There is nothing like stepping into a room and seeing books, wall to wall. Better yet, there is nothing like seeing a room filled with books that you can take home to read—at any time. The Waltham Public Library (WPL) is one of these special places. Located on Main Street, practically just down the road from Brandeis University, it really is a place to visit even if just passing through the area. As someone who frequents libraries, I wanted to learn more about the WPL’s daily operations and highlight some of the people who are involved in running the library.
Outreach Librarian Greg Carter moved to Waltham in 2016, then working at the Concord Public Library. “While Concord was a lovely place to work, the idea of serving the town that one lives in has always appealed to me,” Carter says, “so, when a job opportunity opened up at the WPL I applied, and here I am 6 years later.” Reference Department Head Amber Harvey joined the WPL in 2016, her first library job in Massachusetts after a cross-country move from Colorado and taking time off after her children were born.
No two days look the same when working at WPL. “Most days you work a couple shifts on the reference desk, which means aiding patrons with research questions, printing services and study room bookings, among other things,” Carter says. “When you work with the public, there really isn’t a limit to what questions you may receive, and it keeps the job interesting!” As an outreach librarian, Carter also orders new books for the Waltham collection, processes requests for items outside the library, and acts as a liaison with organizations outside of the library, “introducing myself and building relationships between them and us.” Harvey also notes that “one of the best aspects of my job is that no two days look alike.”
The library does so much more than meets the eye. When asked about a WPL service that more people should know about, Carter highlights the WPL’s home delivery service: “The WPL understands that there are a number of folks who, despite wanting to use library services, are unable to physically get to the library. While we do have a number of wonderful digital resources you access through electronic devices, you can still get actual books delivered to your doorstep once a month by [me]!” If you live in Waltham and want books but are unable to get to the library, reach out to Carter, and he can see if you qualify for the home delivery service. Harvey emphasizes the WPL’s selection of digital resources. “Many people are familiar with e-books and digital audiobooks, but we also have movies, music and magazines available digitally, along with research materials such as Consumer Reports and Weiss Financial Ratings.” Overall, there is so much to be said about the resources WPL offers remotely. WPL is accessible without even entering the physical library space.
One aspect that is emphasized is how special the Waltham location is. Harvey notes that the people are her favorite part about working at WPL. “I work alongside some truly incredible people and together we get to work with an amazing community.” Carter agrees that “a place can have a lot of cool aspects and history to it, but what makes it so special is the care of the people who run it. The staff here are intelligent, kind and all too eager to help in whatever way they can, as well as having a fantastic sense of humor. All of this makes the WPL a vital part of the city’s community, and I don’t see that passion slowing down anytime soon.”
The WPL is busy and is always adding to its book collection. Collection Development Elizabeth Rieur shares that “generally, we add around 1,000 books a month.” The number can differ due to publisher release schedules, demand for additional copies of popular materials, and projects that refresh specific areas of the collection. “For example, we may purchase a large number of books on one general subject if our current holdings are outdated, damaged or lacking volumes. We recently did this with our computer instruction books. The number of books added per month also varies. Rieur says that “Fewer books are added in June due to the end of the fiscal year on 6/30. This is to ensure that all vendor invoices are fully paid with funds allocated for the correct fiscal year (we operate on a July 1 – June 30 fiscal year).” This is evident when looking at the number of new books added to circulation since January 2023 that Rieur provided: January (992 books), February (1,004 books), March (1,111 books), April (1,510 books), May (1,009 books), and June (899 books). Rieur also adds that the WPL also has “designated gift funds that need to be spent at a certain time each year which can cause a temporary increase in items added, as seen in April.”
Per the WPL website, for a book to be added to circulation, it must meet at least one of the following criteria: current usefulness or permanent value, authority and competence in presentation, widespread public, media and critical attention, importance as an historical record, relevance to the existing collection and relative importance in comparison with other works on the subject.
Unfortunately, books do not always stay in circulation. “There are various reasons as to why, but the primary ones are a lack of circulation or damage,” says Carter, “We only have so much space in our building, and if a book has not seen any check out activity in an extended period of time, it may be removed from our collection so that we have more space for new items.” This is to say, if you have a book you want to remain in circulation, encourage your friends to check it out and read it. Demand for specific books is tracked over time and is a determining factor as to which books remain in circulation at the library. Carter describes that book quality can also be a determining factor; if “a book is found to be in such poor condition (whether by age or usage) that the library deems it not suitable for circulation and removes it.”
Carter’s favorite part about working at the WPL is the variety. “There’s this idea that libraries are these static institutions that exist solely to keep records of a place’s history and maintain a certain number of books that are deemed ‘classics.’ While those two things are certainly vital parts of the job, the library, like its community, is a constantly evolving thing that must meet the demands and needs of an ever-changing world. I love being at the forefront of that, working with folks to obtain resources both new and old. There’s so much you can do at a library, and I don’t know of many organizations that can be both a place where you can get work done and be a place of relaxing entertainment.”
The Waltham Public Library is typically open from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 1 p.m.-5 p.m. on Sundays.