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New Chapter for Ames Free Library Director

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EASTON — Uma Hiremath says a headmaster should only stay in one place for five years, but when she arrived at Ames Free Library in Easton she “fell in love” and broke her own rule.

Fourteen years later, Hiremath is retiring as executive director and looking back on a tenure that includes adding the Queset House Learning Commons, establishing the Queset Garden, two awards for Best Small Library in America, and service to the public during a pandemic.

When Hiremath became assistant director of the library in 2008, the building was undergoing renovations. The library, books and all, had moved to Frothingham Hall. The many volumes had been transported by a human “book brigade” to the temporary location.

“I remember a couple who bought a house in Easton said they saw the book brigade and said any town that could do it was worth moving to,” Hiremath said.

Hiremath previously worked at Thayer’s Public Library in Braintree. An Easton resident encouraged her to apply. Hiremath immediately hit it off with then-General Manager Madeline Miele Holt.

“From minute one, Madeline and I hit it off like a house on fire,” Hiremath said. “I think she offered me the job a few hours after the interview.”

Together they worked to win the award for Best Small Library in America. Ames Free Library became a finalist for the 2011 award, then won the top prize in 2016.

By 2012, Hiremath had become executive director.

While receiving the 2011 award in Philadelphia, Hiremath and Holt attended a presentation on the Dokk1 Aarhus Public Library in Denmark, which served as a community center. That’s what they wanted to do with the Queset House on the library campus.

“We literally wandered into that conversation and were on fire after that,” she said. “We said let’s turn it into a center of learning.

“I think it was an inspired decision because the whole concept of libraries was evolving at that time. Queset House lent itself beautifully to that.

Queset House has become a place of access to technology, information and collaborative experiences. Staff and residents organize programs to bring together those with common interests. The authors come to stay on the upper floor of the house. There are places to study or read, video games and a podcast area. This summer, Joseph Davis, an Oliver Ames High School graduate who writes fantasy books in Sweden, will come.

Hiremath has traveled the world lecturing on Queset House in places like the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan. She even visited Aarhus, Denmark, which first inspired her.

Ames Free Library Executive Director Uma Hiremath, left, and Deputy Director Ian Dunbar in Denver to accept the award for Best Small Library runner-up in 2016. Hiremath is retiring April 1 and Dunbar will be the new executive director .

“So it got picked up by a lot of people,” she said. “It’s not just information. It is the fermentation of networks, of social capital.

For example, one woman started a knitting group with eight people at Queset House. It grew in membership and began to meet more frequently. Hiremath said quilts from the band went to neonatal intensive care units and veterans.

“They have a ball,” Hiremath said. “You can hear the laughter in the garden. This is a group that started with the idea of ​​one person getting together with other people.

Julie Un from Easton started ESL classes at Queset House. The library has helped by marketing its sessions and raising funds for textbooks. When classes went virtual during COVID, classes grew from half a dozen to dozens in 11 countries. One now has three volunteer helpers. Even with a full load of 148 sessions, Un recently supported a family of five from Afghanistan.

“So there’s this person that starts with a few people and the magic happens,” Hiremath said. “This is the era of social networks.”

The library offers more than 1,000 free programs each year on topics such as finance, health, arts and crafts, history, nature and more. Hiremath constantly invited members of the community to come and give presentations at the library.

“If you have a skill, you share it with the community and the library realizes it,” she said.

Hiremath is also proud of its staff who, like the community, are welcome to offer their skills and passion to the community.

Library cleaner Jeannie O’Laughlin offered a program on homemade cleaning supplies. Senior Library Technician Lorraine Rubinacci blogs about nature.

“Each member of staff brings skills that go beyond their role,” Hiremath said. “Each member of staff brings something near and dear to the community.”

During COVID, Hiremath said the library has expanded its services to meet new needs. Hotspots were added for Wi-Fi access, databases expanded to provide live tutoring, and children’s librarians created over 130 hours of virtual storytelling. Even when the library closed, staff occupied a window handing out materials to patrons.

“When you enlist as a police officer or a firefighter, you have to show courage and bravery,” Hiremath said. “As a librarian, you are not. And the courage the staff showed during COVID just took my breath away.

“…When times get tough, librarians get going.”

With all the new ways libraries serve the public, Hiremath is also firm in the everlasting appeal of real books.

“During COVID, we’ve seen posting rates skyrocket,” she said. “Did the stairs ever go out of style when they created the elevator or the escalator? When you create something so perfect, it won’t go out of style. There will always be readers.

Hiremath is one of them. She looks forward to reading just for fun, starting with Andy Weir’s “Project Hail Mary,” as well as working on two books, one about public libraries, with Holt.

The last day of Hiremath is April 1. Deputy Director Ian Dunbar will take over as Executive Director. Youth Services Manager Jessica Block will serve as Deputy Director.

“I am very pleased to continue to work with the wonderful staff at the library and to serve the Easton community,” said Dunbar.

Managing Editor Donna Whitehead can be reached by email at [email protected] You can also friend on Facebook. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to Journal News Independent today.