Feature Librarian – Heather Wolf @ Mesa Public Library

By John Walsh
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  • Main Library – Mesa Public Library
    • 64 E 1st St · (480) 644-3100
    • Website
  • Red Mountain Branch – Mesa Public Library
    • 635 N Power Rd · (480) 644-3100
    • Website
  • Dobson Ranch Library – Mesa Public Library
    • 2425 S Dobson Rd · (480) 644-3100
    • Website
Heather Wolf, Mesa Public Library Director

The issue’s feature librarian is the director of the Mesa Public Library, Heather Wolf. Interviewing Heather was like a breath of fresh air and she is so youthful and energetic. It is impossible to believe she has over 30 service years in librarianship. Heather manages three branch libraries in Mesa, the Main Branch on First Street, the Red Mountain Branch on Power Road, and the Dobson Ranch Branch on Dobson Road. All three buildings are beautiful representations of librarianship and each deserves to be highlighted here.

The Main Library is in Mesa’s downtown area and across the street from ASU’s Sidney Poitier New American Film School and technology facility which is under construction. Located at 64 E. First Street, the Library opened in 1981 with the Library on the first floor and City offices such as Personnel on the second floor. We have many longtime City employees who remember applying for their job and interviewing at the Library.  In 1998, the other departments moved out and the Library took over the second floor and now we have 100,000 SF of space.  In that space, we provide several specialized points of service.  These include the Teen Zone, a room just for teens, THINKspot, our makerspace, and the Mesa Room which houses archival material on Mesa.  In addition, Maricopa County operates an [email protected] office from our basement.  Currently, the Main Library is undergoing a renovation and expansion of the Children’s Library that was approved as part of a voter approved bond package in 2018.  Construction just started but we are looking forward to opening the new Children’s Library in July.

The Red Mountain Branch Library is on the east side of Mesa at 635 N. Power Rd.  Red Mountain was opened in 1985 in a retail center and then in 1995 it was moved to its current location.  Red Mountain was built in two phases and is now 50,000 SF. Red Mountain offers a Children’s Library and a THINKspot.  Outside, the Library partnered with the City’s Department of Environmental Management and Sustainability to create the Monarch Haven & Reading Sanctuary from a vacant, city owned lot next to the Library.

The third branch is the Dobson Ranch Branch. It  is located at 2425 S. Dobson Rd and was built in 1987.  It was designed by local architect Nelson Boren who sold his architectural firm in 1990 to move to ID where he has become a well-known painter specializing in Western Art.  Dobson is a wonderful neighborhood library conveniently located next to the Dobson Ranch Park.  Dobson is currently just 15,000 SF but we plan to build a 1,600 SF addition starting in June.  The new space will house THINKspot and will offer a studio space for recording music and video, a collaborative work area, and technology such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and editing equipment.  The funding for this comes from the same voter approved bond package. All three buildings have the same service hours: Pre-COVID the hours were 10 AM to 8 PM, Monday through Thursday and 10 AM to 5 PM, Friday through Saturday; Post-COVID since January 19, 2021 the hours are 10 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Saturday. The buildings were closed from March 16, 2020 till reopening on January 16, 2021.

Heather manages a large eclectic staff with 72 full time positions and 98 total positions which equates to 82.3 FTE. She has 24 professional Librarian positions. Five of those positions are City wide classifications (non-library jobs but work in the Library; Technology Administrator, Information Systems Specialist, Volunteer Coordinator, Program Assistant, and Management Assistant II). The classified staff consists of 34 Part-Timers and 64 Full-Timers. 

When I asked the director “Who is Heather Wolf?”, she immediately began to speak of her family. First and foremost Heather is a mom. Heather has two daughters, the oldest is graduating from University of Arizona in May (another Wildcat in the family) and the youngest daughter is graduating from high school in May.  Her youngest plans to attend University of Wyoming in the Fall. Because of them, Heather has been a barn mom for 11 years attending hunter/jumper competitions locally. She has also been a band mom for 7 years, volunteering at band competitions throughout the state. Heather has an impressive educational background. She graduated from University of Pacific with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration (just like me!) and a minor in Classics/Humanities. She went on to graduate from University of Arizona with an MLS from SIRLS back in the day. Her professional experience is equally impressive with over 30 years of service in librarianship. Her first librarianship position was at ASU West, the Fletcher Library as a paraprofessional Library Assistant. A work study research assistant position led her to librarianship as she did some researching of grad schools and never left the library. Her first professional experience came at the Maricopa County Library District as a Branch Manager at Litchfield Park, next she went to Fountain Hills Branch and became Manager there also. She continued to progressively move up the hierarchy and became the East Region Coordinator  with several branches to manage. She finally found a home in Mesa where she has been working for 23 years come May. She has developed a love for this staff and community which translates into loving what she does.

As with every interview during the pandemic, our discussion began to refer to chronology in the pre and post COVID periods. Pre-COVID, prior to March 16, 2020 the Mesa branch libraries were open from 10 AM to 8 PM, Monday through Thursday and 10 AM to 5 PM, Friday through Saturday. Their COVID response on March 16, 2020, was to close the doors and everyone worked from home. At first Heather was able to keep all employees, then at the end of April and into May, the libraries had to lay off non benefited and some benefited part time staff. For the first 6-8 weeks the book drops were open for returns and the library extended all due dates. A no fine policy had already been approved pre-COVID. The staff working from home went to all virtual programs and the library put more funding into digital resources. Starting in May 2020, the libraries started to offer curbside deliveries/pickups and an online card registration.

