Trustees Want Residents To Take A Tour Sunday Through Belmont’s ‘Failing’ Library [Video]

Photo: Deteriorating infrastructure at the Belmont Public Library

On Oct. 4, the Belmont Select Board and Board of Library Trustees agreed a solution is needed for the failing library building. The constant failures – big and small – in critical library building systems are urgent, according to the Trustees; floods, leaks, electrical issues, an antiquated fire alarm system, and unreliable heating, air conditioning and elevators have put the building in a dire situation.

On Sunday, Oct. 17, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Belmont residents can take one of two tours of the inner workings of the library and see the condition of the building.

INDOOR OPTION: Take a small group guided tour to see the failing parts of the library building.

OUTDOOR OPTION: The committee has recreated the tour experience outdoors, using posters, video, and knowledgeable guides to walk through.

The tours are led by members of the Board of Library Trustees, Library Building Committee, and Library staff.

For more information, visit www.NewLibraryFund.org

Trustees Presents ‘Dire’ Status Of Library Building To Select Board Monday

Photo: Belmont Public Library

When the Belmont Board of Library Trustees comes before the Select Board on Monday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m., it will with a simple request concerning the building on Concord Avenue that has for more than a half century housed the books, services and collections that is the Belmont Public Library: What’s the next step?

For more than 25 years, the trustees and volunteers have pointed to the aging building – opened in 1965 – with increasing concern that one of the most popular libraries in its population group in Massachusetts was falling into a condition of disrepair of its infrastructure and the lack of space to meet the library’s programming needs.

Since then, the deterioration of the building has accelerated to the point where the options facing the town going forward has dwindled to a stark pair in the view of the trustees: be a town without a library or commit to a new future.

”We are at the end of the road,” said Kathleen Keohane, the Trustee’s vice chair. “We have kicked this can down the road so many times. And unfortunately, we are about to hit the wall. It’s that dire.”

Trustee Chair Elaine Alligood ran down the list of structural failings: when it rains, there are leaks that pop up everywhere, a fire alarm system is out-of-code since 1992, heating and electrical systems whose useful life ended 20 years ago and are chronically in disrepair, a roof that is so fragile it can’t accept a modern HVAC system while the elevator has to checked at the end of each day to see if anyone is stuck inside because the alarm doesn’t work.

Any significant and needed repair in any part of the building will almost certainly create a cascade of required alterations which would accelerate the cost past the point of reasonable expenditures.

“We’ve deferred those big ticket items because if you repair one system, it pulls a thread that requires another expensive repair,” said Keohane, who said if one or two repairs exceeds a certain amount, it activates a trigger that requires the entire building to meet millions of dollars of American Disabilities Act-mandated improvements “which would be fiscally irresponsible for the trustees to ask the town to meet.”

The trustees said the time has come for a clear eyed decision on the future of a centerpiece of the Belmont community.

“It is a challenging time and if there were any other time to do it don’t you know we would do it then,” said Ellen Schreiber, a member of the non-profit Belmont Library Foundation that promotes and fundraisers in behalf of the library. “But we have no choice. The library is an urgent situation.”

Despite its popularity – during the pandemic the library’s circulation remained steady at 474,000 items – the trustees attempts to spur the construction of a building that would meet the needs a modern library failed to garner town and community support or the cooperation of the school committee in the latest attempt nearly a decade ago.

On Oct. 4, the trustees will present to the Select Board with the facts.

The latest Library Building Committee – authorized by Town Meeting in 2017 – spent two years holding meetings with the community and focus groups using a 2016 feasibility study to determine the best way forward on the future of the library building. In November 2019, the committee presented a final schematic design created by Ogdens Ella Architecture that took into account public and stakeholders feedback that revealed a plan of a modern library that would meet its patrons and the community’s needs.

“The new building design is focused on giving us more space [25 percent increase in square footage], will be ADA compliant and address all the failing infrastructure and business systems that are decades in the making,” said Keohane.

The trustees and the foundation will present what has been raised for a new library, a community fundraising initiative that will take place this month and an estimated cost for a new building. The last price tag was in the $34 million range.

Now nearing two years since the report’s release, the trustees say the building’s decline can not be halted with stop gaps or unrealistic hopes that renovations can add years to the building’s lifespan.

“So it’s up to the Select Board with our assistance to decide what is the next step,” said Keohane.

Belmont Schools Summer Reading List Targeted By Fox News For Alleged ‘Race-centric’ Curricula

Photo: Fox News has highlighted books on the Belmont Schools Summer Reading List they contend targets ‘Whiteness’

Along with the opening of the Underwood Pool, summer arrives in Belmont when the Public Library releases its summer reading list for the town’s public school students.

