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The Berkeley Public Library system is as dynamic as the community it serves, with five locations for books and technology and a Tool Lending Library that houses everything from clamps to ladders to table saws. This month, the Berkeley Public Library welcomed Tess Mayer, the new Director of Library Services. Mayer arrived in Berkeley from Washington state where she previously worked as the Director of Library Outreach, Programs and Services for the King County Library System.  

We caught up with Mayer after her first few weeks on the job with the Berkeley Public Library to learn more about what’s on the horizon for library goers.

What drew you to the Bay Area from Washington?

Although I will always appreciate the beauty of Washington state, I’m originally from Southern California and have always imagined that I would return and contribute to the dynamic and creative communities in my home state. 

The Bay Area is a particularly interesting place given its significant cultural, social, and political influence. Libraries network with and connect people across all of these ecosystems. Playing a leadership role in a city like Berkeley with such a strong level of community engagement is a particularly exciting opportunity. 

Mayer earned a master’s degree in Library Information Services from the University of Washington and a bachelor’s degree in American and Multi-ethnic studies from Bard College in New York. (Photo courtesy of Berkeley Public Library)

Are there any Seattle library programs that you may want to implement within the Berkeley Public Library System?

It’s always important to listen to community members and the frontline staff who serve them when assessing and implementing programming. That said, one program that has been successful in a number of other locations is a comprehensive student e-card program that allows students to access public library resources more easily. 

We know that the pandemic and associated economic downturn have impacted communities across the country — we need to understand how that is impacting people here in particular, and how the library can play a role in supporting people. Given that Berkeley is a city of readers, we are thinking creatively about how to engage around books and reading.

What do you love about the Berkeley Public Library System?

I have had a wonderful time meeting staff — clearly there is a lot of passion for public service, creativity and offering access to books and programming in our ranks! 

I very much appreciate the pride of ownership that our community has in its library system — whether it be our buildings and facilities, collections or services. I don’t take that sense of investment for granted. 

What are some challenges that you see, and what are your plans for addressing them?

Many organizations are navigating challenges in learning how to operate in a completely new environment, with the onset of the public health crisis.  The Library is no different, and we are working together to identify how we will continue to provide library services, in ways that are safe for the community and staff and that are sustainable. 

Any fun facts you have learned about the Berkeley Public Library System that we may not know?

The Tool Lending Library is a long-standing community gem, and we are about to expand it with culinary tools! (More information coming soon.)

More information on the Berkeley Public Library here.