Project calls attention to changing role of libraries

August 12, 2019 | Cape Cod Times Author: Jessica Hill

Some people review restaurants, some review movies. Two men have taken it upon themselves to review every library in Massachusetts.

Prompted in part by their own needs as remote workers, Adam Zand and Greg Peverill-Conti created the Library Land Project and have traveled to more than 200 libraries to rate them and bring awareness to the important role libraries play in communities. Their goal is to visit every one of the 450 to 480 public libraries in Massachusetts.

“We want library people to know that we’re in their corner, and we want to promote what they’re doing and highlight the great work they’re doing,” Peverill-Conti, of Natick, said. “But we also want to reach the public and make sure they have an up-to-date view of what a library is all about.”

The Library Land Project ranks libraries based on 11 criteria, including parking, Wi-Fi, meeting rooms and restrooms, upkeep, friendliness, noise and comfort levels and whether it’s a good place to work, Peverill-Conti said.

Libraries recognize that their roles are changing, Peverill-Conti said. They go beyond simply lending books and have transformed into community spaces.

On the Cape, the duo has been to 13 libraries from Sandwich to Provincetown and still have about 17 to go.

Each library they have visited and reviewed offers something different, they said. Some are good for writing quietly, and some are good for group activities. Libraries on the Cape offer a range of activities and resources, from tax advising for adults to magic shows for children, they said.

They found that Wellfleet Public Library, for instance, has an interesting history and offers unique programs. The building was a curtain factory during World War II, Peverill-Conti said. It was also a candle factory before it became a library and still has the same industrial architecture, he said.

It offers programs focusing on reducing waste, such as a reusable-bag-making program and a “fix it clinic.” People can bring in kitchen appliances, such as a blender, and someone will teach them how to fix it, Peverill-Conti said.

Wellfleet library director Jennifer Wertkin said the Library Land Project is doing a wonderful service for the profession. In a time where libraries are struggling with funding, they need as much publicity as possible, she said.

“It’s very exciting that they are highlighting public libraries and bringing information about them to the general public,” Wertkin said. “And it’s exciting that our patrons get to see their hometown libraries highlighted and that we librarians get to see our hard work out there. We all support each other in the field, so it’s very fun when other libraries get reported on as well.”

Wertkin likes that the project highlights libraries’ workspaces and Wi-Fi. She doesn’t mind that many patrons do work in libraries.

“We have people who are working here or are looking for materials,” Wertkin said. “We’re happy to have people here no matter what they’re doing. Libraries are a community space.”

Sturgis Library is another of the Library Land Project’s favorite Cape libraries. It offers an advanced genealogy section and different engaging events. For example, on Aug. 3 the library held a Vonnegut Reading Marathon, where several people read “Slaughterhouse-Five” from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Corey Farrenkopf, the adult and reference services librarian, gave Zand and Peverill-Conti a tour when they visited Sturgis. Farrenkopf said their rating system was much more comprehensive than other library rating systems, such as Library Journal’s Star Library Rating, which rates libraries based on collection size and circulation.

The Library Land Project takes a more holistic approach with clear definitions, Farrenkopf said.

So far, Eastham Public Library has scored the highest of Cape libraries, based on the Library Land Project’s criteria. It has great parking and Wi-Fi, and its study rooms make a great space to work, Peverill-Conti said.

After the recent storms and the tornado in July, the library opened its doors to those without power, he said.

“You don’t have to look hard to find libraries doing amazing things,” Peverill-Conti said. “Sometimes I worry too many people, they have an antiquated view of libraries and don’t take the time to look.”

Zand and Peverill-Contill have found almost every library in Massachusetts to offer great services to its community. They started visiting libraries out of necessity, Zand, of Boston, said. About two years ago, Zand and Peverill-Conti created a public relations business, SharpOrange. Instead of spending money on office space, they decided to take advantage of public libraries near their clients, Zand said.

When clients ask where SharpOrange’s office is located, the two respond by asking what town the client is located in and then say, “Oh yes, we have an office there.”

Their next plan is to sail to Cuttyhunk and Martha’s Vineyard for a weekend in late August to visit the libraries there. The Library Land Project hopes to visit its 260th library by the end of the year and to visit every Massachusetts public library by the end of 2020.

In the bigger picture, the duo wants to start outsourcing its reviews, having people in towns all over the country review their libraries and share what is important about them. The two already have visited libraries in about a dozen other states.

“We want people to tell their stories about what they love about libraries,” Zand said. “This goes well beyond a listing of 430 Massachusetts libraries. It’s more about what role libraries play in people’s history and the present and the future.”