Designed to encourage pupils to make reading a habit while raising both their interest in and level of reading, the summer collection runs the gamut from Too Many Cats by Lori Haskins Houran that kindergarteners read with their parents, the fantasy series The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer for middle schoolers and acclaimed novels such as Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits that rising sophomores in the English honors program will pick up.

“The Library and School Department have worked on summer reading lists for many years, long before I arrived in Belmont in 2015,” said Belmont Public Library Director Peter Struzziero. “It’s always been a great partnership that we look forward to every year.”

For all previous years, the list has been the exclusive purview of school-aged students hoping they made a good choice to read on warm summer days. That all changed when late last week, an ominous headline came across computer screens courtesy of the online version of Fox News: “Massachusetts school district pushes grade schoolers to read books about ‘White privilege,’ ‘Whiteness‘.

That district? Belmont, where books, according to the article, that condemns “Whiteness” are in the recommended summer reading list for grade school students “amid a national uproar over race-centric curricula in schools.” The likely furor the article mentions is linked to the teaching of critical race theory, a catch phrase used by conservative groups and right wing media to condemn studying that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.

A primer on critical race theory can be found at Education Week.

While there is no evidence that critical race theory is taught in any K-12 district in the country – although some teachers who have participated in a professional development sessions have encountered topic – Fox News has refocused its daily coverage towards allegations of students being bullied for being white and forcing them to attend classes that condemn their race. Since March, Fox News programs have mentioned the topic 1,300 times in a little over a 100 days.

The Fox article, authored by Peter Hasson, said the offending books are within a category titled “Race, Culture, and Activism” that are “recommended” for grade school students including one titled Not my Idea: A Book About Whiteness, by Anastasia Higginbotham.

“The imaginary terms [provided by “the devil” to white children that will] offer “stolen land,” “stolen riches” and “special favors,” explained Hasson. It adds that “WHITENESS gets” “your soul” and “to mess endlessly with the lives of your friends, neighbors, loved ones and all fellow humans of COLOR.” “The end contains a section for signature and notes [l]and, riches and favors may be revoked at any time, for any reason,'” in Hasson’s summarized.

Other targeted titles include Jenny Devenny’s Race Cars: A Children’s Book About White Privilege and Stamped, by Ibram Kendi, who is described by Hasson as a “far-left academic” who has called for “an anti-racist amendment to the U.S. Constitution that enshrines two guiding anti-racist principals: Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals.”

The Fox article came a day after right-wing activist Christopher Rufo tweeted that Belmont was one of 30 communities in the US – five in Massachusetts – using Not my Idea either in classes or are on reading lists. Rufo’s tactics, research and goals have come under increasing fire. As one critic noted, Rufo “takes critical-race theory as a concept, strips it of all meaning, and repurposes it as a catchall for white grievances.”

Racist email follows ‘whiteness’ claim

Reaction to the Fox article and Rufo’s tweet came quickly as an email saturated with White racist and White supremacist tropes – calling for a “Thank You White People Day” – was sent late on July 8 by a “Brian Jenkins” to each member of the School Committee, the district’s Central Office, the district’s six PTOs and the Friends of Belmont Education.

Responding to the Fox article, Belmont Superintendent John Phelan noted the reading list is created “in partnership with our Public Library and are not assigned by the school department.” rather, it is made up of “suggested titles for families to use at their discretion.”

At the June 29 school committee meeting, Phelan addressed just how the list is developed, with an acknowledgment that “I know there have been some questions about how this process is conducted each year.” The selected books, including those highlighted by Fox, are a collaboration between Belmont librarians, district’s curriculum leaders, elementary school principals and assistant superintendent Janice Darius. The library begins the process by reviewing the list from previous years and adding notable new reads.

“They send a draft of the list to the curriculum leaders to review so it will align with each grades curriculum in representing the diversity, cultural, language and race of our students,” said Phelan. Books are taken off the list because they’re already part of a grade level curriculum, if they should belong to a different grade level’s list or “they may be too controversial,” he said.

It is school curriculum leaders who add new books to replace those titles taken off. “The list is then reviewed by the elementary principals, the assistant superintendent and, finally, through my office as well,” said Phelan. The list is then sent to out to all teachers, families and posted on the district’s website.

“I do not think that it is the School Committee’s role to select which books are on the list. We will continue to listen to and communicate with community members and share input received with the district and library.”

