EPL survey identifies attributes the public is looking for in the city’s next library executive director

By Bob Seidenberg

Residents, library staff and library volunteers, ranked relationship-building, an experienced public librarian, and transparent communicator as the qualities they would most like to see in the city’s next Executive Library Director, according to results of a survey released last week.

Library Board of Trustees solicited feedback from residents, volunteers and staff in surveys sent out in October and November of 2022. In advance, trustees identified 13 qualities the new Library executive
director might be asked to possess.

The survey responses totaled 306. Respondents ranked each quality in order of what they considered most important, officials reported on the library site, EPL.org, Jan. 30.

“A relationship builder” was included in the respondents’ Top 5 rankings by 218 respondents; “an experienced public librarian” received 197, and “a transparent communicator,” 193.

Just down from that, the qualities most prized in the next group were “diversity, equity, access and inclusion-focused” with 153; “skill at budgeting” (142), and “invested in staff development” (142). “Setting vision & strategy” received 141 and “an asset-based community development focus led” the next group, with 63.

Library Board trustees moved forward on the survey as part of their search for a new executive director to replace Karen Danczak Lyons, who retired June 17 of last year after nearly a decade in the top job.

Heather Norborg has been serving as Interim Library Director in the meantime.

The Board’s timeline calls for the sending out of a Request for Proposals (RFP) by Feb. 16, inviting candidates to apply for the job. That step will be followed by the selection of a search firm by March 15. The Board does not anticipate identifying a finalist until their May 17 meeting. If the process goes as hoped, the city’s next Executive Library Director would start the job July 1, more than a year after Danczak Lyon’s retirement.

Along with the survey, trustees have held six listening sessions, three each for the community and staff members, the library reported in its release.

‘Moving deliberately’

“We are very fortunate to have effective leadership in place, allowing for an intentional search process,” said Library Board President Tracy Fulce. “We are moving deliberately and thoughtfully to identify what we believe is most important for library director candidates to know about our library and our community.”

The Board’s deliberate approach was evident at a subcommittee meeting held on-line Friday, Feb. 3. At the meeting, trustees spent nearly 40 minutes, honing the language in the RFP, informing candidates about the city and the library system as well as spelling out the knowledge and skills officials would like to see in their top candidate.

In several instances, trustees moved the order of the job attributes in line with feedback received through the survey.

At the meeting, several trustees, including Fulce, expressed openness to the library’s contracting with several search firms to conduct the search.

“I like competition, and I have no problem saying to someone, ‘I’d like you to engage in competition,’” she said.

Evanston City Council members had contracted with single firms in their searches for a city manager in 2020 and 2021, and had to restart the process when their top candidate dropped out at the very end of the process.

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