Libraries without walls

  • The Cushman Library in Bernardston. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Cushman Library in Bernardston. Jan 18, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

For the Recorder
Published: 4/6/2020 8:44:53 AM

When I signed up to write this column a few months ago, I intended to share a few of the online services offered by our local libraries. Little did I know that I would write it at a time when many librarians are busily fostering virtual libraries on their Facebook pages and websites.

In recent days, our brick and mortar libraries have closed. Digital offerings have suddenly become the foundation on which our libraries temporarily rest.

Cushman Library in Bernardston has long offered its patrons a number of online opportunities such as audiobooks through Recorded Books.

The library also has a subscription for Universal Class, which offers more than 500 courses in a vast array of subjects including accounting, grant writing, web development, yoga, creative writing, and interior decorating. Many of the classes offer continuing education units and certificates.

Another service, Transparent Language Online, gives patrons a chance to learn more than 90 languages at their own pace. Users can download lessons onto their phones and learn on the go. The library’s newest digital service is RBDigital Magazines, through which folks can access more than 50 magazines online — patrons also have access to Consumer Reports online and some comics and books in the RBDigital hub.

Of all these, ACORN TV is the library’s most popular digital offering. Through the service, Cushman Library patrons can sign up for unlimited access to British television shows as well as programming from Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and other countries.

While these four subscriptions are the cornerstone of the Bernardston library’s digital offerings, patrons can also access the Gale databases, which every library in Massachusetts has access to through funding from the MA Library System and MA Board of Library Commissioners. These include Gale OneFile, which features many topics and subscriptions to Kids Infobits, Britannica, The Boston Globe and more.

Cushman Library closed its doors to the public on March 16. We are tentatively planning to re-open when schools do, which at this time is set for May 4, but nothing is set in stone. It’s a long time, but it’s incredibly important that everyone stays inside. We must all do our part to keep everyone safe and healthy.

There are a lot of decisions to be made regarding protocols that will be put into place when we re-open, but for now, my job is to foster a virtual library.

In addition to the services listed above, the library’s website has information to show folks how to submit their Census responses as well as opportunities for our library families to learn, read, play, and relax at home. There are story readings from so many sources including authors reading aloud their own books and links to educational sites that are making content available to assist parents with the ongoing education of their children. On the library’s Facebook page, there are links to music from John Lithgow, who shares his silly wonderful songs for children, and a YouTube channel featuring They Might Be Giants, which is music that kids and parents alike will love.

Resources are available for adults, too. LeVar Burton, of Reading Rainbow, has a podcast on which he reads short stories. Elsewhere, museums and aquariums are offering virtual tours and artists sharing ideas for projects that can be done at home.

There’s even have a virtual book discussion group taking place on the Facebook page. Cushman Library is one of 25 others from the area participating in the Libraries in the Woods Community Reading initiative. This year, patrons from across Franklin County are reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.”

Please visit Cushman Library on Facebook for more information. You can also reach me at

Looking ahead, Beth Wysk DeMarco and I, who alternate hosting weekly Wednesday story hour events, are working on the logistics of presenting Story Hour from our respective homes. We’re not sure whether they will be live or recorded yet, but there will be stories and a craft.

Free internet access

The following libraries have confirmed WiFi connections that are available from outside the building 24/7: Arms Library in Shelburne Falls; Buckland Public Library; Cushman Library in Bernardston; Dickinson Memorial Library in Northfield; Edwards Public Library in Southampton; Griswold Public Library in Colrain; Heath Free Public Library; Leverett Public Library; M. N. Spear Memorial Library in Shutesbury; Montague Public Libraries; New Salem Public Library; Tilton Library in South Deerfield; and Wheeler Memorial Library in Orange.

The Sunderland Public Library has WiFi available in the parking lot and backyard from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. In most cases, you just have to accept the terms of WiFi use to connect.

Digital services

Most libraries are communicating and engaging with their patrons via Facebook. Please visit your local library’s page for more information.

All C/WMARS libraries offer free access to thousands of ebooks, audiobooks and digital magazines through Overdrive and Libby to anyone who has a C/WMARS library card. If you don’t have a library card, C/WMARS is now offering a free digital library card that you can apply for from home. Visit for more information, or contact your local library.

Sunderland Public Library offers Kanopy, a service that streams movies. Users must connect their library card to a free Kanopy account. Patrons can access 10 free films per month. Kanopy also offers unlimited access to Kanopy Kids, a collection of children’s films, television shows and visual storybooks, and Kanopy Courses, which are educational video classes on a wide variety of topics. Other services include TumbleBooks, collections of ebooks and audiobooks. TumbleBooks is easy to use and features unlimited access from home. You don’t need a library card and books are available instantly. 