Belmont School Committee Chair Amy Checkoway

Phelan reiterated that the the K-7 list are suggested books for families, and “they are not required reading in any way.” These are suggestions for our kindergarten through seventh grade families. There’s one book on the list that is required of our eighth graders; The Giver by Lois Lowry. All other books on the eighth grade lists are also suggestions, said Phelan.

Responding to the Fox article with the Belmontonian, Struzziero said the books in the targeted category “teach about some of the history of racial injustice in our country and attempt to give messages about equality, justice, peace, kindness and many other themes that we want to inspire in all our students.”

“We hope this list will inspire discussion and learning among our families, provide a way to better understand history, and encourage us all to better understand each other. This is really only a highlight of the many books we have available on these topics,” he said.

Speaking directly at Fox News which he said “took into consideration a certain point of view” in its coverage, Stuzzierio said there’s no shortage of opinions on literature or on education of the young. “I won’t comment on what’s credible or not, all opinions are valuable, and we are always happy to have feedback on how to make the Library and it’s collections the best it can be,” he said.

Placing the books highlighted in the the Fox article in great context, Stuzzierio said many were selected at the culmination of the library’s first-ever Community Read last year with its central focus on antiracism. Partnering with more than 700 residents and groups as varied as Belmont Against Racism, the Belmont Religious Council, the Human Rights Commission and the Belmont Chinese American Association, “the community spoke loudly about the place that we want Belmont today,” he said. “It was joyful, community building, and a healing expression of how Belmont supports itself to be such a great place to live and work. It’s been one of the most inspiring chapters in my career,”

As for moving forward on future lists, Stuzzierio said “we’ve heard from many citizens with feedback on this year’s summer reading list. Most citizens thought it was wonderful and a great accent to the work we do, some others had feedback on titles they thought should be removed from the list, or others still included names of additional titles,” he added.

Resident raises his own concern on summer list

One such resident who has been made his concerns known for the past three years is David Benoit. The retired law enforcement officer has been critical of one specific book used by the district since 2018; The Hate U Give, a young adult novel by Angie Thomas that Benoit contends “teaches that opposing views justify violent destructive riots, assaults, and arson” to “highly impressionable BHS students.” This month, Benoit called out the district for placing on the 2021 summer reading list the book Something Happened In Our Town by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, Ann Hazzard and Jennifer Zivoin, for elementary grades K-5, which he said is “poisoning the minds of young innocent children.”

Benoit’s letter and a short conversation with him will be published on Saturday.

Stuzzierio said the will use “all the feedback to review our lists and see in what ways we may build upon it for next year. We look forward to working with the School Department on this process,” he said. 

Speaking to the Belmontonian, School Committee Chair Amy Checkoway said the committee will continue to listen to and communicate with community members who are supportive of the books and with those who have concerns about some of the books and further discuss these items at upcoming meetings.

While the committee will plan to review the current lists in August, “I do not think that it is the School Committee’s role to select which books are on the list. We will continue to listen to and communicate with community members and share input received with the district and library,” she said.

When asked what the best approach for the school community to confront political-based charges the district is teaching a “race-centric curricula,” Checkoway said everyone needs “to remain focused on efforts that are already underway in the Belmont Public Schools to ensure that all students and staff have the opportunity to be successful and feel welcome, seen, represented, and supported in our schools including through our curricula.”

She added the committee supports a district-wide racial equity audit to be conducted by an outside firm beginning in the summer with a focus on helping to identify what the district and committee are doing well and areas of improvement in a range of areas including school climate, student outcomes, hiring and advancement practices, student discipline, and more.

“I also look forward to welcoming a new Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion who will report to the superintendent and provide much needed capacity to advance the district’s equity work and support faculty, staff, students, and families,” said Checkoway.

“There is a lot of good work that is happening and plenty of work that remains.”

Belmont Public Library Is Finished With Late Fines, Joining Nationwide Practice

Photo: Late fees at the Belmont Public Library are a thing of the past starting July 1. (Belmont Public Library)

The days of running to Concord Avenue to return a book or movie before they turn, like Cinderella, from a borrowed work into a fine are over. Effective today, Thursday, July 1, the Belmont Public Library has joined a nationwide practice of ending charging late fees on print materials, music, movies and video games.

The news in a press release from Library Director Peter Struzzierok said studies have shown for several years that “late fines on library materials create a barrier to service, do not actually bring materials back any faster, and overall are a cost negative effort, meaning that we spend more money to collect fines than the amount of the fines being collected.” He noted that late fees also disproportionately affects patrons living on a fixed income.

