Shrewsbury library honored by state for ‘Radical Empathy’ project


Shrewsbury library honored by state for ‘Radical Empathy’ project
Shrewsbury Public Library is located at 609 Main Street. (Photo/Bill Gilman)

SHREWSBURY – The Shrewsbury Public Library has earned recognition from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for its recent yearlong “Radical Empathy” project to promote cultural and racial understanding within the community.

The multifaceted project was funded by a $10,000 civic hub grant awarded by the commissioners with federal funds from the Library Services and Technology Act. Project programming ran from October 2021 through September 2022.

“Shrewsbury put together an extremely ambitious program that successfully produced the desired results of engagement with the community and encouraging deeper empathy and understanding among its members,” read a portion of the commissioners’ recognition letter.

Assistant Library Director Michael Zeller was singled out for his work as project coordinator.

“It’s all about making your library more of a community center. It’s not just about racial empathy. It’s really a broader theme of general empathy and understanding between people,” said Zeller. 

Zeller noted the contributions of Library Director Priya Rathnam in helping make the project a reality.

 “There were a lot of different aspects to the project,” he said. “We ran 10 or 12 different programs. We bought about a few hundred dollars worth of books and DVDs and things that we added to our collection. The goal is to get people to see that everyone is their neighbor. To see the commonality instead of the differences.”

The centerpiece for the project was a communitywide reading of a book called “Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life” by Eric Klinenberg. The book explored the importance of rebuilding social infrastructure in the age of the internet. Klinenberg discussed the importance of “common areas” such as playgrounds, athletic complexes, community centers and libraries to building true relationships built on understanding and empathy.

Klinenberg participated in a virtual “Book Talk” presentation and Q&A on his book to help kick off the Shrewsbury Library project.

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, people who identify as caucasian makeup 68.1% of the town’s population overall but under 50% of the enrollment in the Shrewsbury Public Schools. People identifying as Asian represent 23.1% of the overall population but over 34% of the enrollment in the schools.

The library’s state recognition was noted by the Select Board at its Feb. 14 meeting.

“On behalf of the select board, congratulations for this recognition from the state and your continued efforts to build an engaged and connected community,” said Select Board Chair Moe DePalo.


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