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Article Published January 12, 2022

‘With Smiling Faces and Hands Extended’

By Pem McNerney/

When SARS-CoV-2 omicron variant seemed to take much of the world by surprise over the holidays, the librarians in towns along the shoreline and in the Connecticut River valley were ready, once again, with the pandemic pivot.

As we enter into the third year of the pandemic, those librarians stood ready, if in some cases somewhat wearily, to continue offering area residents with a whole slate of winter offerings ranging from book clubs to cooking classes, all free, many of them online, and most of them available to anyone from any town.

“One advantage to having Zoom-based programs rather than in-person is that we can hire presenters from all around the country or even the world! We’ve had a presenter run their program while in England doing research,” says North Haven Library Director Susan Griffiths, echoing sentiments expressed by other area librarians. “Book groups have worked out surprisingly well using the hybrid method and the smartboard. We are happy to be able to offer the hybrid approach since there are patrons who love our library programs but aren’t able to come in person…Our Zoom programs are open to everyone who has access to Zoom, and we’ve even had attendees from California, Florida, Australia, and Japan.”

While programming decisions remain firmly rooted in local interests, often featuring local people, the librarians are finding audiences beyond the confines of their specific towns. As the pandemic continues to evolve, and as they continue to heed public health directives, they are evaluating the best way to offer programs, to determine which are better in-person, which are better online, and which are best as hybrid offerings.

While most libraries have had great success with online events, Ann Thompson, the assistant director for public services at the Essex Library Association, adds, “there is no online mechanism that can match or surpass the ability to build community like an in-person gathering. We are very much looking forward to the day when we can return to having larger groups gather safely in the library. We certainly want to welcome all our new Essex residents to town and there’s no substitute for being able to do that in person with smiling faces and hands extended.”

Book Clubs, Movie Matinées, Self Care

Here’s a list of some of the highlights, free and open to anyone in any town, coming up at area libraries. As with all programs, check first with the specific library and its calendar to make sure nothing has changed, due to the pandemic, the weather, or any other reason. A quick check of those library websites show that most libraries offer a range of book clubs, movie matinées, and children’s programs, all listed on the library websites and often publicized on social media as well. There are a wide variety of self-care programs as well, including free meditation and yoga classes, and genealogy programs are popular as well.

Food as Medicine, Active Dreaming

At the North Haven Library, there are also adult painting sessions, a German conversation group, a discussion on how to use food as medicine, an introduction to active dreaming, and several discussions about history, including lost New York, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington’s farewell address.

“If you do get stuck at home, don’t forget, the library is here for you 24/7 through our website We have many resources you can access with your library card,” says Griffiths.

Those resources, many of them available at other area libraries as well, include eBooks, eAudiobooks, Bookflix (children’s interactive storybooks) streaming movies, music and TV, CreativeBug (arts and crafts tutorials), JobNow and AtoZ (employment resources), AtoZ WorldTravel (learn about countries of the world including current travel info), WorldBook (encyclopedia-brush up on your trivia), GreatCourses (video tutorial series on a multitude of subjects), and a most recent addition, The New York Times digital newspaper.

Read to Samantha

In East Haven, at the Hagaman Memorial Library, 227 Main Street, Sascha Gardiner, the children’s librarian, says live music and animal programs have been particularly popular.

“We have an afternoon Read to Samantha program where kids come in person to read aloud one-to-one to a beautiful, well-trained therapy dog owned by Dianne Romans...Storytimes have worked very well online, but arts and crafts programs are best in person,” Gardiner says.

The library’s programs for very young children are offered on Facebook live every Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., no reservations required.

Teen Librarian Emily Kalotai says, as the pandemic allows, the library hopes to do more in-person programming and agrees that anything having to do with crafts is better in-person. She also looks forward to once more being able to serve food, which is not currently being offered. For teens, there is a virtual Dungeons & Dragons game the first Tuesday of the month and a twitch stream (on the library’s twitch channel,, highlighting the newest additions to the young adult collection on the last Monday of the month.

Ask a Lawyer, The Grounded Goodwife

The East Haven library is one of several that offers the Ask-a-Lawyer Consultation Clinic, an in-person first-come, first-served program, where participants can receive a 15-minute free consultation with an attorney, sponsored by the New Haven County Bar Association.

