Library Gets An Acting Director

The regular meeting of the Board of Trustees of the C.H. Booth Library was delayed Tuesday evening, November 12, when a malfunctioning boiler set off fire alarms, evacuating the barely seated board members, staff, and patrons into the cold night. Hook & Ladder Fire Company, responding to the alarm, swept the building, gave it the okay, and within 20 minutes, everyone was back in the building and back to business.

The business of the evening for the Board of Trustees focused primarily on the report from the search process committee and fundraising efforts, with an executive session at the end of the evening resulting in current Assistant Library Director Beryl Harrison being named “acting director.”

The committee that will outline the search process for hiring a new library director, a position that has been vacant since September 16, is made up of three board members: Michelle Rosenthal, Peter Stern, and Michael Talluto. The trio has worked the past several weeks to define how a library director will be hired, and to identify lessons learned from the past tumultuous hiring and how to address those lessons. 

The report presented to fellow board members on Tuesday evening is meant as a recommendation, according to Mr Talluto, and the search process committee remains open to other suggestions as they move forward. He reminded the other members that the search process committee differs from the director search committee, yet to be formed.

Staffing the director search committee is the next step, however, according to the search process committee. The three members suggested that the director search committee be made up of three current board members, two library staff members, one person from the community, and one person from the Friends of the C.H. Booth Library. It was most important, the committee members agreed, that no board members who had served on the previous director search committee make up a part of this new director search committee.

The search process committee also stressed the importance of defining the characteristics desired in a successful library director. “What does the community want in a director?” asked Mr Talluto. Two one-hour community focus groups, two staff focus groups, and a public survey consisting of both open-ended and close-ended questions could help the board in answering that question, he said.

Key questions outlined in the report provided to the board members asked: What is budgeted for the director role? Is the board willing to pay more for an experienced director or a similar candidate with relevant supervisory library experience? Should the board engage the services of an outside consultant to evaluate the library and its needs?

Ms Rosenthal addressed the last question, saying she had spoken with a consultant who would be able to customize the search as needed, assess library needs, and advise the board. A consultant could help the board in facilitating town meetings, she said, as well as in formulating questions for a survey. In responding to concerns by other board members as to the expertise of any consultant hired, Ms Rosenthal said that she had spoken with representatives of the State and Middletown Resource Libraries and had received the names of three people “they all have respect for.”

New board member Robert Geckle, a Republican appointed by the town and yet to be confirmed, suggested that beyond brief talks with Interim Superintendent of Schools John Reed that have taken place, speaking to members of the Board of Education might be beneficial. “They are addressing a lot of similar issues [as they seek a new superintendent of schools],” Mr Geckle pointed out. “There may be good lessons learned in the actual director search,” he said.

The staff, as well as all board members, should have input into what is looked for in a consultant, should the board go that route, said John Trentacosta, vice president of the Board of Trustees. “Everybody should have input.”

Mr Talluto repeated that the three members were simply putting forth what they have come up with in the search process, and asked how long the committee would keep the evaluation going. “We gotta be transparent, we gotta get it right,” he said.

“Let’s not do to a new library director what we did to the last one,” agreed Mr Trentacosta. “Let’s have everyone in agreement,” he said, and asked the search committee for opinions on work for the next six months.

Board member Colleen Honan noted that money paid to a consultant could come from money that is not now being paid to a full-time library director.

“We could consider a fixed bid,” Mr Talluto said, responding to member’s concerns on the cost of hiring a consultant.

The Board of Education would be approached as to its search process, a consultant would be contacted regarding a possible informational meeting, and the search process committee would report back at the next scheduled meeting, said Mr Talluto.


A Successful Fundraiser

In other business, board Secretary Jennifer Reilly said that she was pleased at the response to the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot fundraiser. Five hundred runners out of a possible 1,000 had already signed up, she said, and 47 walkers. “We’re on track to sell out by race morning,” she said.

Mr Geckle raised the question of the importance in fundraising of the recently issued public appeals letter. Assured that it is an important source of income to the library, Mr Geckle then questioned the marketing of the campaign.

“The letter is great,” he said, “but my point is, we could do a better job from the marketing point of view.” He displayed a number of appeals from other organizations recently received at his household that include names of directors, photographs, and color images. “The letter doesn’t market us,” he said, “and there is a lot of competition for cash.”

He suggested a second wave of appeal “with a little pizzazz,” a point that was well received by other board members.

Peter Stern agreed that with the negative impact of the last few months on potential donors, “We need to remind people of the positive things we do.”

“There are thousands of opportunities to show what this entity means to the community,” said Mr Geckle. A newsletter sent out after the holidays might be a means of promoting more support, agreed board members.

General reports from regular committees followed, with only one discussion lingering on the recent removal from the library attic of historical society-owned books about the 2005 Tercentennial. In the process of clearing out the attic, the more than 100 boxes of books were removed. Town Historian and library board member Dan Cruson expressed great concern that the boxes had been placed outdoors, and put at risk.

“Beryl [Harrison] will see what we can do [to secure those books] and then deal with the rest,” said Mr Trentacosta.

Ms Honan noted that with the recent resignation of board member Moira Rodgers, there were now three vacancies on the board to be filled. She has received resumes of Republican and unaffiliated people from Mr Geckle, she said, and continues to seek nominations for candidates who could round out the Board of Trustees.

In closing, Ms Reilly said that while a date has not yet been set, all board members would be urged to attend a meeting with members of the Town of Newtown addressing the Freedom of Information Act. That meeting most likely will occur after the holiday season, she said.

The board moved into Executive Session to discuss personnel issues, noting that the next meeting would most likely be scheduled for Tuesday, December 3.

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