Berkeley Public Library Hires a New Director

Library Director Tess Mayer.

The Berkeley Public Library hired a new Director in September of 2020 (Berkeley Public Library, n.d.). Their previous two Directors both left their positions less than a year after being hired so Berkeley has had some volatility with their leadership position. The Library Board "decided to hire an outside consulting firm to help it examine [the libraries] internal issues" (Dinkelspiel, 2020b). They took the time to work with library management to better understand what type of leadership they wanted for the Berkeley Library. The Library Board hired Tess Mayer as their new Library Director because they believed she would foster a commitment to equity, inclusiveness, and community outreach through her leadership. According to Advancing Racial Equity in Public Libraries by Sonnie (2008), "strengthen[ing] community partnerships and eliminat[ing] racial disparities" by "developing innovative local approaches" has been an important trend in public libraries (p. 5). The Board believes Tess Mayer can help the Berkeley Library achieve those goals.

Mayer began her leadership role amidst the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic. She has spent the time working with staff to develop a strategic plan to improve library services. Some of the issues Mayer has focused on in her first few months are:

  •  "More equitable computer access" (Dinkelspiel, 2020a). While the library was closed due to health restrictions, many library visitors sat outside to use the free Wifi. The library responded by offering Wifi hotspots and laptop computers for checkout.

  • "A social worker in the library" (Dinkelspiel, 2020a). Mayer noticed the success of this service at the San Francisco Public Library. She wants to offer the same assistance in Berkeley so that people experiencing homelessness can utilize the library to find the resources they need.

  • "Examine the institutional racism inherent in the library system and develop programs that address it" (Dinkelspiel, 2020a). One of Mayer's goals is to offer "equitable services not equality-based services...we have to acknowledge people aren't starting the same place, they have different needs" (Dinkelspiel, 2020a). She wants to diversify the library's collection and programming to match the diversity of the city. She is also working with stakeholders to improve services for "residents living with disabilities."

    - Nicklesh Sagran

Leadership: Future Roles

Tess Mayer and BPL

In a talk with the Berkeley Rotary Club, Tess discusses attributes of library staff and her vision on the future. Tess started the talk with a video clip that showcased library staff working with the Office of Emergency Services during the pandemic in Emergency Service deployment roles. The library department had the greatest number of employees filling this role. The video clip covered a behind the scenes look into what tasks library staff took on. Tess states in her own words that the video clip "highlights just how exceptional their commitment to service is" (, n.d.). For example, library workers were deployed to work in the City of Berkeley's Free Shower Program. One of the staff's memorable moments was connecting people with getting the vaccine. Tess continues from the video to talk about how the library's role changed during the pandemic and where it needs to go for the future. Tess talked about BPL's six days a week of outdoor pick-up service and a telephone reference service that connected people with vaccine appointments. Tess mentioned that during the pandemic BPL's Central Library has newly remodeled rooms and spaces for teens and a "Mystery Room" that will be used for community conversations. Tess talks about how the pandemic gave rise to many "connectivity" issues amongst Berkeley residents and how the library can service this need, with laptop lending. Tess goes on to mention that BPL has added culinary tools to the already established Tool lending library.

Tess talks about how the Library Journal designated BPL as a Five Star library. Tess provided BPL's current mission statement, "We believe free, universal access to information is fundamental to a healthy democracy and that reading and learning are key to a well-lived life. The Berkeley Public Library is a trusted hub of reading, learning, and community engagement" (, n.d.). Tess moves on to talk about BPL values that include, Public Service, Inclusivity, Accessibility and Ease of Use, Diversity, Community, Reading and Learning. Tess presents five priorities but focuses on two of them, "Support community safety, wellness, and recovery" and "Improve planning, procedures, and communications to support organizational development and responsiveness, including strategic planning and a staff training framework" (, n.d.). Tess talks about BPL continuing to give people access to both physical & digital resources and continuing the virtual programming and tutoring support services developed during the pandemic. Tess talks about reopening and how BPL will have to assess the needs of people returning from the pandemic into a post-pandemic world. For example, people who lost their jobs and/or had to change jobs and the possible need for job/technology retraining programs. Tess talks about developing a Social Worker in the library so that the library can be a part of the services needed by people with housing, addiction, and mental health issues. Tess ended the talk with BPL internal changes that involve equity, diversity, and inclusion teams being created to take on the concerns and challenges of this effort.

-Felipe Arida


Berkeley Public Library. (n.d.). Tess Mayer appointed director of library services.

Berkeley Public Library. (2020, August 12). Tess Mayer, new director of Berkeley public library [Photograph].

Berkeley Rotary Club. (n.d.). BRC Meeting 210512 Tess Mayer on Vimeo [Video]. Vimeo.  

Dinkelspiel, F. (2020a, December 17). As she takes the helm at the Berkeley Library during a pandemic, Tess Mayer says she's up to the challenge. Berkeleyside.

Dinkelspiel, F. (2020b, August 12). Berkeley hires a new library director from Washington state. Berkeleyside.

Sonnie, A. (2008). Advancing racial equity in public libraries: Case studies from the field [Issue brief]. Local and Regional Government Alliance on Race & Equity.

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