Jen Sumpf was incredibly strict about following pandemic protocols. When she heard the Jamaica Plain Branch of the Boston Public Library was reopening June 14, she was wary of going there with her two daughters.
But one day at the beginning of July, she was out grocery shopping with her 9-year old daughter, Teya, and she thought, “Let’s just do it!” And they went that day.
“It was a spontaneous decision,” she said.
Her family lives in Roslindale, but the branch there is closed for renovations. And the Jamaica Plain Branch is their preferred library, anyway.
Her older daughter, Merrin, 11, is an avid reader and had been longing to get back to a library since the pandemic forced them to close in March 2020. When this spur-of-the-moment junket occurred without her, she felt betrayed.
But now, she’s making up for lost time with her mother and sister.
“Since that first time, we’ve come here almost every day,” said Sumpf.
“One day we made it to three libraries!” added Merrin, carrying a stack of adventure books she’d gathered from the tween section. “Yesterday, and the day before and the day before that… "
On Friday, the Jamaica Plain Branch of the Boston Public Library had a steady flow of patrons coming in and out to pick up books.
A young boy with a backpack sat at an outdoor table engaged in a Zoom call. A woman was showered in sunlight as she filled in a coloring book. A mother flipped through her weekly planner as she waited to pick her daughter up from camp. And a tutor sat at a small children’s table going through a spelling workbook with her 3-year-old student.
Among the stacks of books, many visitors found comfort in simply being together. The quiet chatter and turning of pages sounded strikingly normal — albeit with the addition of masks, hand sanitizer, and shortened hours.
Jo Bogart of Jamaica Plain, who used to work in collection development at the Copley and the Lower Mills branches, said she reads about 100 books a year. During the pandemic, she took advantage of the Jamaica Plain branch’s curbside book pickup but is glad to see people face-to-face again.
“I missed seeing all the people here,” said Bogart. “It’s a community feeling.”
Lee Duncan was studying up on art history and business. He’s planning to start what he referred to as a “side hustle” selling antique paintings. During the pandemic, he read about contemporary and African American artists from his apartment down the street, but he lives alone, he said, and there were too many distractions.
“It got really tiring not having any place to go,” said Duncan. “I’m glad this is back open because I really like coming to the library. It’s nice to be around people too.”
A library is more than just a place to grab a novel — it adds social value to the community.
“It’s not just a space that contains books — although it does,” said the president of Boston Public Library David Leonard. “It’s one of the few places where everybody from a neighborhood is welcome, regardless of their background or economic status.”
The libraries can play a critical role in youth education and workforce development, as many staff members are equipped to help patrons with job searches, resumes, and interview preparation, he said. They also have free WiFi and air conditioning, and many of them double as polling centers during elections.
21 of the 25 libraries are currently open — with some closed due to renovations, which will bring increased accessibility and modernization according to Leonard. Most libraries are seeing about 50 to 60 percent of their typical foot traffic, he said, but he thinks the numbers will continue to increase throughout the summer.
Sumpf plans to continue bringing her girls to the library this summer. Reading is an “escape” for them, she said.
“Even when we’re down by the beach and there are so many things to do, the library is what gets them most excited,” said Sumpf of her daughters. “It really brings them a lot of joy.”
Julia Carlin can be reached at email@example.com.