A Second Chance To Get It Right

To the Editor:

When non-profit public-service oriented institutions such as school systems or churches have to find new leaders, it differs from a corporate situation because in addition to maintaining efficiency and financial solvency, the new leader must be able to provide inspirational leadership to both the staff and the community being served by that staff.

We know the difference between a visionary school superintendent and an inept or self-serving functionary, or between a true spiritual leader and a mediocre clergyman.  The former can inspire real effort and commitment from students, staff, parishioners and the community at large,  while preserving what is authentic and important in the original institution.

The latter generate discontent, frustration and insecurity.  Worst of all, inferior leaders may cling to power for years, depriving their charges of the meaningful  guidance and direction they need.

Choosing a new director for the Booth Library falls into the above category. The inept and heavy-handed behavior of the Library Board resulted in a public relations disaster for them,  a humiliating experience for Shawn Fields,  and a sense of chaotic disorder in a library that had been a bulwark of strength and comfort for Newtown in the wake of 12/14.

The board has lost credibility as to its qualifications for choosing a new director. They appeared clueless regarding the actual functioning of the library, indifferent to the feelings of the patrons, and lacking in ability to accurately assess strengths and character of candidates.

If there is any good side to the fiasco, it is that now we have a second chance. In order to get it right this time,  I feel  the board needs to do the following:

1.  Identify and acknowledge any real problems that exist, including maintenance issues,  financial or legal snags,  the changes needed to keep up with new technology and demographic shifts, and the ongoing challenge of obtaining funds from a sputtering economy.

2. Identify and acknowledge the particular strengths and unique qualities that make the Booth special, including  the historical heritage of Mary Hawley,  the large group of Friends who volunteer both time and expertise year round to raise money for library programs,  the tradition of children growing up with a love of the library from toddlerhood through young adult programs to college vacation jobs as pages,  and a staff of librarians who are cherished by the community for their warmth, patience, humor and generosity.

3. Create a competent, knowledgeable Search Committee that includes representation from the staff and the Friends, and possibly  members of the community and professionals from other successful libraries.

4.  Allow enough time for a careful and thorough search. One criterion for a director should be how well that person knows and understands the town.  Candidates under serious consideration should spend time visiting the library and getting to know the staff.  Their credentials should be carefully vetted to make sure their claims are not inflated.


Julie Stern

19 Park Lane, Newtown                    September 20, 2013

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