COVID-19 social distancing imperatives rub against the grain of what libraries do—provide a space where people of all ages can come together to share books, ideas, stories and music.

A new grant provided by the UVM Office of Engagement and UVM Extension will help 22 libraries in the state to safely welcome patrons back again during COVID-19.

The libraries, representing 10 of Vermont’s 14 counties, received a RAPID grant offered through the Office of Engagement last fall, and shared $22,989 in funding to purchase air purification equipment.

Gary Deziel, extension assistant professor in community development, pulled together the project proposal. He notes that many libraries have successfully pivoted during COVID-19 by reducing open hours, limiting the number of in-person visitors, turning to online programming, or offering curbside pickup of books and materials.

But a missing component for many libraries and the people who work there is safe air to breathe.

“Air purification projects are not prohibitively expensive,” Deziel noted, “but library budgets are limited and not built with pandemics in mind. This funding buys desperately-needed air purification equipment that will allow libraries to function more safely.”

A total of 54 portable air filtration and purification units are now installed in each participating library. The projects also included three mechanical modifications to existing ventilation or HVAC systems.

Emily Zervas, director of the Putney Library in the southeast corner of the state, says the new equipment provides a safer place for colleagues to work.

“The grant allowed for the purchase of air purifiers for our building that would have been out of our reach financially. Our staff members can work together in the same room and we know that we will be providing a higher level of safety when we welcome the public back.”

Amy C. Grasmick, director of the Kimball Public Library in Randolph, says many libraries like hers are housed in older buildings where ventilation systems largely consist of opening and closing windows. 

“Our 1903 building doesn't have a ventilation system. The air purifiers we were able to purchase, thanks to this grant, mean that we are reasonably assured that the inside air is being cleaned of coronavirus,” she said.

Grasmick noted that the upgrades will also help the Kimball Library stay on track to become the first public library in the state to qualify for Vermont's Green Business Certification.

Improving indoor air quality was an issue on the minds of many library leaders before the onset of COVID-19. Gizelle Guyette is director of the Morristown Centennial Library.

“Even before the pandemic, we were acutely aware of the potential for germ and spore spread,” she said. “The air filtration units provide a more healthful air quality, and peace of mind.”

Bree Drapa, director of the Westford Public Library concurred, noted that the project will help libraries through the pandemic period and will “reduce mold, bacteria, and other pollutants in the air for the long run.”

Deziel and his collaborators drew heavily on Vermont Department of Library resources, which include guidance on library ventilation. Two UVM Extension staff members, Karen Gallott, administrative assistant from the Middlebury Extension Office, and Virginia Jaquish, administrative assistant from the Saint Johnsbury Extension Office, matched each library with specific equipment needs and made purchases from five different vendors.

A big takeaway for Deziel was how important libraries are to community life and how eager librarians are to restore services as quickly as possible.

“They responded to my initial query about ‘what do you need?’ with enthusiasm; they desperately wanted to protect their employees and patrons as best they could,” he said. “They are all about community.”

The University of Vermont Office of Engagement, partnering with the UVM Extension Office, awarded four COVID Outreach Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grants to Vermont organizations to address economic impacts and effects by COVID-19.


Kevin Coburn