Searching for and Selecting a Library Director

Saturday, Nov 13 | NEKLS | Dan and Jobeth Bradbury of Bradbury Associates/Gossage Sager Associates

Dan Bradbury – retired from Kansas City Public Library after 19 years of service, where he split the library from the School District.  Now finds new Library Directors full time as a consultant

Jobeth Bradbury – Former director of the North Kansas City Public Library, former NEKLS consultant and Owner/Associate Consultant of Bradbury Associates/Gossage Sager Associates.

ELMeR sites at Burlington and Manhattan.  Well, until we lost the call from ALL…Technology ‘should work’, but rarely does when you need it to.  Why is that?

Talk about the Bradbury Process – “it’s not the only process, but it’s the right process.”

Often starts with an email from the Director, “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time…” or perhaps it starts from the Board and they tell the Director that it’s time to move on.  Either way, you need to conduct a Director Search.

Determine how you will structure the process.  Search Committee?  Who and How?  Normally the committee is a sub-set of the Board, people who have interest and time.  Some Boards involve staff and/or other community stakeholders (Friends, Foundation members, City Council, City Administrator, etc.).  Most effective are in the 4-6 person Committees.  If the Board is small enough, think about having a Search Committee of the Whole.  Very time consuming, but better results when all can participate in the whole process…or make sure the Board delegates the power to select to the Search Committee at the outset.

Staff needs to be involved, as it smooths the way for the new Director and creates buy-in from those who have to work with the person.

Establish your Schedule. Typical time frame is 4-5 months.  Electronic-only – Web and email. (Handout showing 22-24 week process).  A very methodical process and needs a few detail-oriented people to help guide the linear progress/process.
Week 1 – Set up Search Committee, determine methodology, job description, marketing plan and search schedule.

Marketing Plan. Use 45-50 electronic sites – kanlib, kla, system newsletter, lis jobs, ala, etc.  You are looking for people who aren’t really looking for a job – you want to recruit those folks to be applicants for you.  Start initiating contacts and ask for nominations of candidates.  Advertise for a minimum of 8 weeks.  Involve System Staff for help and suggestions.  It takes at least 3 exposures to be effective for an ad…they’ll see the announcement multiple times before they are tempted to actually think about applying.  Consider having a staff liaison to the Board to help with the process, so if you have an internal Candidate, you want to distance them and treat them the same as external candidates.  How would this schedule be adjusted for a local, smaller, more-regional pool?  Use free electronic sources to put the word out ‘far and wide that you are looking for a director.’  Never know when the candidate will be living out of the state, but have a local link/connection to the town or community where the job is!  Cast the net wide and be surprised.  Also, keep in mind that you may not want to advertise locally, depending on the qualifications you set for the candidate.  Create a Page on the Web site for the Director Search – one for the Ad and one page linking to the Library site, City hall, Chamber, Cost of living calculator, School District, etc. – that gives the candidates a way to research the community.  Link to the Library Budget, Plan, Building documents, Benefits – additional research.

How to Put Together the Job Announcement.  What do you want and need in a new Director?  Handout Section 1: Attributes, Skills and Abilities.  Select and rank the top 5 “critical traits” out of 30 potential attributes, such as Strategic Planning experience, Experience as library director, experience overseeing facility and network infrastructure, etc.  This can then be used to help rank final candidates and help with decision making.  Some Regional Standards, but in NEKLS we do have a set of standards for Director education, for example.  Handout Section 2: Five questions such as “What are the key personal and professional qualifications that you would to see in the next Library Director?” or “What are the top three challenges facing the Library?”  Feel free to Copy from Other Sources – ALA, KLA, Dan and Jobeth’s site, etc.

How to Include Staff/volunteers – at the beginning of the search and the end of the search.  Have a few initial meetings and ask them: What do you want to see in your  next Director? | What do you see as the challenges for the library? | What are the selling points of the Library AND the Community? | Ask for nomination of candidates. Then prepare a summary (anonymous) for the Board.  Share the Board’s summary report of the Board’s Attribute work back with the Staff.  That way Staff and the Board can see and understand that they are both part of the process.

Recruit and await Applicants – Need a Single Contact Person to handle the intake of Cover Letters and Resumes.  Important that we are respectful of all candidates – treat them fairly and courteously.  RESPOND, follow up, share the close date.  Have an email letter ready for immediate response.  Perhaps send out a questionnaire – gives a good idea about a candidates qualifications and allows you to create a matrix that compares the candidates.  Keep process Confidential up to the point of determining Finalists – keep it private until then.  Go over the confidentiality issue carefully with any and all staff/volunteers included in the Search Committee.  Create your list of candidates, recruit applicants, begin the process.

Small Library – communities under 15,000.  Many types of ‘small library’ – from Corning (15 hours a week) to any library that employs a Director or employee and has a Board that Governs.

