Residents, library staff and library volunteers want Evanston’s next executive library director to be a relationship builder, an experienced public librarian and a transparent communicator, according  to survey results released last week.

The Evanston Public Library’s previous executive director retired June 17 of last year. Library board trustees hope to have a new leader on the job by July 1. Credit: Kristin Brown

The library board of trustees solicited feedback in surveys sent out in October and November 2022. Trustees initially identified 13 qualities that might be desirable for the new library executive director to possess, and the survey asked respondents to rank the characteristics. 

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

“A relationship builder” was ranked in the top five by 218 respondents; “an experienced public librarian” was in the top five for 197; and “a transparent communicator” was in the top five for 193.

Just down from that, the qualities most prized in the next group were “diversity, equity, access and inclusion-focused” with 153 top-five rankings; “skill at budgeting” (142); and “invested in staff development” (142). “Setting vision & strategy” received 141 top-five votes 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 its 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 online 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 to be more 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.

The Evanston City Council contracted with one firm at a time when conducting searches for a new city manager in 2021 and 2022, and multiple times had to restart the process when the top candidate dropped out at the very end of the process.

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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