Library Land Project Gets Nonprofit Status, Continues Mission During COVID Shutdown

Library Journal covers many projects initiated within libraries, but occasionally a great idea is born of sheer fandom. The Library Land Project emerged from consultants Greg Peverill-Conti and Adam Zand’s love of libraries, and their goal to visit as many in their home state of Massachusetts as possible—and kept growing from there.

Library Land Project logoLibrary Journal covers many projects initiated within libraries, but occasionally a great idea is born of sheer fandom. The Library Land Project emerged from consultants Greg Peverill-Conti and Adam Zand’s love of libraries, and their goal to visit as many in their home state of Massachusetts as possible—and kept growing from there. On October 22, the project received its 501(c)(3) designation and formed a board of directors, which will allow it to keep exploring, documenting, and promoting public libraries, and to educate the public on the roles libraries play.

Joining Peverill-Conti and Zand on the board of directors are a variety of library boosters: musician Monique Byrne; investor, advisor, and entrepreneur Eric Davies; Sandy Ho, founder of the Disability and Intersectionality Summit and a research associate with the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy at the Heller School of Management at Brandeis University; and Debra Spratt, director of the Lawrence Library in Pepperell, MA.

 

TELLING LIBRARIES’ STORIES

Greg Peverill-Conti and Adam Zand, two men standing and smiling
Greg Peverill-Conti (l.) and Adam Zand (r.) at the Newton Free Library, MA

The seeds of the Library Land Project began in October 2017, when Zand and Peverill-Conti met at the Newton Free Library, outside of Boston, to discuss their new public relations agency, SharpOrange. “It was awesome,” said Peverill-Conti. “There was plenty of parking, there was Wi-Fi, there was a nice meeting room. We walked out and said, that was great, let's do it again.”

After meeting in a half dozen libraries, the two began noticing small differences among them—some had nicer study rooms, others had cleaner bathrooms—and started keeping an informal score. After visiting some 15 libraries, they decided to make it a point to tour all the libraries in the state. And after about 25, it occurred to them that many people still don’t realize what libraries have to offer beyond book and DVD checkouts, and that they could amplify the information. “We decided to start paying more attention, start talking to library workers, start talking to directors, get a feel for what's going on,” Peverill-Conti told LJ. “And because we're PR guys, we decided to start telling that story—the story of what public libraries mean now.”

By 2018, Peverill-Conti and Zand had been to 100 libraries. In 2019, they visited close 270 more, primarily in Massachusetts but also in Alabama; Connecticut; Delaware; Georgia; Indiana; Kentucky; Louisiana; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New York; Ohio; Oregon; Pennsylvania; North Carolina; Rhode Island; South Carolina; Tennessee; Virginia; Washington, DC; and West Virginia.

The Library Land Project was officially launched on Library Legislative Day in March 2019. There, they connected with local library leaders and the legislative liaison for the Massachusetts Library Association, as well as State Senator Eric P. Lesser, who spoke about libraries being the original coworking space. “We'd been to a smaller legislative day at a branch library, and we were starting to get the lay of the land—how libraries were supported, how they were funded, what the connections were to town governments and city managers,” said Zand. “Going to that legislative day really hit that all home for us, and it seemed like a perfect time for us to launch our website with the map of our travels.” A blog, Facebook page, and Instagram account were deployed at the same time.

The project offers a range of services to help public libraries engage more successfully with their patrons and communities; these include consulting, strategic planning, custom content development, original research, grant writing, and speaking.

Zand and Peverill-Conti see The Library Land Project’s role as complementary to work being done by library PAC EveryLibrary to secure funding, Library Journal’s professional perspective, and groups such as foundations and Friends. “We're coming at it really from the public perspective,” said Peverill-Conti. “I’m constantly surprised and amazed when I talk to people whom I think are really smart, capable folks, who tell me that they don't use public libraries, and still are in this really old school way of thinking.”

The libraries they’ve visited have been anything but old school, however—even the old ones. The Braddock Carnegie Library near Pittsburgh, for example, was the first Carnegie Library in the United States, opened in 1889. Although it closed in 1974 and the building became derelict, it was purchased by the Braddock's Field Historical Society for $1 in the late 1970s and has been slowly reoccupied and restored as a functioning library over the decades. When they toured it last year, “it blew us away,” said Zand; the original library featured a 1,100-seat theater, swimming pool, boxing ring, bowling alley, and ceramic studio—proof, said Peverill-Conti, that “public libraries have served many needs for their communities since their inception.”

 

COVID BRINGS A CHANGE OF PACE

The COVID-19 shutdown put the brakes on visiting libraries, but it gave Peverill-Conti and Zand time to attend to other matters. They had been discussing a 501(c)3 designation for some time, so during the hiatus they put together the paperwork and applied. It was approved “in blinding speed,” said Peverill-Conti; less than two weeks later the Library Land Project was an official not-for-profit.

In addition to forming the board, Zand and Peverill-Conti revamped the project’s website and set up fundraising initiatives, including social media campaigns and a series of friends and family letters and emails. “We did this as a labor of love for many years,” explained Peverill-Conti. “The reality is, if we want to take it to the next level, we need to make it a more sustainable organization.”

They’re still talking to librarians and library workers who are dealing with the realities of COVID-19 and thinking about what will come next. “We've tried to keep that drumbeat,” said Zand, posting on the Project’s blog about how libraries have been and considering how to expand the project’s reach—“even during this time when we can't visit as many libraries as we used to.”

“Now, more than ever, we've been talking to members of the state legislative library caucus about our work and how can we help,” said Peverill-Conti. Nor do they intend to stop there, and hope to reach advocates on a national level as well. “Coming out of COVID, and with tax revenues down, libraries are going to be under pressure. Getting other people to champion and advocate for libraries in other parts of the country seems like a worthwhile endeavor.”

 

LIBRARY LAND LOOKS AHEAD

One area they plan to look at is how libraries are stepping up for workforce development, a critical service during COVID. Many of the libraries they have visited already provide regular office hours for statewide employment network MassHire, where people can get help with resumes and applying for jobs. With the help of a survey currently in development, they hope to get a picture of how libraries are meeting that need—what they were doing pre-COVID, what have they instituted recently, how have they moved services online, and what kinds of partnerships are being formed.

Zand and Peverill-Conti have formed alliances with the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the Massachusetts Library Association, and the Massachusetts Library System, as well as talking to EveryLibrary about how they can work together. The two have also begun talking to architects who design libraries and city managers, to find out how libraries can fit into city planning to help revitalize neighborhoods—“The full ecosystem,” said Zand.

And soon they’ll have a man on the inside: After spending so much time in libraries as a visitor, Peverill-Conti began working at the Dover Town Library in late February, shelving books and working checkout. “I loved it,” he said, and when that work ended with the building’s shutdown on March 12, he enrolled in the University of Alabama’s online Master of Library and Information Studies program.

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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