The Sunderland library’s website,, now has a page called “Programs from Home,” which will have links to join live programs, video recordings of previously hosted programs and instructions on activities you can complete at home. Contact them at or 413-665-2642. 

M.N. Spear Memorial Library: Along with Overdrive, the Shutesbury library offers Kanopy, Hoopla, and Acorn to Shutesbury residents only. Librarians are hoping to host a virtual book club meeting and a ukulele strum-along.

Librarians from Tilton Library in South Deerfield can be reached by emailing They will be adding additional copies of popular ebooks and audiobooks on Overdrive soon. Visit the library’s Facebook page to find posts with links to activities like virtual museums, author drawing lessons, author storytime, free ivy league college courses, online storybook readings and more.

Edwards Public Library in Southampton has been sharing library, state and federal resources. Along with an online catalog, digital resources and e-newsletter, librarians have expanded their offerings to include Facebook Live Story Hour. Also, their staff has been taking “house calls” to respond to research and Internet questions.

Along with offering digital resources through Overdrive and Libby, Griswold Public Library in Colrain offers language learning through Mango. Librarians there just recorded their first virtual “Stories and Songs” and shared the link on Facebook and the library’s website, Librarians have posted a list of resources for Colrain residents with questions at A couple favorite links are for kiddos and, GCF Learn Free, where adults can learn and improve their tech. You can reach them at

Buckland Public Library has been digitally sharing sharing book-related links and STEM activities for children. They are hoping to add a virtual book discussion group and are considering a writing group as well.

Librarians from Wheeler Memorial Library in Orange posts updates online at They offer TumbleBooks and access to Advantage Archives newspaper archive at and have been introducing their patrons to, which has lesson plans for grades K-12 and lots of fun local history resources. They are currently testing out programming with Zoom, a video communication platform.

New Salem Public Library is offering the LEA program, a new and innovative way to access more ebooks and more audiobooks. Powered by Overdrive, LEA makes it possible for people to borrow e-content in all networks regardless of your home library. A link they recently found is for the National Emergency Library, which provides books to students and the public. They are updating their Facebook page and website weekly and working on digital programming to share with their patrons. They can be reached at

The Montague Public Libraries, which includes Carnegie Library in Turners Falls, Montague Center Library and Millers Falls Library, are interacting with patrons digitally every day. The libraries can be found on Facebook under “Montague Public Libraries.” Librarians have added a page that’s specific to COVID-19 information to their website, which also includes links to online services as well as educational and entertainment activities for people of all ages. Patrons can find both normal digital offerings and an ever-growing list of resources on Facebook including free online yoga and dance classes, online storytime by authors, guidance on how to talk to children about COVID-19 and more. Librarians can be reached at

Dickinson Memorial Library in Northfield is posting recordings of Matt Atwood reading aloud every Wednesday and Friday, posting about digital offerings and fun things once or twice a day on days they would ordinarily be open. They are updating their website,, and keeping a semi-blog. In addition to Libby, Dickinson is offering Hoopla, Kanopy and, starting in early April, Acorn and Quello. They will be trying an online book discussion next week. For more details about that, e-mail

Daily updates from The Heath Free Public Library can be found on Facebook and the library’s website, They also check their telephone messages at least twice a day Monday through Saturday. They will soon be offering preschool story hour via Zoom. Stay tuned.

Arms Library in Shelburne Falls will be offering story hours presented by local people and librarian Laurie Wheeler and music by Dave Herrera. Both will be posted on the library’s Facebook page. There will be a resource page going on the library’s website this week, Notably, Wheeler is a member of the town’s emergency task force. She can be reached at 413-625-0306. ACORN TV will soon be available to anyone who holds an Arms Library card, along with Great Courses and Quello.

Additionally, if you are a Massachusetts resident and don’t already have a Boston Public Library card, you can register online for a BPL eCard. This will give you access to all PBL online resources, Overdrive and Hoopla, which allows you to instantly borrow digital movies, ebooks and more.

Normally, librarians say, “be sure to get in touch with your hometown library to see what’s being offered.” But now, in this surreal digitally-based world, we are functioning as one huge library that anyone with a computer, tablet or cellphone can access. The libraries in this region are in contact with each other, sharing resources, suggestions, information, with the goal of keeping patrons engaged, entertained, educated, and informed. We all miss “our people” and look forward to the day when we are back in our buildings with our patrons and things feel normal — but that’s a ways down the path we are on. For now, do everything you can to stay safe and healthy and be sure to visit your virtual library without walls. We’re here for you.

Karen Stinchfield is director of Cushman Library in Bernardston. The library can be reached at 413-648-5402.


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