All services that could be moved were done online, by phone, or by email. The City of Mesa received CARES funding and used it to develop and implement a call center operated by library staff to answer questions about  community assistance, like housing, food, health. The call center started on April 6 and ran until the funding was depleted in December 2020. Even though the funding ran out, the library still receives calls for assistance and the librarians still help. The entire staff helped the community directly during COVID, the community faced huge challenges, and the staff stepped up to help patrons. These are noble people performing noble causes. The doors reopened  in November 2020 and the libraries started offering Grab & Go in the Main Library lobby and  providing limited access services. 

Since January 19, 2021 all three branches reopened the libraries and are offering limited service hours, 10 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Saturday. They are only allowing 20 people at a time inside and all CDC safety protocols are in place. People are coming back and so appreciative. The patrons love to finally get to see their favorite library staff person.

Everyone is just happy to be back in the building and most patrons are following guidelines except a few. Staff wonder if it will ever return to normal, they think it will, just don’t know how fast. We are all looking forward to the day when as many people can access the building as want to and they can stay as long as they want. The staff are just like the public, some confident in the environment, some not so much, but it does feel good to be delivering services again from the building. 

The most utilized services Pre-COVID were the children’s programming, story times, STEM programs, and  K-Code for kindergarten children.  Storywalk is a new post-COVID program which is very popular.

The most utilized services in Post-COVID have been the virtual programs and drive up programs, like Halloween BOO parade and the Not So Polar Express in December. These events were very cool, the librarians dressed in costumes and engaged the public. Many people decorated their cars for the events.

In 2013, the Mesa Public Library developed a makerspace area in the Red Mountain Branch called The THINKspot. THINKspot is a high-tech makerspace that offers residents, entrepreneurs, educators and students tools to work on individual projects or collaboratively share their ideas. The THINKspot Mission is to cultivate innovation by providing access to resources, training, and networking. The Vision for this high tech area was always to be an inclusive community where creativity, engagement, and opportunity thrive.

THINKspot was such a great success in the Red Mountain community that the Mesa Public Library implemented another THINKspot at the Main Branch. Heather claims that “Since 2013, THINKspot at Red Mountain Library has been a national model of how libraries can transform communities and we know THINKspot at Main will do the same.” Funding for construction of THINKspot at the Main Library was from the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community and federal Community Development Block Grant funds. Money raised from the sale of used books will be used to furnish and equip the room. Some of the high tech equipment includes digital sewing machines, MakerBot 3D Printers, a CNC router and a Digital THINKspot video studio. There are online videos and in person trainings offered for all the equipment. 

It was such a pleasure to spend an hour with Heather in an interview. She is truly a gift to librarianship and I so enjoyed her company and our visit together. When I asked about her favorite services at the library, her face lit up like the sun as she described the children’s programming offered at all branches. She loves to see all the happy faces of the children. Her biggest challenges as a public library director were typical of so many directors, limited budget and funding to provide everything the community needs. Of course since COVID, like all of us, she worries about the lack of predictability, what’s next, what do we worry about, where do we go from here. This was far outweighed by her biggest benefit, realizing what a wonderful team she has, they have worked so hard in COVID. They were always so flexible and adaptable. Heather loves her team and their team team spirit. They have all worked hard in the toughest time, under the toughest of circumstances and continued to make a difference in people’s lives. 

Her most memorable library story is when a gila monster found its way  into the Fountain Hills bookdrop. The lizard had burrowed under the drop and found its way into the box. Quite a surprise for her, but it seems every library director I interviewed for this column has a wildlife story as their most memorable moment. Heather claims she is going to stick with some of her newest offerings even after we resume normal operations. For sure she is going to keep the curbside service. They have implemented  a number of new apps for patron access including the new curbside app, myLibro app. Another new innovation that will remain is the Bibliotecha open+ app so people can access the library when it is closed. She was also proud of the library’s current grant projects, like the Get Ready for School with PLAY Project. This project expands services for learning and access to information by:

  1. Providing space for children and parents to explore play and engage in school readiness activities inside the library.
  2. Providing resources for parents to use at home after attending library programs.
  3. Bringing play and educational resources about play and school readiness out into the community.

It also targets lower-income individuals, families with limited access to early learning resources, and families who may not be able to visit the library. The intent of this project is to improve users’ general knowledge and skills and to improve users’ formal education. The requested funds for this project are $21,705.94. 

She also wanted us to know about the iTeen: Graphic Design at Your Fingertips Project. For this grant the libraries are targeting teens at the Main and Red Mountain branches of the Mesa Public Library. Teens love using apps like Canva and Social Media ones and many are interested in creating their own designs rather than using the ones someone has made for them. This grant provides the access to information and, for some, the access to equipment. At the Main branch in Mesa most teens don’t have access to an iPad (or new enough ones that have the ability to use the Apple pencil and newer software). At both the Red Mountain and Main branches, providing the hands on access to professional graphic design software with professional coaching and training will be a great benefit for both libraries’ teens. This training can unlock skills that future jobs and schools are looking for. The intent of the project is to improve users’ general knowledge and skills (Lifelong Learning). The requested funds for this project are $15,000. 

After this interview with Heather, I am very encouraged about the sustainability of librarianship. She is truly a breath of fresh air in these unprecedented times of worry and anxiety. She is a noble person with enough enthusiasm to carry all of her staff into the new normal of Post-COVID. Our time together was so memorable and enjoyable, I will not soon forget this royalty of public librarianship. Live well Heather, you so deserve it. Thank you for your service to your communities and librarianship, we owe you a great debt of gratitude.

Rare Photo of a Very Camera Shy Mesa Public Library Staff

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