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Massachusetts Libraries Collaborate on Climate Preparedness and Sustainability

Winter Coats at Oak Bluffs Library

by Gabrielle Griffis on 2023-02-08T16:02:25-05:00 | 0 Comments

By Allyson Malik, Oak Bluffs Library Director & Andrea Figaratto, Whelden Memorial Library Director

Libraries have always been more than just repositories of books and information. They are centers of learning, cultural exchange, and community building. For many people, especially those in disadvantaged communities, libraries are also a source of warmth, safety, and comfort.

In Massachusetts, where winters can often be harsh and unforgiving, staying warm is a life-and-death priority for many of our residents. Unfortunately, not everyone has the means to buy a warm coat, gloves or hat. That's why the Oak Bluffs Public Library continues to maintain a free winter coat rack for our community.

The initiative started with a simple complaint: our custodian remarked that he was tired of replacing the paper towels in the public bathroom. The library staff then began to notice that some of our regular patrons were stuffing those paper towels – along with discarded newspapers and magazines from our recycling bin – into their clothing to keep warm. Soon thereafter, Andrea Figaratto – then Head of Circulation of the Oak Bluffs Public Library, now Director at the Whelden Memorial Library – was cleaning out one of our storage closets when she was struck with an aha! moment. She asked me whether she could set up an unused coat rack so she could hang the several discarded sweaters and jackets we had stored for years. I said yes, so she put the coat rack and free winter items, partially supplied by a generous donation from the MVCS thrift store, Chicken Alley, in a strategic place near the library entrance where people could easily browse and take items without being in full public view.

The free winter coat rack was an instant success. Patrons were grateful for either the opportunity to take a warm coat or to have a place to donate their own. By the end of the first week, patrons with extra clothing at home helped populate the rack with a half dozen additional coats!  

The initiative also helped to build a sense of community and has had a positive impact on the library's reputation. We have been partners with Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, a multi-service organization that also runs a non-profit thrift store on the island. Occasionally, the library’s free winter clothing rack is the beneficiary of dozens of additional warm coats when the thrift store has too many garments to store. The service has generated positive publicity for the library and has helped to raise awareness about our role in the community. It’s also encouraged more people to visit the library, making us a hub of activity and positive community engagement.

The Oak Bluffs Library's free winter coat rack initiative is a testament to the power of community building and the role that libraries can play in making a difference in people's lives. It has helped to keep people warm and dry, build relationships, and raise awareness about the importance of libraries in our communities. It is a reminder that even small actions – even (or especially!) ones based on complaints - can have the power to make a difference in the lives of others.

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