Natick’s Morse Institute Library has welcomed its new Director, Miki Wolfe, who comes to the top job via the Sharon Public Library, where she served as assistant director for the past 7 years. We let the Wolfe get acclimated before we descended with a request to know absolutely everything about her and her plans for the library. There’s a lot going on—the library has gone fines-free; hours are expanding after Labor Day; book lockers will soon be available 24/7; and more. Here’s what we learned from Wolfe and Community Relations Coordinator Jane Newman.
Natick Report: What is your background?
Miki Wolfe: I got my degree at Florida State and spent a few years working in their libraries. Then I worked in Virginia for a couple of years, then came to Massachusetts and worked as the assistant director in Sharon for 7 years. I’m from Rhode Island originally. Florida is a beautiful, beautiful state, but I just wanted to get back to New England.
NR: What are your goals for the Morse Institute Library?
Wolfe: I want to see us connecting with the community. The library already does a great job with programming, and I really want to continue to support that and expand upon it. So the more we can reach out to the community, the more we can remind folks that as a public library we’re here, we’re available, and we can help. That’s what we’re trained to do as informational professionals. To help.
NR: Are in-person visits welcome at the library? What are the rules?
Wolfe: Yes. The library is open. We are on summer hours right now, but as of after Labor Day [Tuesday, September 7th] we will be opening back to our regular hours. We will resume business as normal. The only thing that changes is that there is a town wide mask mandate for all municipal buildings, so to come into the library we do request that you wear a mask. The whole library is open, the second floor is open, the Children’s Room is open. We just got new computers and are in the process of getting them set up on the second floor. Those should be ready to go soon after Labor Day.
NR: What are you most excited about?
Wolfe: The Morse Institute Library is going fines-free as of September 1st. The [Library Board of ] Trustees just approved it on Tuesday, August 4th. We’ve not been collecting fines for a while. But the vote was to make that permanent as an issue of equity. Fines for a lot of people are a barrier, so we’re really excited to be able to offer this to everyone. As of Aug 31st, all existing fines on existing accounts—that’s fines, not lost item charges—will be blown away.
NR: What will you do if patrons don’t return their books?
Wolfe: So after a period of 30 days it’s just going to be assumed that people want to keep the book, and they’ll be charged for it. But if they return the book the replacement fee will come off their record. The only addendum is that this doesn’t apply to other libraries’ materials. So if you borrow a book here at our library through the interlibrary loan system, it will still count on that library’s rules.
NR: Do you envision other libraries doing this?
Jane Newman: They already are. Nationwide it’s been going on for the better part of a decade, and the larger cities in the United States spearheaded it—San Francisco, New York City. Then in Massachusetts there are quite a few. Amherst went fines-free about 7 years ago. Fines-free has been viewed as an equity issue. The hesitance with librarians has always been, ‘how do we get the books back?’ But according to the libraries that have gone fines-free, that’s really not been a huge issue. The people who don’t bring books back still don’t bring books back. And it doesn’t keep others who return their book from changing their behaviors. For us it started as a conversation about 2 years ago.
We used to have a program called Food For Fines. We would have families who waited to come back to the library with their canned goods to wipe their fines out. We thought, there’s something wrong there. We don’t want to keep people from coming to the library because they have fines. That’s pretty much what started it.
Wolfe: Cambridge went fines-free a couple of years ago. BPL [Boston Public Library] did so recently. That was the big one to fall. For Natick, 8,600 families in the town were affected. They had over $10 dollars in fines at the time, so they couldn’t use their cards to take out more materials. The public library is so important. We wanted to make sure we would continue to be available to folks regardless of fines. The “stick” of the fines doesn’t do much to change people’s behaviors. When you have a kid coming in and they can’t use their library card because there are too many fines, we as librarians want to do everything we can to make sure they can leave with a book, but you’re also limited by the policy.
Newman: There’s also the perception in children, tweens, teens that they can’t even come inside the library if they have outstanding fines and that’s not an environment we want to foster.
NR: What other initiatives are you working on?
Wolfe: We want to take the library outside the brick walls and bring it to the community, There are a lot of people who for a variety of reasons can’t make it to the library proper, but still might benefit from library services. So we’re doing a lot of outreach into the community, figuring out where we can be. Find the patron at the point of need, determine what it is, and figure out how you can best service it. We have a lot of services at the library that the public doesn’t know about or doesn’t know how to access.
NR: What’s up with the lockers nearby the drop boxes?
Wolfe: That’s something that’s just now starting. Those are our book lockers. We’re testing out the procedures to make sure everything is fine tuned before they’re launched. If you’re familiar with Amazon lockers, it’s a similar thing. You can request to have your holds picked up at a book locker. So say you work the night shift and you can’t get here until 2 o’clock in the morning, you can have your holds in that book locker to pick up at your convenience. We’re hoping that will really make a difference in terms of access for a lot of folks.
NR: How is the Bookmobile going?
Wolfe: Our 27-year-old Bookmobile has finally been retired from the road. We’re in the process of getting a new Bookmobile. It will probably take about 18 months. In the meantime the Trustees have authorized the use of a library van. Rose [Huling] is still out there connecting with the community. We hope to expand that outreach. Again, it’s about getting to where the people are.
NR: Anything else coming up?
Wolfe: We recently got a grant so that we can launch hot spots for the community. We’ll have 50 hot spots circulating. Patrons will check them out for a period of 2 weeks and the hot spot will give them free internet. That again speaks to the equity issue for folks who on their phones might have small data plans A hot spot will connect people . The internet is less and less an option and is more and more a necessity to connect, particularly in an age of COVID. Some will be available at the Council on Aging, some will be available at the Natick Service Council, some will be on the Bookmobile, and the rest will be here [at the Morse Institute]. This will be a great way to get more people connected.
MORSE INSTITUTE LIBRARY HOURS:
Monday – Thursday: 9am – 7pm (Children’s Room closes at 6pm)
Friday – Saturday: 9am – 4pm
Closed Labor Day Weekend:
Saturday, September 4 – Monday, September 6, 2021
NEW MORSE INSTITUTE HOURS START Tuesday, Sept. 7:
Monday – Thursday: 9am – 9pm
Friday: 9am – 6pm
Saturday: 9am – 5 pm
Sunday: 1pm – 5pm