The library will continue to assess small fines on Commonwealth Catalog items, Museum Passes, and Library of Things items. And any items that are lost or damaged will still require replacement costs to be assessed. In addition, patrons should be aware that the 40 other libraries within the Middlesex Library Network may continue to have late fees.

While the library located at 336 Concord Ave. will no longer collect fines on most items, it will still issue due dates on the hundreds of thousands of items circulated annually.

“When you return your items on time, you are paying a great respect forward to all of our other library users. When you need an extra day or two to get an item back, we are proud to report that you will not be fined,” said Struzzierok, who said the library would “be thrilled to accept food donations” in lieu of the monetary fee, noting the library has become the largest contributor in town to the Belmont Food Pantry.

“Ending this old way of doing things will make people happier, be a fairer way of serving the community, bring new users in and former users back … and will save the town and the library money. For these reasons it’s made good sense to us to refine our process and eliminate this practice,” he said.

With COVID Cases Rising, Belmont Town Buildings Will Be Closed Through Jan. 3 If Not Longer

Photo: Belmont Town Hall

Due to the rising number of positive COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts, all Belmont town buildings with the exception of the Police Headquarters will be closed to the public effective Monday, Dec. 14.

The closure will last into the New Year until Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, and may be extended.

The Belmont Public Library will continue to serve patrons outside of the building as well as virtually.

In an email to residents, town officials said “the town will continue to provide the same high level of service that our residents and businesses have come to expect.”

A directory of the Town Departments can be found online at https://www.belmont-ma.gov/departments and the phone numbers of all offices have been posted on the doors of the Town Hall and Homer Municipal Building.

Belmont Public Library Moves To A More Contact Free Model (New Pickup Times)

Photo: Belmont Public Library,

In response to the rising COVID-19 numbers in Massachusetts, and Gov. Charlie Baker’s request for increased safety measures, the staff of the Belmont Public Library has determined starting this week, the library will be moving to a new service model which will reduce the amount of physical contact between staff and patrons.

“We wish things were going in the other direction, but the reality is that what we care about most is the safety of you all, and of our library staff,” said Peter Struzziero, Belmont Public Library director, in an email.

Beginning on Wednesday, Dec. 9th, out of an abundance of caution the library will be taking steps to move towards a more contact free model.

On the lower level, the staff will serve children’s patrons out the window of the Children’s Room, just off the parking lot and to the right of the main door.

On the main floor, the library will have all materials available for pickup in the vestibule area. Patrons will be allowed to pickup materials and museum passes on hold, which will be left under their name. 

The library is asking that patrons call a few minutes ahead of their arrival time and their materials will be prepared and left for you under your name in the vestibule.

  • For pickup of children’s materials, please call the Children’s Room at 617-993-2880
  • For adult and YA materials, call Circulation at 617-993-2855
  • For pickup of print outs and museum passes, call Reference at 617-993-2870

Pickup hours remain as follows:

  • Monday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Available virtually: The library will continue to offer its digital library from the comfort of a patron’s home. Reference librarians will be available via live chat, email, and phone to help residents with reference questions during pickup hours. The library will continue to issue museum passes for those institutions that are open.

In the coming days, the library will work to begin a new service allowing patrons the ability to securely email personal documents for printing and pickup, please keep an eye on the library’s website for this announcement.

We do not plan to change our hours at this time, we simply will be serving patrons out the window for children’s materials, and in the vestibule for circulation/reference. We will continue to waive library fines for the time being, so if you need any extra day or two with that book, please know that you will not be charged,” said Struzziero.

Belmont Public Library Opening Monday, Sept. 21 For Picking Up ‘Held’ Material, Museum Passes

Photo: Belmont Public Library will begin in-building activities on Sept. 21

With autumn beginning next week and cooler temperatures the norm, the Belmont Public Library is halting its Parking Lot Pickup program, and will bring the pickup of held materials and museum passes back inside the library.

Beginning on Monday, September 21st, patrons can pick up materials in the Library without an appointment, said Library Director Peter Struzziero in a press release dated Sept. 17.

First and foremost, to enter the library, everyone must wear a mask covering your nose and mouth.

“This is an absolute must and no exceptions will be made,” said Struzziero.

“If you are not able to wear a mask for medical reasons, contact the library in advance and we will arrange to serve you outside of the building. If you prefer not to wear a mask for your own reasons, please do not come into the library. For your safety and ours, masks are mandatory in the library,” he said.

