Royalston, Sunderland libraries recognized for stellar service

  • Katherine Umstot, library director at the Sunderland Public Library. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sunderland Public Library at 20 School St. has received a four-star rating from Library Journal. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Staff members Barbara Richardson and Kristina Schellie in the Phinehas S. Newton Library in Royalston. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Phinehas S. Newton Library in Royalston has received a five-star rating from Library Journal. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Staff member Kristina Schellie in the Phinehas S. Newton Library in Royalston. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/1/2023 3:35:25 PM

For their continued dedication to serving patrons, including adapting operations on the fly in response to the pandemic, two local libraries were awarded 2022 Star Library ratings by Library Journal, a prestigious librarian journal.

Royalston’s Phinehas S. Newton Library and the Sunderland Public Library were awarded a five-star and four-star rating, respectively, in Library Journal’s annual rankings, which take library visits, circulation, Wi-Fi use and website visits into its considerations. Rankings are broken up by expenditure range, and the top 10 scorers are given five stars and the following 10 are given four stars. Phinehas S. Newton Library falls into the $50,000 to $99,999 range and Sunderland falls into the $100,000 to $199,999 category.

Fiscal year 2020 data submitted to state and federal governments was sourced for scoring the 2022 ratings, meaning the pandemic only affected a few months of data for Massachusetts libraries — some states submitted data for the calendar year, depending on their laws. It also means some libraries previously receiving star ratings had their stats fall because they were closed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“It was a real honor and a surprise we were cited as one of the top ones, but it was somewhat tempered by the conditions,” said Phinehas S. Newton Library Director Katherine Morris. “We’ll still aim to maintain those high standards and that’s always been our goal here. … It’s an affirmation of what we’re doing.”

The libraries were among only 20 in the state and 258 public libraries nationwide to receive stars. In total, 5,359 libraries received scores, which is the lowest number of libraries the journal has ever scored due to the pandemic complicating reporting requirements.

In Sunderland, Library Director Katherine Umstot said it is an honor for small libraries to be recognized by a respected outlet.

“It’s really meaningful, especially since the pandemic has been so difficult for libraries,” Umstot said. “It doesn’t come with any money or anything like that, but it’s nice to be recognized by other librarians.”

Part of the two libraries’ success in keeping the community engaged was their response to the pandemic. Morris and Umstot said their libraries and staff quickly adapted to the changing world around them by reworking library operations and keeping an open line of communication with residents.

“It was definitely a difficult transition for everyone, but we made a real big push to remain communicative with our patrons and let them know we were there for them,” Umstot said, noting the Sunderland Public Library expanded its digital collections, offered curbside pickup and other alternative library services.

With most of its services back to pre-pandemic levels, Sunderland Public Library’s Head of Adult Services Aaron Falbel said the library has kept some of its pandemic changes into 2023, including the curbside pickup and the use of Zoom to allow for hybrid programming.

“We’re happy to cater to patrons’ desires,” Falbel said. “We want everyone to feel welcome and safe, that’s the bottom line.”

Morris said the Phinehas S. Newton Library leaned into its monthly community newsletter and provided folks with outdoor activities to take on during pandemic shutdowns. The library also made large collections of books free for the community and gave out 1,100 craft kits for children, which she said is impressive for a town of 1,200 people.

“We kept staffing, we weeded the collection and instead of saving them for the book sale, we left them out for free,” Morris said. “It was a time when I felt the community really came together.”

This marks the first time any Franklin County or North Quabbin library was awarded Star Library ratings. While Williamsburg’s Meekins Public Library was not awarded any stars this year, it has been recognized several times by Library Journal, with the last coming as a four-star award in 2019.

Umstot said the rankings served as a boost for the Sunderland library’s staff because visits still have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“It means a lot that we’re being recognized because, honestly, we were feeling kind of down,” she said. “To know that we did OK and we’re doing fine means a lot.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.


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