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Library Director Search Focus Groups Begin



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Four members of the Young Adult Council of C.H. Booth Library and seven community members met Monday, March 31, with consultants from the Connecticut State Library to provide input regarding the selection of a new director for the library.

Dawn LaValle, director of the Division of Library Development, and Mary Engels, director of the Middletown Library Service Center, facilitated the afternoon meeting for the young people, and the evening meeting that was open to the public.

The consultants were invited to host several focus groups by the seven-member Director Search Committee that is charged by the board of trustees of the C.H. Booth Library with identifying and presenting qualified candidates to the board for the position of library director. Ms LaValle and Ms Engels were scheduled to facilitate a focus group for members of the Friends of the C.H. Booth Library and the library staff the latter part of the week of March 31, and an additional public focus group on Monday evening, April 7.

“The search committee thought it would be important for important people in the community to be involved and have a say as to the qualities of a director,” Ms LaValle explained to the young adult group. “Young adults are very important to libraries,” she told them. “Young people are our future library users.”

She stressed to the adults at the evening focus group the importance of the selection process and value of community input.

“What we find out here will help structure the questions to the candidates,” Ms LaValle said. The job description for the director of C.H. Booth Library was posted Monday, March 31, she said, on professional library websites.

At both meetings on Monday, Ms LaValle presented similar questions for consideration. What skills are most important to you in a library director; When you walk into the library what works now and what does not; and what personal characteristics are important in the next director of the C.H. Booth Library, were among the main questions presented.

People skills are among the most valuable skills that these two groups see as necessary in the new director.

“A person that understands everyone in the community,” including the youth, said YAC member Caroline Palmer in responding to what skills are needed by a director.

Maya Welber agreed, adding that a director should have the ability to “get stuff on time and be responsible.”

A Range Of Skills

A broad range of skills will be needed to comply with the job description, Mary Thomas and Laura Lerman both noted at the evening session.

“We need someone who can bring the library forward with technology,” Randi Rote suggested. Technology skills, as well as the ability to get the community involved in the library, Ms Lerman said, are equally important.

The question of skills and personal characteristics merged in several answers from both YAC members and adults.

A director who is diplomatic is needed, said Ms Thomas, who is the volunteer curator of collections at the library. The many valuable collections in the building are often shared with Newtown Historical Society. A new director needs to understand the function of the library as a museum, as well as a library, she said.

“We need someone who is professionally oriented, who has achieved something in library science,” Bruce Degen said. Mr Degen is a well-known children’s book illustrator and author who has worked closely with library programs for many years. He was distressed, he said, when he looked at the website of the short-lived director selected last year and saw “nothing about libraries.”

Ms Lerman said, “We want someone who can take his or her success from a similar community and bring that success here.” That person, she said, should come from a community similar to Newtown, and understand how Newtown residents feel about education and the library.

“Welcoming” was a characteristic of a new director that both youth and adults emphasized.

“It should be someone easy to talk to, and not someone you’re scared of,” said eighth grader Anastazia Luci-Bernard.

A person who is kind, knowledgeable, and helpful, said both Maya and Caroline, at the afternoon meeting, is a quality they would like to see.

“Mrs Weber [the young adult librarian] is like a mother figure. She is nurturing and open to conversation and always with a smile and open arms,” Anastazia said, all qualities she hopes for in the future new director.

Michael Arther said that a new director ought to be trustworthy, with a good work ethic and ability to manage all duties.

The Library Feels Like Home

The young people were enthusiastic in the physical changes to the library since its March 8 reopening. “Having more open space and placement of furniture helps me concentrate,” Anastazia said.

“I like that it feels more at home, more like family. I love this library,” agreed Caroline, and Maya said she likes the comforting feel of the Young Adult area.

“It’s important to feel comfortable when you walk in,” Michael said. “This is a place where I can relax, read, and study.”

In summarizing, Ms LaValle said she understood that the young adults desired a director who is involved and able to engage in thoughtful conversation with them, is someone who understands how the library works, and is aware of new trends and new technology.

At the evening focus group, Cathy Geckle said she would like to see a director who is “mature and mellow,” and can develop a good rapport with staff and community. Patience in getting to know the town and library is important, as well, she said, before putting changes into action.

“I think a director should be approachable by both the staff and patrons,” Sarah Findley suggested, agreeing on the importance of absorbing how the library and community functions before implementing changes.

Community involvement on many levels would be vital to a successful candidate for the position. “I would hope we get a director who will get out in the community and organizations,” Ms Geckle said, noting that the library does not get much funding directly from the town.

“It goes back to developing partnerships,” interjected Ms LaValle. “Somebody who has those skills can reestablish the case for funding with the town,” she said.

Creating opportunities for appropriate funding of the library is one of the biggest challenges she sees the new director taking on, said Chris Degen.

Bruce Degen added, “A director should be practical and not thoughtless, but realize that we’re not going to turn a profit. The point [of a library] is to provide a service to the community.”

How the director relates to the staff is critical, in the opinion of the seven residents present Monday evening. Acknowledging the value of and making time for staff development benefits everybody, they said.

“Equalizing the opportunities for staff to go to the development programs has to happen,” Ms Thomas urged.

Embracing The New and The Old

Being open to new technology and new ideas, without feeling the need to throw out every old idea is a trait desirable in a new director, Mr Degen said.

Personnel skills and the managing skills important to business are important, Ms LaValle said she was hearing from the group, but also that the new director should be welcoming, visible in the library and community, and be above all, a librarian first.

“You really need to feel welcomed with open arms,” Ms Rote said.

The adults touched on the necessity of a director concerned with security for the personal property at the library, staff, and patrons, as well as offering insight into how they see the library evolve over the next ten years.

“I would hope we would continue to offer public programs, have constant activity here, and keep the community things going — not the kinds of things you can Google, but a place you come to do things,” Mr Degen said.

While e-books will remain a popular option, people agreed that the library should not become an electronic repository. “E-book sales are leveling out,” Mr Degen noted. “People will still like to read books. It will take balance,” he said.

Ms Thomas foresaw collections that are all digitally archived, while Ms Geckle wished for increased funds for maintaining the physical building by then.

“It’s a precious building to the town,” she stressed. “It has history.”

“You want a person who can lead the library, maintain integrity of space and collections, and keep the library relevant to the community,” Ms LaValle reiterated. “A director of this library has to be aware of everyone’s needs,” she said.

Choose someone worth talking about, was the message the focus group encouraged Ms LaValle and Ms Engels to pass on to the search committee.

“Whoever this super-duper person is, the board needs to be publicly enthusiastic about him or her, and get the community excited about this person, too,” said Ms Findley. “We want someone who loves this town,” she said, “and is happy to be here.”

The second public focus group is scheduled for 7 pm, Monday, April 7, in the Board Room of the C.H. Booth Library. Registration is requested at chboothlibrary.org, but walk-ins are welcome.

Connecticut State Library consultants Dawn LaValle, seated, and Mary Engels, taking notes, listen as YAC members Maya Welber, Caroline Palmer, and Anastazia Luci-Bernard offer thoughts on qualities a new library director should possess. Ms LaValle and Ms Engels facilitated two sessions, Monday, March 31, one for youth and one for the public, to gather community input as the search for the new director moves forward.     
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