Evanston Library Board trustees are moving deliberately in their selection of the city’s next library chief, establishing a clear picture of what they’d like to see in the ideal candidate before going out for interviews.

Trustees at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., are looking for their first new executive director in 11 years. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

In a brief report at the Aug. 17 meeting, Board President Tracy Fulce spoke of the need to review the job description for the executive library director position, which is open for the first time in 11 years. Karen Danczak Lyons, who held that post, retired June 17.

Heather Norborg, EPL’s Adult Learning and Literacy Manager, has been serving as interim executive director.

Library trustees are hoping to avoid the difficulties city officials encountered in their multiple searches for a city manager, with candidates dropping out in late stages of the process.

“One of the things that has come up in every conversation that we’ve had, both as a smaller committee and with members at large, [and with] people in the community is that the job market has changed really dramatically,” Fulce said at the meeting, which was held both in person and virtually.

“And the old way of doing things, where you might have weeks and months in order to find an ideal candidate has been shortened very dramatically. And so before we release a call [for interviews] or post the position, we’d really like to have the feedback in advance, rather than the feedback after, so that when we begin interviewing, we move very quickly from candidate to offer.”

Responding to a question from EPL trustee Margaret Lurie, Fulce indicated that use of a search firm is one of the questions the board needed to discuss.

Trustee Adam Goodman observed that the library is in good position in this case, with “effective leadership in place right now, both in terms of [interim Executive Director] Heather [Norborg] and in terms of our staff generally.

“So this allows us to go through a search process, to move in a predictable, thoughtful and intentional pattern because we’ve got a good team that’s doing a great job,” Goodman said.

Priorities in place

At the meeting, Fulce presented to the board for approval a set of operational priorities the trustees had discussed earlier, which she expressed hope would help produce “a real clear focus in what we value, so that a candidate would know if they were a natural fit.”

The priorities included an equity of access statement, prioritizing access to information, as well as a vision statement committing the library toward making “measurable progress in becoming a more equitable institution that is consistently responsive to the community.”

The priorities also state that that Evanston Public Library Board “should be diverse, well prepared, accountable to [the] community, exercising transparent, efficient and effective oversight of the Library director.”

One of the recommendations also included a new trustee orientation process to prepare all trustees to optimally contribute.

Trustee Esther Wallen expressed approval of what was drawn up. “I think data collection is going to be key, finding a process for assessment,” of the goals, she added.

Trustee Benjamin Schapiro suggested that trustees, who are appointed to four-year terms by the mayor, may want to build the priorities into their annual evaluations of the director’s performance, selecting certain items to be achieved as annual goals.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. I hope EPL will go external only if there is no acceptable internal option. Hire outside for a number twos and let them learn our city.