Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Hunt for a New Director

At the September 10 meeting, the Trustees announced that Bob Burger - a retired University of Illinois librarian - would helm the search committee for the Urbana Free Library's new executive director and that the process would proceed, as President Scherer noted, with "all due haste."

Following that announcement, a lively and chaotic discussion ensued in which the Trustees wrangled with logistics: who would appoint the other members of the committee? to whom is the search committee accountable? what will the committee use as criteria for evaluating candidates? The answers to most of those questions seemed to reside in the person of Bob Burger. It is he, the Trustees concluded, who will appoint the committee, determine its direction, and develop evaluative criteria.

What seemed most clear from this discussion is that the Trustees don't understand the search process.

In looking back at the Board minutes from the last director search in 2006, the process worked much differently.

For instance, here's what the minutes from May 2006 state,
Kate McDowell passed out for review a new time line for hiring a new Executive Director. She also passed out the job description and the job advertisement and revised them on her laptop computer as Board members and staff made suggestions. The Board discussed a number of points, including the best way to present the salary range, whether specific details should be in the job description or a job contract, and whether specific job expectations and experiences should be required or preferred.  
The Board also discussed where and when to advertise, who should be on the search committee and advisory committee, and who should meet the top candidates. 
It was moved by Charlie Smyth, seconded by William Golden, and passed unanimously that Jane Williams and Kate McDowell co-chair the search committee. The Board will discuss at the next meeting who else should be a part of the search committee. Kate mentioned that the search committee will have two main tasks, the initial screening of candidates, followed by selecting and interviewing candidates to be interviewed in Urbana.
In this scenario - even before a committee was appointed - there was a sense of process and a concrete job description.

Here's a little more from August 2006.
Kate McDowell presented several items to the Board for their consideration.
It was moved by Jane Williams, seconded by Charlie Smyth, and passed unanimously that the Director Interview Template be approved as presented.  
It was moved by Charlie Smyth, seconded by Barbara Gillespie, and passed unanimously that the Director Hiring Process Timeline be approved as modified.

It was moved by Charlie Smyth, seconded by Jane Williams, and passed unanimously that the Search Committee should consist of Kate McDowell, James Quisenberry, Jane Williams, one other Board member, a member of the staff, and a member from the Foundation. The Search Committee will screen applications and conduct the phone interviews. The whole Board will take part in the interviews which involve bringing in candidates. It is anticipated that six to seven people will be interviewed by phone, and the top two or three candidates will be interviewed in person.  
It was moved by Charlie Smyth, seconded by Chris Scherer, and passed unanimously that the letter asking for staff input be sent out to staff as modified. 
We learn, thus, that the composition of the search committee - determined by the Board - and that there was an interview template.

Several of the current Trustees (Mel Farrell, Jane Williams, Chris Scherer) were also Trustees in 2006, so surely there is some institutional memory that can serve as a starting point. For whatever reason, it was Farrell who seemed insistent on giving power to Burger.

I'm certain more will be revealed in the next few weeks, but at the moment I am concerned that the Trustees are abdicating their responsibilities by investing an individual external to the Board with so much authority. Certainly I hope that there will be opportunities for people outside of the Library's administration who can provide input on hiring, but it would be unfortunate if in their haste to hire a new director, the Trustees don't proceed with purpose and direction.

Notes from Trustees Meeting (10 September)

Last night's meeting was relatively brief - a little less than an hour - but it was packed with information. In fact, it seemed the public learned more from the trustees and staff at Urbana Free Library about the ongoing issues related to #bookgate in last night's meeting than in any other forum to date.

Notably the trustees described the terms negotiated for former director Lissak's terminal contract and some general details about how the search for a new permanent director will proceed.

We learned too from acting head of adult services Mary Towner that 297 boxes of books were probably shipped to Better World Books (BWB) during June. Towner spent 45 minutes on the phone with BWB, but that would have been unnecessary if the employee who has access to the Library's BWB account would simply provide access to it. So it seems that among the ranks of the Library's staff, partisanship and allegiances continue to hold sway.

Another takeaway from the meeting is that the trustees might need refresher courses in Robert's Rules of Order, their own by-laws, and the Illinois Open Meetings Act. Much of the confusion focused on two issues: how to change the meeting time for the regular board meetings and on the chain of command for the search committee (e.g. who chooses who serves on it - the appointed head of the committee or the Trustees).

You can read a brief article about the meeting in the News-Gazette, but be sure to check out some notes provided by Kathryn La Barre who attended the meeting. There is also a recording available of the meeting courtesy of JP Goguen, but the sound quality is hit and miss.

Monday, September 9, 2013

With Friends Like These...

Allow me to call your attention to a brief announcement in the September 2013 Director's Report.
"The August 22-26 book sale raised $7,147. The sale included items from the library collection from the Better World Books shipment that were not returned to the collection after careful re-evaluation by the Adult Services librarians. According to the Friends, of the 145 boxes of books offered to the Friends for the sale, a total of three boxes of books were selected by the public."
Dear Reader, I attended this book sale on Saturday, August 24. Full disclosure: I bought a handful of books that had been returned from Better World Books and not added back to the collection. 

Most of the books that filled the Lewis Auditorium were donations, not discarded library books. The paperback mystery selections—no library copies among them—were lovingly attended and groomed by a circulating clutch of Friends. The romance and fantasy paperbacks were also tenderly tended. 

The Library's former books? The ones at the heart of #bookgate? They were partitioned off in two small rooms, still in boxes, difficult to browse. A few other boxes, even more jumbled, were shoved into a corner of the large room. There were signs pointing the curious to "Former Library Books."

I didn't count the boxes - adorned with the Better World Books logos on their sides - but I would be surprised if there were more than 50 available all told. 

Where were the other 100 boxes? I have no idea. Some were stacked up in the back hallway. A Reclaiming traveler said when s/he inquired about them, s/he was told the boxes contained "crap fiction" that no one would want.

Perhaps, just maybe, the Friends could have sold more than 3 boxes of the returned books if they lovingly groomed and curated even a small portion of them in the same way they did the rows of James Patterson, Sue Grafton, and Lillian Braun.

Of course, the Friends didn't want any of the returned library books to sell, period. As one of the Friends stated during public comment at the June 19 Special Meeting of the Library's Board (you can listen at about 01:26:00 mark in this recording), no one wants to buy old library books anyway. We were told to trust the Friends, that they know better than even the librarians what the community wants to read.

With Friends like these, who needs enemies?