Library Directors Provide Update to Council

The Winthrop Town Council met virtually on Sept. 8, where it heard a presentation by the Library Director Dianne Wallace and Asst. Director Mary Lou Osborne.

In attendance were members of the Town Council, Town Manager Austin Faison, Asst. Town Manager Anna Freedman, Asst. to the Town Manager Laurisa Wojcik and about 60 members of the public.

Wallace and Osborne presented an informative slideshow about current library operations with the help of Asst. Town Manager Freedman. The presentation was commissioned by Council at its previous meeting.

Prior to the start of the presentation, Town Manager Faison prefaced that the goal was not to engage the directors in a back-and-forth with the public, but rather to inform the council and the public about the library’s up-to-date situation and its future goals.

Wallace began by lamenting the library’s current state of affairs.

“This is not the model of service we want to see,” she said. “We are in the sharing business. We want to share our materials. It breaks our heart we can’t invite people in.”

While closed, the library has been continuing to provide services such as front door pickup and home delivery. Since March, it has circulated around 5,000 physical items and 7,000 digital items. In addition, the directors have ordered thousands of new materials to expand their catalogue and have removed obsolete or missing titles from their inventory. As the only two remaining library staff, Wallace and Osborne have responded to all email and phone messages.

During its closure, the library has adopted new health and safety measures in order to prepare for the eventual reopening. These include germ shields, touchless faucets, hand sanitizing stations, signage, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff. High traffic areas will be sanitized regularly and the building will be disinfected by an electrostatic spray upon reopening.

In addition, the directors have developed procedures for safely handling materials and will be providing training for all returning staff. Personnel hours and duties may be altered in order to meet all health standards. To limit physical interaction, a self-service checkout station will be available.

The library intends to expand its hours for curbside pickup and to offer printing services. It would also like to offer technical assistance and reference services by phone. Virtual programming will become more robust, with offerings from Chef Liz and Ted Reinstein. The directors will also bring on new staff members, such as a children’s librarian.

The directors concluded their presentation by stating that they “look forward to the day when all services return to normal.”

Councilor Rob DeMarco mentioned that charts had surfaced online comparing the Winthrop Library to other area libraries. Town Manager Faison urged caution when interpreting these graphs, saying data can often be presented in such a way as to reflect a specific agenda.

“Those materials are given out to individuals who support libraries,” he warned.

Caller Steve Dalton was incensed at the idea, saying that he had personally created the infographics.

“I compiled that data and I’m not affiliated with the union,” he said. “It’s an independent endeavour because I’m enthusiastic about the mission of the library.”

Dalton continued, stating that the Winthrop Library system is “months behind” other libraries in the region, and that his group will “continue agitating and fighting” until they achieve their objectives.

Town Manager Faison asked for patience, stating, “We are trying to keep our employees safe while providing at least some level of service.”

Faison is currently in negotiations with the union to hire a new children’s librarian and to come up with a date upon which library staff can safely return to work. The current plan is to recall all of the personnel that had been furloughed and laid off, possibly as soon as the first week of October. The library’s bookstore would open simultaneously. Faison will meet with the union on Sept. 15.

During the public comment and correspondence portion of the evening, numerous individuals shared their support for the reopening of the library.

Caller Erica Risti moved to Winthrop at the start of the pandemic.

“The way I know I belong somewhere is when I have a library card from that town,” she said.

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