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Librarians provide virtual student services in altered learning environment

The Harvard Public Library offers many resources for students of the Bromfield School and Hildreth Elementary and, though its doors are still closed for walk-in services, voracious readers and homework-laden youngsters need not despair. Librarians from the schools and public library have been collaborating closely to ensure that research help, requests for material, library orientation sessions, youth programming, and other offerings are available in a virtual format and are accessible for students this semester.

“Basically, everything we could offer patrons before, we are offering now. It’s just [that] the requests are coming in either via phone or email or virtually,” said Lisa Gagnon, a reference librarian and assistant director at the library, in a phone interview with the Press.

One of the first agenda items on Gagnon’s list as Bromfield dives into the fall semester is to get students situated with library cards. For sixth- and seventh-graders, that means assigning new cards, and for eighth- through 12th-graders, it means renewing those issued in previous years.

Once library cards have been issued, students can expect to have most of the same resources as they would during a normal year, with a few changes in format.

At the beginning of each year, Bromfield classes often take a trip to the library to learn what is available to them and how to make the most of it. This year, since an in-person trip isn’t feasible, the librarians will be scheduling Zoom meetings with certain classes, including sixth-grade classes and eighth-grade English classes.

Summer, independent, and class-specific reading lists have always been available online, and they will continue to be this year.

Currently, if a patron wants to pick up a book, they have to call, email, or fill out a request form, and the librarians will collect the material, bag it, and put it on a table outside the front entrance for curbside pickup. This is how students will access materials this fall too, but there are plans to create new, targeted request forms. In addition to the general, teen grab bag, and children’s room request forms, which are already available, Gagnon expects forms for homework and research projects and eighth-grade independent reading to be made available in coming weeks.

Instructions for how to use virtual services will soon be available in more formats too. Gagnon said a library staff member is currently working on a series of instructional videos detailing how to navigate processes such as placing holds in the catalogue and requesting materials for curbside pickup. She wants to make sure people know that the same materials are still accessible to them even though they can’t enter the library. “Everything is pretty much available, it’s just … you can’t walk in the library right now and take it off the shelves, but we can get it to you via any one of the request formats.”

Printing and copying will also be available through a curbside service. Students and other patrons can email a document or link to the reference desk at for printing, and library staff will email them back when the pages are ready to be picked up. If there is a fee for the service, that information will be provided in the email. Printed material is bagged and made available at the curbside pickup station the same way other material is.

For copying, patrons can bring their pages to the library during curbside hours and staff will assist with the process.

For questions or research assistance that requires a conversation with a staff member, anyone can call in and speak with a reference librarian over the phone. The library can be reached at 978-456-4114; the reference desk extension is 225.

Gagnon said students on deadlines shouldn’t be concerned about getting their material on time. While there was an initial backlog of orders when the library first opened for curbside service this spring, the librarians have since caught up; requesting and picking up material is much quicker now. According to Gagnon, if an order is placed at night or early in the morning, it is typically available for pickup when curbside opens or shortly thereafter.

Over the summer, kids’ and teens’ programming such as book groups and maker days were switched to a virtual format. This will continue into the fall.


Currently, Jill Hayes, the teen librarian, is offering take-and-make kits. Once per month, she fills bags with the supplies and instructions needed to complete a chosen craft project—this month it is a DIY foot scrub. Teens can request take-and-make kits the same way they would any other material, or add one to a book request and pick it up curbside. Hayes said the library’s teen advisory board will continue to counsel the library on new programming and that their two book groups and a monthly game day will continue, all in virtual format.

For the indecisive or adventurous reader, Hayes is offering a grab bag service. Teens fill out a form that asks questions about themselves and what they like in a book, and Hayes puts together a bag of five items based on the answers.

One library accommodation that may be missed, especially by parents, is after-school programming. Because of its proximity to the school, students often trekked there after the bell to study or socialize until their parents could pick them up, or to bridge the gap between the end of the school day and the beginning of a sports practice. Since all programming has been moved to a virtual format pointed out, however, the new hybrid school day, in which students leave the school building early to finish the day’s learning at home, would not lend itself well to this anyway.

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