Chicopee library director ready to try new things amid COVID pandemic

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CHICOPEE – The last 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic forced most people to try new things, and for Laura Bovee that meant taking the lead in the city’s library system.

Bovee was hired as library director in mid-May, replacing Nancy Contois, who retired after a long career in librarianship including 18 years at the head of the Chicopee library.

The job was not entirely new to Bovee as she started working at the Chicopee Library about 10 years ago, first as a part-time assistant, then as a traffic manager and then as an assistant. of management. But it remained a challenge.

“I’m still learning. There are a lot of things that are just new to me,” she said. “I haven’t found anything in my life that I’ve made of great who did not come without a little fear and anxiety. “

Months before retiring, Contois started training Bovee to be the next manager, or to make sure someone knew all the systems if someone else was selected for the job.

“Nancy was great at her job and it’s hard to put herself in her shoes,” Bovee said.

His transition came at one of the strangest moments of his career. The library was completely closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Later, staff found ways to adapt and put books and other materials in the hands of clients, run virtual children’s programs, and continue their essential work of helping people find the right ones. information they need, said Bovee.

“We had to invent all these systems because nobody had ever done it before. In a way, our staff were working harder than they would ever have been if our doors had been open, ”she said.

In many cases, regular library users have limited contact with staff beyond casual conversations when viewing materials or asking a question. The pandemic created the need for a lot more one-on-one discussions as staff tried to help people over the phone.

Patrons could purchase e-books without a hitch, and within months the library launched a program where people could order documents electronically or over the phone and pick them up. The staff also started offering online programs, especially for children, and had projects like craft projects that people could make their own.

While the curbside vans worked, they needed a lot more hands-on help, Bovee said. Many customers weren’t sure what they wanted to read because they couldn’t browse the stacks.

Librarians would ask them what they liked to read and create bundles of surprise books. For example, if a client liked mysteries, Bovee would ask a few more questions such as: does he like comfy mysteries, procedural or thrillers, or would just ask which writers are his favorites.

The packages were especially popular for children, she said.

As the library is now open again and the bookmobile operates on a limited schedule, Bovee is working to make further changes.

The programming is slowly being added and much of it, like a children’s science program and an adult yoga class, takes place outside on a patio that was not used much before the pandemic, she said. declared.

Earlier in September, Bovee announced that the library would waive overdue fines on most documents, which she said was a barrier preventing some people from checking the documents.

For Bovee, of course, the biggest change is being in charge.

“It’s something I had as a career goal. Probably everyone who wants to be a librarian will someday want to be a director, ”she said.

As a child, people always told Bovee that she should consider a career as a librarian, but she never thought that was what she wanted. Instead, she went to work for a freelance bookseller in the Berkshires, starting when she was in high school and being hired full time when she finished college.

“In many ways it was my dream job and I got it right away,” she said.

Later, she worked for a company that made medical-surgical models. The company was one of the first to use a 3D printer and even created a realistic beating heart.

“It was weird, but I learned a lot,” Bovee said.

Eventually, she began to reconsider the idea of ​​becoming a librarian and returned to school to earn her Masters in Library Science.

“It never seemed exciting enough to me until as an adult I looked at it again as a possible career and realized that librarianship today is not so much about reading, although there is that element in there. It’s much more a question of community, ”she said. “Libraries have become community centers in many ways, and that was exciting for me. “

The pandemic will continue to pose challenges for the library, especially as the number of COVID infections continues to rise, Bovee said.

The job market also makes it difficult to find the right fit when someone leaves a position, she said. Employers in general say they are struggling to fill jobs because potential workers are still worried about COVID-19 or have difficulty accessing child care.

Bovee said one of his pipe dreams for the library, which is not possible at the moment, is to give teens and young adults their own bedroom where they can relax, work on projects together. school and be a bit noisy. Many students already meet at the library after school and they have a corner to themselves, but having a separate space would be ideal.

“Libraries are a place where everyone can come. You don’t have to buy anything. You don’t have to do anything and you are welcome, ”said Bovee.

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