Overdue: Town Restarts Search for Next Library Director

January 22, 2024
• Last fall, Needham Free Public Library personnel and town administrators expected to introduce a permanent library director by December. But three rounds of interviews later, Needham has yet to welcome a leader onboard.

Now, with the help of consulting firm Community Paradigm Associates, the town is starting its second search in the hopes of finding the right person for the role.

“We ran a really robust process in our hiring search for the library director position,” Deputy Town Manager Katie King said. “At the end, we did not feel like there was a candidate that we wanted to recommend, so we made the decision to restart our search.”

The job is open until filled, but all applications submitted by 3 p.m. Feb. 1 will be reviewed. Interviews will begin soon after, and King said she’d like to find their director this spring, contingent on negotiations and when the chosen candidate can leave their current job.

Challenges certainly stand in the way, namely the difficult job market. Bernie Lynch, the founder and managing principal of Community Paradigm, addressed that factor during the Trustees of the Needham Free Public Library’s December meeting, where he outlined the search timeline and fielded questions on that process.

This will be Community Paradigm’s 10th library director hiring search, but during the meeting, Lynch said they saw a “tightness of the market.” That is not unique to municipal government, Lynch said in an interview, especially as the focus of information sciences have shifted toward the private sector and as the role of libraries has changed.

Combined with high costs of living, competition within a diminished pool of candidates is high, he said.

Needham is seeking “an ambassador” for the library who can lead the 50-person staff through the five-year strategic plan and building improvement projects to come, according to the position statement. Candidates are expected to have at least seven years of library service experience, “superior leadership qualities,” be forward-thinking and know the ins and outs of library administration, management and practices.

The annual salary is around $130,000, depending on qualifications, according to the statement.

Rob Petitt, vice chair of the trustees, shared his three criteria for a library director: technical expertise, leadership and supervisory skills and strong advocacy.

Perhaps most difficult in the process is finding a person who’s simply “the right fit,” Trustees Chair Jay Fialkov said.

“We’re looking for someone who’s mission driven to serve a library,” Fialkov said, “a smart and capable leader, someone who has those qualities, who’s thoughtful and empathic in terms of building a team and being also a community builder, because this is an important position.”

Though the decision will ultimately fall on town administration, Fialkov said the Trustees will be involved in the interview process and weigh in on who they support.

During their previous search, “the caliber of candidates was really impressive,” Trustee Anna Giraldo Kerr said during the December meeting, but it came down to the intangibles.

“They all had the credentials,” Kerr said of the three finalists. “When it came to the traits and all those things that you cannot quantify, as you described it, that’s where we were not — we were trying to figure it out. That doesn’t show in a resume or in a cover letter.”

Former Library Director Kim Hewitt left at the end of August to serve as director of the Watertown Public Library.

Ironically, Community Paradigm also helped Watertown find and hire Hewitt. Looking on the bright side, Lynch said her move “created a vacancy.”

“I know she did good work in Needham, and the library there benefited from her work,” Lynch said, “and now we want to find someone to pick up from there and keep the library moving.”

Since Hewitt’s departure, Assistant Director Demetri Kyriakis has assumed the role of interim director, for which the Trustees expressed their gratitude.

“I would say that Dimitri brings in institutional knowledge that is critical for the library right now,” Petitt said. “We all really appreciate that.”

Kyriakis declined to comment amid the search.

Libraries have also become a political battleground, with some advocating for book bans and others scrutinizing practices such as drag queen story times. For Massachusetts, however, that polarization has not been an issue, Lynch said, and it may actually prompt out-of-state librarians to look for employment in the Commonwealth.

“We’ve had candidates from other parts of the country that have looked at positions that have described horror stories to us of people wanting to ban books, to ban programs, and it just becomes a very challenging environment,” Lynch said of previous candidates for different library positions. “That is a hurdle that’s out there, but it’s not something we’re necessarily seeing here.”

King underscored the importance of the library with the urgency of finding a director to sustain its core values and all the benefits the space provides.

“The library is such a place of connection in Needham. People go to connect with information but also to connect with other people, and it’s really amazing to see because it’s people of all ages, all walks of life,” King said. “I think everyone has a space where they feel welcomed and voluntarily want to be.”

While they’ve already received resumes from a few qualified candidates, Lynch said he expects a stronger rush of applicants right at the deadline.

In working with the town, Lynch said Needham stands out as a community that recognizes and appreciates its library. With an impressive financial standing and desirable location to boot, the position should be an attractive one, he said.

“You do have an accessible and vibrant physical space, you have support for good programming that allows for people to explore ideas and interests,” Lynch said. “It’s a town that has a real sense of community. People are proud of being part of Needham and the variety of programs that the not just the library, but the entire community provides… This has got a lot going for it.”

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