New Library Director a Familiar Face to Patrons
Sarah Ward is the new director of the Norfolk Public Library.
y Grace Allen
On August 1, Sarah Ward was hired as Norfolk’s new library director, replacing Libby O’Neill, who left in March. Ward had been serving as interim director since O’Neill’s departure.
Ward, 37, has had a long tenure in Norfolk’s library prior to becoming its director. She’s served as the library’s associate director, children’s librarian, library associate, library page, and a volunteer.
Kenneth Nelson, the chair of the library’s Board of Trustees, says Ward was chosen from a number of applicants vying for the position.
“The trustees as a group decided Sarah was the definitely the right person for the job,” said Nelson. “She has demonstrated that she has not only the commitment but also the skills necessary for the job. She has the hard skills—budgeting, collection development, etc.—as well as the people skills. Sarah is a valuable asset not only to the library, but to the town of Norfolk as well. All the board members think very highly of Sarah and are really pleased that she accepted the position and that the transition has been excellent from our point of view.”
A life-long Norfolk resident, Ward attended Norfolk and King Philip public schools, and then went to UMass Amherst to study art history with the goal of becoming an art restorer. After graduation, she worked at the Children’s Museum in Easton, the M.I.T. Museum, and the engineering firm Brown and Caldwell. Yet she still spent her weekends working at the library’s circulation desk.
Eventually, Ward went on to Simmons University for a master’s degree in library and information science, cementing a career path that started when she was young, although she didn’t know it at the time.
“I sort of organically worked my way towards a library career,” she said, noting that long-time children’s librarian Sarina Bluhm was one of her mentors. Bluhm, who retired in 2018, was a “huge influence” on her career and is still a source of advice and inspiration, said Ward.
Ward says one of her goals is to increase the number of Norfolk residents who use the library. Currently, less than 50% of residents hold a library card but she’d like to increase that number to 75% by promoting the library through outreach programs at various events throughout town.
“Personally, I’d love for everyone in town to have a card, but I know that’s not possible,” Ward said. “I’d like more people to realize the breadth of services we offer.”
Those services include both in-person and expanded virtual programming, a by-product of the pandemic.
“Virtual programming is here to stay as a great alternative to in-person programming, especially in the winter when the weather can be iffy,” said Ward. “Attending a fun program from the comfort of your home is much more appealing than going out into a cold, dark evening. And if you’re still not ready to go out and mingle in a big group of people, virtual programming works for that, too.”
The library is also offering more passive programming like drop-in crafts and scavenger hunts. No need to sign up or commit, just come by if you have the time, Ward said.
Even if the physical building is not open 24/7, there are services that can be accessed and enjoyed from anywhere, at any time, with a library card. Software like Overdrive, Hoopla, Kanopy, and Libby let cardholders check out digital books, videos, magazines, and music without having to go into the library.
“Everyone’s schedules are just so jam-packed, and to add one more thing can be overwhelming,” Ward said. “I want to show our patrons—old, new, and future—that there are always services and programs available for whatever time commitment best fits their schedule.”
Ward anticipates moving the library towards a fine-free borrowing structure in the near future. This trend is viewed as a way to make libraries more accessible to all, because late fees can add up and become insurmountable for some families.
“It feels punitive and it can silo one demographic of people,” explained Ward. “While Norfolk may have a wealthy population, you can’t assume that everyone can afford to pay the $10 for a late video game, for example.”
Ward says she loved to read as a child, and the library was a way to support her reading habit for free. Nowadays, she enjoys true crime novels, romances, and re-reads the Harry Potter series every year. The library book club All Booked Up (formerly the COA book club) has introduced her to some new authors, and she says her list of new books to read continues to grow at an alarming rate.
She also enjoys perusing cookbooks, remarking, “I am lucky that part of my job is to run the ‘Read It and Eat It’ cookbook discussion group, where I can geek out with other foodies.”
Ward says the library is always looking for programming ideas and new titles to add to their collection.
“We’re always open to suggestions,” she said. “We want to offer what people want to do and read. Just let us know.”