And Community Services Librarian Cynthia Gwiazda says she hopes to offer both hybrid and in-person events, once COVID-19 cases subside. Upcoming special programs include The Grounded Goodwife mother-daughter team, Velya Jancz Urban and Ehris Urban, who have been dispensing a wide variety of entertainment and information with the help of many area libraries throughout the pandemic; Fit as a Fiddle: Building Robust Immunity with Herbs; The Roots of Black Music in America performed by Karlus Trapp from his New York studio; and a Valentine Paper Craft Program featuring the Scherenschnitte method.

The library also is making plans for other events this winter and spring, including a concert sponsored by local realtor Teresa Sirico, some historical re-enactment programs sponsored by the East Haven Historical Society, and events linked to Valentine’s Day, Lunar New Year, Black History Month, St. Patrick’s Day, Poetry Month, and April vacation.

Mah Jongg and a Puzzle Contest

The Atwater Memorial Library, 1720 Foxon Road, North Branford, and the Edward Smith Library, 3 Old Post Road, Northford, also offer the Ask-a-Lawyer program, alternating between the libraries, says Edward Smith Library Adult Services Librarian Teresa Holabird. Information about that, and all of the other libraries’ programs can be found at

Mah Jongg is offered on Monday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. Reservations are required.

“Bring a set if you have one,” Holabird says. “Beginners may watch until they feel comfortable jumping in.”

A highlight of the winter/early spring season will be the 10th annual Puzzle-Off Competition, the libraries’ largest and most popular program of the year on Saturday, March 12 from 9:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Players can register individually or as a team of four to nine people. Silly team names and costumes are encouraged. Other programs coming up include The Chakras and the Sovereign Body.

Holabird says new services that have proved popular include Book Club Kits with a six-week checkout, discussion questions, and a dry erase sheet to keep track of everything. Memory care kits include puzzles, word searches, matching games, and more. Lawn games available for checkout include bocce, corn hole, giant Connect 4, glow-in-the-dark lawn darts, and more.

New items coming soon to the libraries’ Library of Things include a telescope, a blood pressure cuff, a sewing machine, and a metal detector. Holabird also encourages patrons to use the online resources, which include downloadable books and magazines, Consumer Reports, and résumé and job search help.

Mini-Golf, Knitting, Poetry, Latin

At Blackstone Memorial Library, 258 Main Street, Branford, librarian Katy McNichol says she’s excited about is the mini-golf fundraiser planned for at the end of April.

There is also an English conversation group for English speakers of other languages, and a social-distanced knitting group with an in-person and online option. The library hosts a poetry group and an introduction to classical Latin, along with a high school diploma information sessions will take place in January and February. For those who just need to relax, there is an adult coloring group.

Other upcoming events include the Shoreline Jazz Quartet, Sparking Joy with the KonMari Method, an afternoon of classical music, the nature of mindful living and eating, and a special author event with local author MaryEllen Bevridge. The library also offers a variety of book clubs, including a Social Justice Book Club and a Books & Brews Book Club, held at the Thimble Island Brewery.

The Big Read, with Coffee and Refreshments

Rachel Taylor, the adult services librarian at Scranton Memorial Library, 801 Boston Post Road, Madison, says one of the programs she’s most excited about is a new book club meeting on Saturdays, called The Big Read Book Club. Drawing from a group of novels and memoirs featured by the National Endowment for the Arts features as its annual Big Read selections. It will be a hybrid program, so patrons have the option of attending virtually or in person, she says.

For those able to attend in person, coffee and refreshments will be offered. The first selection is The Cold Millions by bestselling author Jess Walter, “a riveting historical novel about two young brothers who go up against some of the most powerful and corrupt industries of early 20th-century America.”

On Thursday, Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the library will host Orlene Allen Gallops, a local author whose memoir Hiding in Plain Sight “describes her incredible discovery of her parents’ Jewish heritage and their family’s harrowing experiences in Europe.”

Also coming up is a musical tribute to the greatest Black female artists of the 20th century and an author talk about The Connecticut 169 Club: Your Passport and Guide to Exploring Connecticut.

Tic Tac Towhee, Three Birds in a Row

At the Killingworth Library, 301 CT-81, Killingworth, a Tic Tac Towhee contest is running through the end of the month. Participants can pick up or download a tic tac toe style sheet, identify three birds in a row, and then submit the answers to the library. Participants will be entered to win a hand-crafted bird house and bag of bird seed.

