Since September of 2015, we’ve been in the midst of a search to find a new President of the Boston Public Library. The BPL is an amazing institution on many levels. Part of the greatness of the BPL derives from its history: it is the first free municipal library in the world, the first to create neighborhood branches, the initial home of the Digital Public Library of America (a personal favorite!), and so forth. Part of its greatness lies in its promise, as yet untapped — all those terrific things that the team at the library will get done in the future, building upon its storied past and extraordinary collections and buildings. The person who will become the next President of the Boston Public Library, succeeding Amy E. Ryan (whom I much admire), will take on an important, challenging, exciting role in our city and in the world of libraries and information.
As the chair of the search process, I have led a talented and diverse group of volunteers who care about Boston and its libraries in their work since the Fall. Our charge has been to reach out to the world at large about the BPL and its promise, to consider a broad range of candidates, and to bring between 2 and 4 candidates forward to the Trustees for their consideration. In a formal sense, the Trustees make this appointment. The Mayor’s office is also involved in the process, as the successful candidate will become a member of the Mayor’s senior team. The final presentations and the Board of Trustee’s selection are planned for Saturday, May 21.
I have been planning a blog post about the search process up to this point, since I have now formally handed things over to Robert Gallery, chair of the Board of Trustees at the BPL. Incidentally, I recently received an email from Nancy R. Browne, Interim Chief of Technical and Digital Services Boston Public Library, in which she asked two great questions that I will use as the jumping off point for my post. Ms. Browne wrote:
This has been a long and a careful search process, and you deserve a great deal of credit for involving staff and the public as you have done and continue to do. I have two general questions for the Committee on the “process” of the presidential search:
1. In the interests of a very transparent and open process, will the methods and process by which with the “assistance of the executive search firm, Spencer Stuart, the committee narrowed down the expansive field of candidates to three very qualified candidates” be made public?
Sure! Some of what I write here has been communicated through several means, such as updates on the web and via the press and the listening sessions, but a response here in this blog post might bring it all together.
We started with a fairly long listening tour. The idea has been to “measure twice, cut once.” We have heard from hundreds of people who care about the BPL: staff and patrons chief among the informants, but also people who work in City Hall, the Trustees, donors, and people who just care about libraries at large. These listening sessions were the basis for a position description, which we posted online and sent out widely. This part of the process ran from roughly November through February.
The early outreach to candidates and much logistical support has been provided by Spencer Stuart, the executive search firm with lots of experience in hiring non-profit leaders, including of big public libraries. The team from Spencer Stuart contacted hundreds of people on our behalf, both as informants who suggested candidates and gave reaction to the position description and also as candidates. As the search committee chair, I also talked to many, many people about their interest in the job. A relatively small number of people “applied” for the job in the sense of sending in an unsolicited CV for the position, to which we have been equally open. This part of the process ran for much of February and March and into early April.
From that pool in the hundreds, we as a Search Committee talked in depth about roughly two dozen strong candidates. This small number of candidates had phone interviews and some back and forth with either me or the Spencer Stuart team. From this group, the search committee chose a yet smaller group for face-to-face interviews in Boston. (All but one of these face-to-face interviews with the committee were in person; one was over teleconference, at the request of the candidate.) After a few days of these face-to-face interviews, the committee had a final session (in late April) at which we took votes on the candidates to be brought forward to the Trustees for consideration.
In between the end of the Search Committee meetings and the public Trustee meetings with the three finalists (set for the morning of Saturday, 5/21, at the BPL), Spencer Stuart has been responsible for referencing for the candidates. The candidates have also had further conversations with me, Spencer Stuart, and others in recent weeks as they have considered whether to become “public” as candidates, which we have required in order to become finalists for the job. We are confident that these three finalists, whose names were announced by the BPL today, all could do the job extremely well. It is now up to the Trustees to make a final decision from among these outstanding candidates.
2. What is the weight of the final 75 minute interview in determining your choice of the successful, most qualified candidate? This seems like a very short interview for such an important and pivotal position. If all the preliminary procedures that have led up to these brief public interviews could be disclosed in a detailed summary, we might have greater understanding and confidence in the process.”
I hope that the notes above help in this respect to describe the intensive work over the Fall, Winter and early Spring to get to this point with these strong candidates. The role of these 75-minute public interviews is to inform the final selection, by the Trustees, among these highly qualified candidates. Ideally, these final presentations will give the Trustees a sense of how these finalist candidates would perform in the public-facing aspects of the job, which is a crucial element of success for such a position.
I send out special thanks to all the members of the Search Committee; all those who participated in the Listening Sessions; and to Debbie Kirrane at the BPL (who coordinated the search on behalf of the BPL) and Molly Murphy (who served as liaison to Boston City Hall). The team overall has been highly collaborative and has worked very hard.
I hope that many citizens of Boston will come out to the Commonwealth Salon in the BPL’s Central Library in Copley Square on Saturday, beginning at 8 a.m., for the final phase of this important search.