Berkeley hires a new library director from Washington state

Tess Mayer has been at the King County Library System since 2015. It was named “Library of the Year” in 2015 and is one of the busiest libraries in the U.S.

Tess Mayer, who has spent the bulk of her career as a librarian in Washington state, will be the new director of library services in Berkeley.

The Board of Library Trustees made the announcement Wednesday night after considering three finalists who had been whittled down from an initial applicant pool of 60.

Mayer “brings a wealth of professional experience and expertise, but just as important brings a commitment to community engagement, union and staff involvement, and equity,” John Selawsky, the president of the BOLT board, said in a statement.

City Council member Sophie Hahn, who also sits on the BOLT board, concurred.


“I am excited to be welcoming a new permanent library director, after an exhaustive search,” Hahn said in a statement. “Tess Mayer comes to us from another progressive library system with the vision, experience and inclusive management skills necessary to ensure our patrons, staff and libraries all thrive.”

Mayer will start Sept. 21.

For the past four years, Mayer has served as the director of library outreach, programs and services for the King County Library System in Washington, which is about 15 miles from Seattle. It has been the busiest library system in the U.S. for the past 10 years, with 50 branches and 4.1 million items, according to its Wikipedia entry. In 2011, the system was named Library of the Year by the Library Journal.

Before that Mayer spent 10 years with the Seattle Public Library. She holds a master’s in library information services from the University of Washington and a B.A. in American and multi-ethnic studies from Bard College, according to a BPL statement.

Mayer’s hiring comes about three years after the last permanent director, Heidi Dolomore, left abruptly less than a year after she had been hired. The director before that, Jeff Scott, also left less than a year after he had been hired, in large part because he was criticized for allowing, and not acknowledging, a widespread weeding of books.


After those two experiences, as well as internal problems on BOLT, the trustees decided to hire an outside consulting firm to help it examine internal issues. It was only after the trustees and library management made some changes that BOLT felt ready to proceed with hiring a new director.

“The Board of Library Trustees deliberately took a long time hiring this library director … making sure we agreed on leadership qualities we were looking for, that we had good community input, and that we were fully prepared to deliberate intelligently,” said BOLT trustee Diane Davenport.

BOLT Trustee Judy Hunt lauded Ms. Mayer’s “experience with unhoused, immigrant, student, LGBTQ+ and communities of color that demonstrates her commitment to equity and inclusion.”

BOLT did not release Mayer’s salary but the job listing said it would range from $162,240 to  $223,050.

For the past three years, the deputy director, Elliot Warren, has been serving as interim director.


Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Berkeleyside. Email: frances@berkeleyside.com.