On Take Your Child to the Library Day, Saturday, Feb. 5, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., children under 18 will be allowed to choose one free book from the library cart to keep, while supplies last.

History buffs might want to check out a lecture by local speaker Phil Devlin, presenting Herbert Hoover in a new light, on Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. A bookmark collectors contest running in February will focus on the night skies. And a book scavenger hunt, at locations all over town, will be held in March, says Tammy Eustis, assistant director of the Killingworth Library Association.

Scrabble and Brain Games

Sarah Borgnis-Tobin, the head of outreach and adult programs for the Henry Carter Hull Library, 10 Killingworth Turnpike, Clinton , says upcoming drop-in events at the library include Scrabble Club, Mahjong Mondays, and Brain Games.

“Alternately, our popular yoga, chair yoga, and meditation classes continue to be available virtually, with live instruction from our wonderful teachers,” she says. “Currently, our hybrid programs for adults include TED Talks, The Atlantic Magazine Discussion Group, and our Nonfiction Book Group , all of which are monthly recurring events. Information and registration for our events can always be found at the library, on the website at, and on the library’s Facebook page.”

In addition to investing in an air filter for the community room, which is the library’s largest meeting space, the library also has developed The Hub, a new space dedicated to “tinkering, play, creativity, and open-ended exploration through science, technology, engineering, art, and math,” she says. “Be prepared to get messy and have a blast!”

All Henry Carter Hull Library events are open to anyone from any town unless otherwise noted on the website.

Poetry Contest, Civil War, Memoir Writing

Cindy Baklik, the library assistant adult programming at the Acton Public Library, 60 Old Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook, said later this month, on Monday, Jan. 24, the library will kick off its 27th annual poetry competition, with entries accepted through Saturday, Feb. 12 and different categories for different age groups.

Adult programs include a knitting group that donates items to different causes, a knitting group where people work on their own projects, a virtual genealogy group, several book clubs, and the Shoreline Civil War Roundtable.

Old Saybrook Poet Laureate Patricia O’Brien will lead a memoir writing workshop series in January. There also will be an estate planning sessions later this month, along with a workshop on seed saving. And January’s cookbook club will focus on sheet pan suppers.

A Family Reading Program, Grab and Go Fun

Stephanie Romano, the library director of the Chester Library, 21 West Main Street, Chester, says that while the library has several events coming up, the librarians are not planning too far out due to the unpredictability and changing nature of the pandemic.

In both January and February, the library is holding a winter family reading program, where families can complete reading challenges and earn raffle tickets. And there are weekly STEAM grab-and-go activities being offered for children, and monthly grab-and-go activities being offered for adults.

Chess for Beginners, and Advanced Too

Elaine Alexander, the assistant director/children’s services librarian at the Deep River Public Library, 150 Main Street, Deep River, says ongoing programs include an advanced chess club and a beginner chess club, both offered via Zoom.

There also is a monthly cooking class. January will feature lasagna soup and February will be raspberry brownies. The library also plans to offer two in-person adult programs on mindfulness.

“From what I’m seeing with COVID, I anticipate that 2022 is going to be a mix of in-person and online offerings and we’ll probably have another summer with larger programs held outside to be able to socially distance. I think that librarians have had a long history of adapting to the needs of their user communities and we will continue to do that in order to provide the best service and programming we can.”

Care Groups, Puzzlemania, Take and Make Crafts

Thompson, the assistant director for public services at the Essex Library Association, 33 West Street, Essex, says the library’s online programs have been extremely successful, with some of them attracting hundreds of participants, but that other programs continue to be offered in person, including the Alzheimer’s Caregivers and Bereavement Support Groups.

2022 is already shaping up to be busy with programs for adults and children alike, she says.

In January the library will celebrate the New Year with Puzzlemania! All month long. Folks of all ages can come in and build jigsaw puzzles in the Program Room.

There also will be a talk on Social Security 101, a fire safety talk, a virtual tour of Edith Wharton’s estate in Massachusetts, and a three-part community book discussion on “permission to feel,” hosted by Tri-Town Youth Services. Other programs include an estate planning series, a celebration of women with the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, garden programs, and speakers from the Yale Science in the News Speakers.

Children’s programs include story hours with guest readers and a celebration of Oscar night with a week of screening fun movies starring Oscar the Grouch.