What about the issue of individual members of the Board approaching a local community candidate – does that imply an offer of employment?  How do you overcome that difficulty on the process and Board credibility?  As a Board member, you do not speak for the Board.  The Board is only the Board when it convenes with Quorum and speaks with a single voice. Board members when not part of that Board, are just members of the community…and do not speak for the Board.

Close Date has Passed – Ready to Convene and Review Candidates.  Share all of the documents/resumes with each member and have a meeting.  Determine if you will do one or two rounds of interviews.  Semi-final interviews first – look at 5-7 people.  Narrow it down to 2-3 Finalists.  If going straight to Finalists, choose 3-5 candidates.  Select, notify them of the interview process –

Assignment – write interview questions for the candidates

Interview Process – Anxious time for the candidates.  May have the interviews at the Library or off-site if there are internal candidates (for privacy).  Convey directions to the candidates, when, be early, Hour long interview – 50 minutes for your questions and 10 minutes for them.  Have a Greeter.  Be hospitable – water, a comfy chair, a smile and an overview of the process.  Introductions.  Introductions.  Introductions.  Tell them where to sit – give them the cues to take.  Also assign a time keeper and someone to help keep the (nervous) candidate on task.  Mix up who asks the questions – a bit of randomness.  Ask ALL questions to ALL candidates – basis of comparison from candidate to candidate.  Can do follow up questions. Sample questions:

  • Do you enjoy interacting with the community?
  • What do you feel is the Director’s most important responsibility?
  • What is your style of leadership?
  • “Your spouse is in school, how long would you stay in this job?” – BAD – could get you sued.  Can’t assume information about spouse or family member, age, sex, political affiliation – the NO NO questions.  Instead ask, how does this position fit into your long term career plans or goals?  Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • “We don’t want someone for just five years…” – this is unlikely.  People are moving 3-5 years.  Find someone who will give you a very good 2-3 years to get you through a project.
  • What do you like about our Community?
  • How do you relate to people?  Are you a team player or a leader? (Be careful – project forward – don’t ask leading questions that multiple choice – ask General, Open Ended questions)  Bring out who and what they are.  “Give us a couple of projects where you worked as part of a team…”
  • Do not ask – “You’ve been in our library, what needs to be fixed?”  People get offended.
  • Experience in Collection Development – Programming experience for all ages – important attributes for a small library.  Philosophy and Approach on programming and CD.
  • Why are you interested in being OUR library Director?  Will tell you if the candidate has done their research.
  • Why did you choose to be  a Librarian as your Career Path?  Compelling stories that sell the individual to the Board.
  • What can you bring to this job that is unique?
  • What distinguishes you from the other candidates?

In the final interviews, you want to be hospitable as a way to sell your community.  Arrange for the candidates to meet informally or at a sit-down with the staff.  Q & A.  Assists buy in.  Send Chamber packets, Realtor tour, Ambassador, etc.   Give candidates opportunity to explore the community.  Take the candidate to lunch – 2-3 Board members.

The more time you spend with the candidate, the more you will get to know about them.   Larger communities may have a public forum where the Finalists answer questions and give a presentation.

If you cast your net broadly and attract candidates from larger communities to your smaller community, can they adjust?  Assess that as part of the interview process.

If you have an internal applicant, how do you handle the staff-candidate interaction?  The staff already knows them…which is good and bad.  Try to create a similar situation (artificial, but that’s ok).  If the internal candidate is hired, they will be in a very different position and it will be a different relationship.  Staff has the right to put the candidate in that different role.  Can they make that transition?

Tips or suggestions – what do you look for in the Cover Letter/Resume to evaluate these?  When you see it you will recognize it as a strong cover letter.  One letter may speak to you, but not to another Board member.  Talk about those impressions.  Write a convincing, engaging and compelling cover letter that is tailored to the job description.  Least compelling have grammatical and spelling errors or the wrong library cut/paste.  An articulate writer may or may not be a good verbal communicator (or the letter wasn’t written by applicant!).  Larger libraries have written exercises built into the process.

Go with your Gut, sometimes.  If they implode during the interview process, don’t always give them a by.  DON’T SETTLE.  Wait for the person you want…don’t settle for the best of the bad.  Those candidates usually don’t work out or stay in the position.

Give the candidates time to ask questions of you and be prepared to answer them.  They may turn the tables on the Board.  “How do you define the role between the Board and the Director?”

Types of Candidates that you may get:  The Rising Star or the Fading Star – test their energy and enthusiasm levels.  Some new Directors have to learn through trial and error to be a Director and learn to work with Boards.   Consider diverse candidates or people who represent an under-represented portion of your community.  Reforma, BDALA, Chinese American Library Association – minority representations in the Library Community.

References – Give references, not letters – call and ask specific pre-determined questions.

Background Check –  Civil, criminal and court check.  Local police might be willing to do it for you.  Credit check, too.  Only do it on the candidate you want to make the offer to – they have to sign off on it.  It’s invasive.

“Bad Illegal Questions and Alternatives” – site 1


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