to bring a child so much closer to loving reading than hearing, no, that book’s not right for you.
How did you get interested in working in the Library, and in the children’s room?
That’s kind of a long story! I studied to be a journalist, I went to Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. The biggest thing I learned while getting that journalism degree is that I would not be a good journalist! So when I graduated from college I had this great degree, and was kind of at a loss about what to do. I started doing some editing work and working in advertising, and I was kind of looking for a career. I stumbled upon Simmons and library school. I didn’t know much about working for a Library – I didn’t know you had to have a degree to become a librarian. So I did a little research and I thought, well, this would be something that meets all of my interests – I had always loved children’s literature, my mom was a first grade teacher. There were lots of books in our house and we went to the library a lot, so I appreciated the art and the text in a children’s book. I had always volunteered working with kids – so I just started to try it out. After I got my master’s degree, I worked at a couple of public libraries in Massachusetts before the job in Cambridge opened up. I’ve been here since 2005.
I wonder if you could also tell me a little bit — I know you’ve been involved with the Caldecott Committee too – you chaired it this year, right? How was it?
It was a wonderful experience! I had such an incredible committee – the Caldecott committee is made up of fifteen people including the chair. Half are elected, half are appointed, and it was a smart, dedicated group of people. You become very close over the year because you’re working really hard on this big goal. It was a great experience and I cherish the bond that the committee made, and the choices that came out of the experience together.
What makes children’s literature good? What makes the book “the pick”?
Good is such a strange word! Every book is good – it’s not “is it good,” but how is it good? For the Caldecott committee, we are evaluating the art of a picture book, so we’re looking for the most distinguished picture book published in the United States in a given year, and we are solely considering the art. That’s a big challenge, because some books are illustrated in a cartoon style, and some are painted in very realistic oils – there’s a gazillion different styles and media that people use to create children’s books. If you spend some time with them, they really are works of art – there are all kinds of things going on with shape, line, color, texture, design. We’re trying to find: what is the best at what it’s trying to do with the art? And in the end, our committee of fifteen people chose what we chose, and a different committee of fifteen people might choose something else. You can know a lot of about art, and you can discuss art, but in the end, everyone looks at art in a different way.
Is there anything coming up in the children’s room you’d like us to know about?
Summer reading is always a huge deal at the Cambridge Public Library! We plan to have public programs happening every day this summer, three times the usual amount. I want to give props to the Foundation – that extra financial support has helped us have a lot more programs. We’re also trying to have more programs on Saturdays and evenings so that working families can attend. Kids are invited to try all sorts of different challenges to complete their summer reading experience. The other thing that’s coming up this fall – we’re looking to have the illustrator Bryan Collier come to the Library to do a program for families.
Thank you, Julie!
Please note that upcoming events are prone to change in accordance with the Library's closure.
Children's room photography (c) Stu Rosner. Julie Roach photo (c) Christine Spadafor.
We are very pleased to share some inspiring news. Last week, the Cambridge Public Library Foundation received a gift of $25,000 from the Eric and Jane Nord Family Fund to support the Library’s operations during this time of increased need. While the coronavirus keeps us increasingly socially distant, people are exploring the Library’s online resources more than ever. With this gift, the Library will implement additional rollouts of remote services, e-resources, programs and technology.
The Foundation is deeply grateful to the Eric and Jane Nord Family Fund for this gift, and for helping the Library continue to play a critical role for people in Cambridge and beyond. The Eric and Jane Nord Family Fund previously supported STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) at the Library, with a $75,000 gift in 2019. Their generosity during this unprecedented time will bring much-needed joy and connection to our Library community.
The Library and Foundation are committed to supporting our community during these uncertain times. Earlier this month through Foundation support, the Library increased patrons’ access to Hoopla, which provides an array of e-content such as books, audiobooks, music, movies and more.
A beacon of solace, hope, and discovery for over 130 years, the Cambridge Public Library will continue to support our community no matter what’s going on in the world. During this difficult and uncertain time, the Library is here 24/7 through online resources. And, once life returns to normal, the Library space will once again be a cherished and celebrated community destination.
In the meantime, we look forward to sharing the creative ways the Library will use these new funds to further enhance their support of the community during these times. Stay safe, and stay tuned!