Next Saturday, December 12, in the Commonwealth Room of the McKim building of the Central Library, you will be able to tell the head of the search committee for BPL president what sort of a leader you would like to see. Earlier this fall, Mayor Marty Walsh appointed the head of Phillips Academy in Andover, John Palfrey, to be in charge of what turns out to be a remarkably diverse 14-member committee. The listening sessions were established to hear from the public what their aspirations are for the new BPL president; the job description that the executive search firm, Spencer Stuart, will work with is supposed to reflect those testimonials.
According to Palfrey, there will be a total of six public meetings. He said recently he hopes to present Mayor Walsh and the BPL trustees with several top candidates who will be introduced at public hearings. The first two listening sessions were held at the Mattapan and Brighton brach libraries on November 10 and 30, respectively. The current interim president, David Leonard, has been in charge after the former head of the library, Amy Ryan, resigned this summer amid a furor over lost --and subsequently found-- art work.
What came through loud and clear at the listening sessions held thus far, and especially so at the Brighton branch library meeting, was a sense by branch staff and Friends of branch library supporters that they have felt neglected, ignored and marginalized by what they perceive has been years of increasingly centralized decision making at the Central Library. Representatives from the Faneuil branch library Friends were particularly vocal about their desire to see a new president "embrace the branches." The Faneuil branch was one of several that had been slated for closure in the dark days of proposed branch consolidation under the leadership of Amy Ryan. Search committee member Brandon Abbs, one of two representatives of branch library Friends groups on the committee, suggested that in addition to how branch libraries are operated, there's a more general question of lack of control about the "physical space" of branches: what will the vision of the new president be for the branches, which ones get renovated when on what schedule based on which criteria? Will library users in the neighborhood have a say in this? Do people feel connected to that process? Referring to the new East Boston branch library, built in three years, Abbs commented that it appears easier to build a new branch than get in line to renovate an existing one.
In addition to Abbs, president of City-wide Friends of the BPL and the Friends of the Eggleston Square branch, and Willie Wideman-Pleasants, president of the Friends of the Upham Corner branch, the BPL's Presidential Search Committee includes: Eileen Abels, dean of the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College; Ben Bradlee Jr., critically acclaimed author and former editor and reporter at the Boston Globe; Elisa Birdseye, 20-year employee of the BPL and outgoing president of the BPL Professional Staff Association; Jeff Hawkins, chairman of the BPL Foundation; Wendell Knox, president and CEO of Abt Associates; Diane Patrick, co-managing partner of Ropes & Gray's Boston office; Erin Santhouse, manager of Mayor Walsh's ONEin3 Initiative; Natan Santos, representative on the mayor's Youth Council and student at New Mission High School; Beth Smith, executive director of the Hyams Foundation; Vivian Spiro, chairman of the Board of the Associates of the Boston Public Library; Tracy Wiggins, 26-year employee of the BPL and secretary of AFSCME Local 1526; and Linda Zecher, president, chief executive officer and director of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
For those who are unable to attend a listening session, comments can be submitted via SearchChair@bpl.org. There's also a Twitter handle via @bplboston and at Presidential Search Committee Chair John Palfrey at @jpalfrey.