Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Friday, January 16, 2015

Library Trustees Meet to Advance the Search for a New Library Director

(The following is re-posted from the Fairfax Library Advocates blog.)

A committee established by the Fairfax Board of Library Trustees met January 14th to continue deliberations on the criteria to use for the selection of a new Director for the Library Administration.  Although the Trustees have sole authority and responsibility for the choice of the new Director, the committee includes representatives from several other organizations including the County, the Branch Managers, the Library Employees Association and the Library Foundation/Friends.   This ensures that concerned stakeholders have a chance to express their views before the full Board of Trustees makes its final decision.  The committee is led by Trustee Kerri Delaney.

The meeting began with a presentation by a County official of a proposal entitled "Public Outreach and Input into the Process - Potential Groups and Organizations."  Briefly, this proposal would be to conduct a survey as to what the public would like to see in a new Director. The plan would be to "drop in" on already scheduled meetings of the County's Department of Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS) to solicit input.  (The NCS oversees programming at Community, Teen and Senior Centers throughout the County.)  As part of this proposal, a set of sample questions was given which could be asked of the NCS groups, who in turn would rank their views from (1) "not important" up to (5) "very important.  Sample questions include:

"How important to you is it that the next Library Director be a good strong, effective, appreciative leader?" 

"How important to you is it that the next Library Director motivate library staff for productivity?" and 

"How important to you is it that the next Library Director be effective at working with Boards and other governing bodies?"

At this point the Chairman of the Trustees, Charles Fegan, noted he had established this committee last summer and expressed a concern that too much time was elapsing.  He expressed a hope that a decision could be made by this July.  In the ensuing discussion several other committee members expressed similar concerns over timing and questioned the need to further delay the development of a position description for the Director to wait for a survey that might take weeks or months.  One member stated that while community input would be helpful in determining what people might want in a library, most people did not have the technical knowledge or experience to determine what skills best served the Director of a major Library system.   The committee members all valued community input but most felt their work shouldn't be delayed.  The survey might still be conducted, but perhaps in parallel with drafting the position description.  The dissenting voices came from the County officials, one who stated it was "ridiculous" to think a Director could be chosen by July and another who made the reasonable point that it was important to build public support and suggested this could be done through public involvement.  

The Chair, Kerri Delaney, reminded the committee that they did have a previously agreed upon timeline:  complete the job description by the spring so that interviews could be conducted in the summer and a choice made in the fall.  

Several committee members noted the committee itself had individuals with vast knowledge of library and County operations.  Chairman Fegan stated he had actually put this committee together with exactly that goal in mind - to have the full range of experience needed to develop the framework for the selection process.    Fegan suggested a workshop to draft a position description and Delaney proposed the committee reconvene for this purpose at the end of the following week.  The committee agreed.  

At the conclusion of the meeting the Chair graciously invited the Acting Chairman of the Fairfax Library Advocates, Dennis Hays, who had been observing the meeting, if he had any thoughts. Hays thanked the committee members for their service and the serious way in which they were carrying out their duties.  He then stated that he shared the concern of the Chairman and the others that this process not be endlessly dragged out.  While community input is always welcome, there was little or nothing the proposed survey could add to the wealth of knowledge already on the committee.  He further agreed with the Chairman that a July decision was achievable.  Executive search can take time, but if pursued vigorously six months is more than adequate to conduct a full review and make a selection.  If a survey was to be conducted nevertheless, Hays suggested that rather that focus on the NCS the various Friends groups would provide a rich source of knowledgeable individuals to be interviewed.  Further, in addition to still using NCS, attention could be paid to other groups like home schoolers, small business owners, parents of small children, etc. - echoing a point made earlier by one of the Trustees.

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