After a public process that included about a dozen citywide "listening sessions" and many hours of work spent by the well-connected 14-member search committee appointed by Mayor Marty Walsh, the Spencer Stuart executive search firm tasked with finding the best new BPL president can factually claim it delivered. Never mind that David Leonard already was the interim president who nimbly had taken over a year ago from the tilting leadership boat captained by Amy Ryan and her stubborn defender, former Library Board chair, Jeff Rudman. Never mind that one of the two other candidates selected from more than a hundred applications, Andrea Sáenz, first deputy commissioner at the Chicago Public Library, dropped out on the eve of her public interview "for personal reasons." Or that Spencer Stuart did not vet the other finalist, Jill Bourne, the city librarian of the San Jose (CA) Public Library, well enough to find out that actually moving to Boston would create "personal problems" preventing her from relocating. Or that, after Bourne was unanimously chosen for the job by the nine BPL trustees over Leonard, the city of San Jose would do all it could to keep their popular library director in town, including giving her a salary increase that could not be matched by Boston's wage rules. Apparently, Spencer Stuart's contract with the BPL was not paid for by taxpayers' funds. Martha Stewart would have called that "a good thing."
Leonard, a longtime South End resident who took on the interim presidency at one of the lowest points in the BPL's relationships with its branches, staff and Friends groups, has by many accounts been "a breath of fresh air." He's been more accessible than the previous leadership, and was already well-versed in the operations side of the BPL, where he started as chief technology officer in 2009. He has overseen the $78 million renovation of the Johnson Building, due to open on Saturday, July 9, as well as branch improvement projects, including the ongoing construction of the Jamaica Plain branch, expected to be completed in 2017. Reports from the BPL fundraising scene hold that he seems comfortable and effective in that setting, having recently obtained several private grants for library projects. He mentioned during his candidate's interview that his partner works in the philanthropic arena, as well. Leonard's reports to the public meetings of BPL trustees in the last year have been informative, comprehensive and well organized (FOSEL attends most of them). In his seven years at the BPL, Leonard has also served as both the acting director of administration & finance and separately as acting chief financial officer. He recently began a PhD program in Library Information Science at Simmons College.
During his presentation to the Library Board in May, Leonard described himself as an immigrant from Dublin, Ireland, an only child and the first one among his cousins to attend college. As a young gay man, before Ireland's Reconciliation and economic boom, he experienced firsthand the power a library's safe space holds for someone like him who is "trying to work out who you are." Developing non-municipal funding sources for the BPL and collaborating productively with the community, staff and various other public groups are among his top goals, he said. In response to Library Board members' questions, Leonard cited the lack of appropriate processes at the BPL and inattention to environmental concerns as contributing to the calamitous events of 2015. He said he learned, especially in regard to procedures, how little had actually been written down. This does not lend itself to accountability or knowledge transfer and is "ironic" in a library, he commented. Diversity in programming and in staffing was another subject the trustees broached: Leonard said that issues of race, diversity and inclusion had not been tackled "systematically" at the BPL but that "conversations and corrective measures around diversity will soon begin."
It must have been awkward for the Library Board to have to ask a candidate they did not vote for as their first choice to please take the job after all, but Leonard was as gracious in defeat as in victory. When the trustees selected Jill Bourne over him, he called it "a great choice." When they turned to him after Bourne declined to accept the top post, Leonard said he was "thrilled, humbled and honored" to become the library's new president.