Patrons with any questions about the new policy, please contact Struzziero at:

Email: pstruzziero@minlib.net
Phone: 617-993-2851

When coming to the library, enter through the front door to:

Enter through the side door on the lower level, next to the Children’s Room, to:

  • Check out a children’s hold that is ready for pickup on your account
  • Drop off or pick up a pen pal letter
  • Access the elevator to reach the main floor for adult holds, computer appointments, and museum passes

If you need to place a hold, request a museum pass, or schedule a computer use appointment, please do so in advance by calling 617-993-2870 or visiting the appropriate pages on our website.

Please remember to bring your library card or photo ID to pick up your holds.

Maintain a 6-foot distance from staff members and other patrons. We ask that the elevator be limited to one person at a time whenever possible.

Pickup and computer use hours will be:

  • Monday – Wednesday: 9:30 am – 6:30 pm
  • Thursday: 11 am – 6:30 pm
  • Friday and Saturday: 9:30 am – 4:30 pm

General questions? Please call the Reference Desk at 617-993-2870.

“This will be the newest stage in our phasing of library services,” said Struzziero.

“In the future, we hope to restore browsing, the ability to spend time in the library, in-building programming, and all the other things we all love about our library. We need to be smart about it though, and always put safety among the highest of our concerns. We’ll look to do some of these things as we can in the coming months, but for now, we are pleased to take this step,” he said.

A Letter To Patrons: Belmont Library Preparing To Reopen In Phases Over Coming Months

Photo: Peter Struzziero, Belmont Public Library director

Dear Belmont Library Patrons:

Thank you so much for your support of the Belmont Public Library during this time. We have enjoyed connecting with many of you virtually over the past few months. We are looking forward to getting library materials back into your hands soon.

We are putting together a phased reopening plan for the Library based on the guidelines from the Reopening Advisory Board created by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, as well as recommendations from the Belmont Health Department and State Library organizations. Our goal is to fully restore Library services over the next several months, while continuing to prioritize the health and well-being of patrons and staff. 

We hope to see staff return to the Library during the month of June and will be working on preparing the building, collections, and technology for reopening. We’d prefer that you keep your library materials at home still, but will be willing to receive them in our outside book drops if it would be inconvenient for you to continue to hold them for us. Due dates for items currently checked out are extended until June 30 so there is no rush to bring your returns back. The Friends of the Belmont Public Library are unable to accept book donations at this time, and we appreciate your patience with that. 

We plan to begin offering contact-free holds pickup to you as soon as we can safely do so. More information, including the specific date that this service will start, will be announced soon in through our newsletters.

To keep our community connected and informed, we send out regular email newsletters with the latest news. We’d love to see more of our users sign up for updates or read previous newsletters at belmontpubliclibrary.net/services/news/. If you are already a newsletter reader, if you’d help us spread the word among your circles, that would be great too.

Please contact me at pstruzziero@minlib.net with any questions or comments. Stay well!

Peter J. Struzziero
Belmont Public Library director

Public Forum On New Library’s Design Set For Tuesday, 7 PM

Photo: Image of the new library (Oudens Ello Architecture)

See the future of the new Belmont Public Library as the Library Building Committee along with representatives from Oudens Ello Architecture will hold a Schematic Design Reveal on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. in the library’s Assembly Room.

View the architectural plans and sketches, hear how community feedback has been incorporated in the building’s design, and learn how the new building will accommodate a 21st-century library.

Residents will get to see the interior and exterior building designs, hear about the energy efficiency of the new building, and learn about the exciting features of a library that will be the start of a new chapter for Belmont.

“The Building Committee is extremely excited to share the schematic design of the new library,” said Clair Colburn, Chair of the Library Building Committee.

“Belmont residents and organizations were integral to the development of the building design. We are confident that the new library will meet Belmont’s needs and reflects the Library’s mission of providing a center for information and discovery through innovative programming, robust collections, and responsive services,” said Colburn.

Friends’ Annual Fall Book Sale At The Library This Weekend, Oct. 19, 20

Photo: The annual book sale is this weekend.

If you love books but not looking to pay an arm and a leg, this is your weekend to stock up on fiction, non-fiction, children’s and every other sort of book as the Friends of the Belmont Public Library holds its annual Fall Book Sale on Saturday and Sunday.

The sale takes place on Saturday, Oct. 19 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 20 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Assembly and Flett rooms at the library, 336 Concord Ave. And Sunday is the Bag o’ Books sale. 

A preview party for Friends members takes place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17. In addition, Belmont teachers will spend Friday picking out books for their classrooms, thanks to the Friends.

The sale’s proceeds allow the Friends to purchase museum memberships, bring authors and demonstrations to the library while adding to the technology available to all patrons.