Tuesday, March 30th 2021
Dear Brookline Community:

I am writing to follow up on the letter that the Trustees and I published last week. First, however, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the many, many folks who reached out to the Trustees, the staff, and me, thanking us for all that we are, and have been, doing, and encouraging us to follow the recommendations of Dr. Jett regarding re-opening the library. We received emails, chats, voicemails, Facebook messages, and even a couple of notes through the book drop. Thank you so much!

A couple of community members reached out to me with questions and I thought it best to put the questions/concerns and answers all in one place, for everyone’s convenience:
1. There were several questions about Dr. Jett’s data and his reasoning behind his decisions. I would say, with utmost respect, that those questions should be directed to Dr. Jett. I will pass along your concerns to him, but would suggest you reach out to him directly.
2. “I am not aware of generally declining availability of COVID testing.” COVID testing statewide has declined precipitously in Massachusetts during the month of March.
Screenshot of Massachusetts Department of Health website, with graphs showing percent positivity of COVID test results, and proportion of positive tests over time by age group
3. “If there are not enough tests to track a spike, then how does he (Dr. Jett) know there is an uptick in the UK variant?” There are more reported occurrences than before, but likely many undetected due to lack of testing.
4. “The Board’s letter says it is waiting to re-open the buildings until the majority of staff have been vaccinated. Can you please tell us what your ‘majority’ metric is, and what portion of staff have already been vaccinated?” Dr Jett indicated that herd immunity is reached at 70% so that is the number we are using. We are actively, though anonymously, collecting data about how many staff have been vaccinated. As of March 29, we are at 29%. Vaccinations for staff are becoming ever more available. Since December, we have been fiercely advocating on the state and national level to have library workers included in the vaccine schedule with educators, but our pleas went entirely unacknowledged. The Brookline Board of Library Trustees wrote and sent an amazing letter to Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Sudders, which they never received confirmation of receipt for. Furthermore, the letter was used as a model by other Boards of Trustees across the state.
5. “The letter indicates optimism about opening ‘sooner, rather than later’, thanks to anticipated widespread vaccine availability by mid-April. But I believe this discussion started with a statement that the Board is eyeing July for re-opening. How are those two timelines reconciled in the Board’s thinking?” When I presented the library budget to the Advisory Committee on March 4, Governor Baker had not yet made his March 17 announcement that all Massachusetts residents would be eligible to be vaccinated on April 19. That announcement enabled us to shift our timeline, and we have done so.
6. “In the library trustees meeting minutes I have seen little or no discussion about community outreach, especially to folks who don’t have internet access or computers at home.” Since the beginning of the pandemic, the library has been actively reaching out to the community in a variety of ways. We have designated outreach and programming staff who handle that work, so while it might not appear in Board minutes, it is definitely happening. Among other steps, we offered all of our laptop computers to the Town IT department to deploy to students at the beginning of the pandemic. We have partnered with Brookline Thrives to send home printed announcements regarding our programs and services. We print a weekly update in the Brookline TAB. I have been on the radio multiple times discussing programs and services. We have been loaning laptops bundled with hotspots for folks who don’t have computers or internet access at home, the expanded scope of our Wi-Fi hotspot program is due to the generosity of the Brookline Library Foundation. Our Wi-Fi extends outside of our buildings, and we have put out yard signs providing the password. We currently offer printing services so that those without a printer at home still have access. We have also partnered with Brookline Interactive Group to live-stream much of our programming on television in order to make programming accessible to patrons without internet access. We have also partnered with the Senior Center to distribute Adult Craft-Along kits with DVD instructions.

With regard to unhoused residents, we have been very concerned about them. I am serving on the Town’s Homelessness Task Force to help coordinate town-wide efforts on this issue. In addition, during the pandemic, most shelters have expanded the hours that they are available to people who are experiencing homelessness so they have not been without shelter, particularly during the winter.
The library has worked hard to connect with our elderly and at-risk neighbors through a robust partnership with Mutual Aid Brookline. We have streamlined our processes regarding who/how materials can be picked up so that folks who can’t make it to the libraries still receive service. We also staff the library phones robustly to provide reference and technology assistance to our patrons who aren’t computer buffs. We enjoyed a fun uptick of folks needing training on their devices given to them by kids and grandkids for the holidays!
7. “Can we re-open the library for folks/services that really, really need it?” Library management is hard at work planning to re-open. I don’t want to give an estimate on when exactly it will be, but I can give you some ideas of what will likely be available, barring any extreme, unforeseen circumstances:
  • Limited in-person browsing at all locations. We will honor capacity limits and allow folks 20-30 minutes to browse the collections, pick up holds and museum passes, etc.
  • Computer use. Similar model to browsing. We do currently offer printing and have extended the reach and strength of our Wi-Fi around all three locations. The Wi-Fi is available 24/7. And, as mentioned above, we loan computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, iPads, and Launchpads, for anyone who needs one.
  • Surprise book bundles. This program has proven popular for children and we hope to continue it, so that folks who are in a rush, or cramped by their limited browsing time, can grab a bundle and go!
  • Outdoor programming. (And continued streaming programs)
  • Summer reading for all ages.
  • Expanded museum pass availability as museums re-open.
  • We anticipate a phased re-opening.
Re-opening may seem as simple as throwing our doors open, but we have had to do a huge amount of reconfiguring of the buildings to enable us to have as many staff working as possible. We have moved offices, computers, hold shelves, new material displays, break rooms, etc. Most of that work will have to be modified in order to schedule our 94 staff members in the spaces safely. We are well on our way to having a cohesive plan for re-opening, but are not quite there yet.
      8. “I haven’t seen any metrics or targets for the library reopening or really much discussion about the public health guidance that has led to the prolonged closure. Again, it seems like this decision has been made in a very opaque manner” The library has engaged in a very strong campaign to notify the public of any and all service changes. We believe that we have always been good at our messaging, but we have kicked it up several notches during the pandemic. For a long time last year, I was issuing letters to the public every couple of weeks. We have a weekly newsletter. My letters and the newsletter content are frequently reproduced either in addition to or in lieu of the library’s weekly column in the TAB. We send press releases to all local agencies, including the Town’s PR firm, which reissue them widely.

      The Library Board meets on the second Tuesday of every month, all meetings are open to the public. You can subscribe to receive notifications of Trustee activity here.

      As I have mentioned elsewhere, Dr. Jett is the authority on public health in Brookline. As an agency of the Town, the Trustees decided from the beginning that it was advisable and appropriate to follow his advice as it pertains to our operations

      As many of you know, Brookline is a member of the Minuteman Library Network of 41 area libraries. At this time, somewhere between 57-73% of those libraries are still closed to the public, due to the public health advice they have received locally.

      It bears noting that yesterday, the CDC director warned of “impending doom” as COVID cases rise nationwide. She urged Americans to be patient: “We're just almost there, but not quite yet. And so I'm asking you to just hold on a little longer to get vaccinated when you can, so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends."

      I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you in the Town for your tireless support and encouragement as we navigate these scary times together. And thank you to those who submitted thoughtful questions; I hope I have answered them clearly. If you have further questions, you can reach me at


      Sara Slymon
      Library Director
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