Director Recruitment and Trustee Considerations

Library trustees are charged with evaluating the ­director’s performance—and, often, securing a director when the position opens up. Trustees need to act efficiently, in these moments of pending vacancy, to secure leadership for their library. There are many considerations that arise when a director submits that dreaded resignation letter. Here are a few.

Brian Mortimore head shotLibrary trustees are charged with evaluating the ­director’s performance—and, often, securing a director when the position opens up. It’s rare that a library board has the same director for decades. The director of a small library may leave to lead a slightly larger library, or the assistant manager of a larger library might want to scratch their leadership itch by applying for the director position in a neighboring community. Trustees need to act efficiently, in these moments of pending vacancy, to secure leadership for their library. There are many considerations that arise when a director submits that dreaded resignation letter. Here are a few.

Should we assign an interim director? There are pros and cons to appointing an interim director. On the plus side, an interim director, hired internally, can keep the library running smoothly without many surprises. However, often this individual will become a candidate for the director’s position in the process, and others will view the appointment as somewhat of a fait accompli, thus discouraging outsiders from taking the time and effort to apply or even imagine themselves in the role. When well-qualified candidates remove themselves from the process based on what they believe to be a done deal that favors an insider, it does a disservice to all parties.

Should we hire a search firm? Many library boards are fully capable of running a director search without internal group bias. Board politics do come into play at times, particularly if members are vested in one candidate over another before the process even begins. In such situations, it helps to bring in a third party to manage the process. There are many reputable search firms. Some specialize in libraries, while others recruit executives for leadership roles in general. Community leaders may know of a local firm to recommend, or the board might become aware of another through networking. As an HR director, I’ve been asked to lead director searches for a number of boards and chances are there’s an HR person directly connected to the library, or indirectly within your county governmental system, who will be willing to help.

Is there a process we should follow? A successful search is usually grounded in a step-by-step written process. Once the job description is revised (they typically are only reviewed once a vacancy occurs, and are often out of date), a posting can be established to advertise the job via job boards, cooperative announcements, state library websites, and general networking.

Be sure to share information about the area where the position is located. If a job candidate two states over hears about the opportunity, a positive description of the community may be the key to giving them an idea of how they might enjoy living there and whether they could buy a home, raise a family, and enjoy regional activities.

Next, it’s important to establish a pay range, tentative review dates, and a deadline for applications, as well as identify a review committee—typically two individuals from the board who will work directly with the designated lead recruiter/HR person to screen candidates. This will generally involve telephone or Skype interviews to establish approximately three of the top five to ten candidates as qualified. These three will then be invited for a full board interview.

What are some tips for a successful interview process? The day should allow for enough time to fully meet and interview the finalists. Ideally, upon arrival, the candidate will be given a tour of the library and perhaps even provided with an update on strategic initiatives. They should be given casual introductions to any staff members present. This also helps put the candidate at ease. It can be helpful to have a topic assigned by the board that the candidate can present on at the start of the interview, so trustees can see how they “perform”—and how they might present to area municipalities, school boards, or local civic groups.

Have agreed-upon interview questions ready from the personnel team or HR representative, preferably designating one person to ask questions and facilitate the interview. Assuming there might be an audience of staff or the public (remember, the Open Meetings Act requires that they be allowed to attend), it’s important to remind the audience that they are there as observers, not participants, and that proper decorum must be maintained.

How do we secure a candidate once a decision is made? Often a board is clear from the beginning about the starting salary and benefits, making it known there is no wiggle room. Other times they may acknowledge a willingness to consider a candidate’s experience and negotiate the offer.

Regardless of the nuances of flexibility, it is imperative that one person serve as the board’s spokesperson for this so that signals don’t get crossed, or promises or inferences get made that are inconsistent, resulting in conflict or disappointment later.

Hiring a library director can be a process full of potential and excitement. As a trustee, thinking through these details ahead of time will potentially save the library from the stress of an exceedingly long vacancy or lack of direction for staff, and help ensure a smooth process.


Brian L. Mortimore, SPHR, serves as the Director of Human ­Resources and Organizational Development for the Kent District Library, Grand Rapids, MI, and is the creator of Bookmark, the library industry’s first employment assessment tool (BookmarkHR.com).

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