April 25, 2016 – After engaging more than 100 candidates for the top leadership post at Boston Public Library, recruiting firm Spencer Stuart is narrowing the field down to two to four candidates. A search committee formed to oversee the selection will bring those finalists in front of the library’s board of trustees later this spring, with an eye on installing a new president by the beginning of summer.
Boston Public Library’s last president, and its first female head, Amy E. Ryan, retired last year after two expensive pieces of art were temporarily misplaced at the library. The artwork, an Albrecht Dürer etching and a Rembrandt self-portrait collectively valued at $625,000, went missing for nearly a year until it was determined they were misfiled.
Ms. Ryan held over 35 years of public library management experience and served as a key member of the national steering committee of the Digital Public Library, a groundbreaking project digitizing the contents of American libraries and archives, making them freely available online. Korn Ferry handled the recruitment of Ms. Ryan into the role in 2008.
The Boston Public Library president position, currently held by the organization’s director of administration and technology, David Leonard, serves as the library’s chief executive officer responsible for the library’s assets, facilities and programs. The organization is seeking an individual with strong operational, managerial and strategic planning acumen, partnership and community building skills, intellectual leadership and vision, and fundraising capabilities.
According to recruiters specializing in the sector, the recruitment of Boston Public Library’s president is one the most prestigious library searches to come along in several years.
“This position description calls for a well-rounded candidate with strong leadership and partnership skills,” said Spencer Stuart consultants Mary Gorman and Michele Haertel. “We look forward to presenting (Boston) Mayor Walsh, the BPL board of trustees, the BPL presidential search committee, and residents of Boston and the Commonwealth with a strong selection of finalists this spring.”
Mayor Walsh said the search committee received insightful feedback from the Boston community regarding desired qualities for the president role, “and now we are moving this process into the next stage and will begin identifying strong candidates to lead this great institution.”
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Boston Public Library has a central library, 24 branches, a map center, business library, and an expanding website filled with digital content and services. Established in 1848, the library pioneered public library service in America. It was the first large free municipal library in the country, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room. It continues to function as a cultural leader within the city of Boston as a learning center, and it is a central player in the world of research libraries.
Over the last five years, Spencer Stuart has conducted more than 800 C-level searches in its education, non-profit and government sectors practice group, currently led by Ms. Haertel. Her search work includes recruiting college presidents, university deans, foundation presidents, and senior executives in humanitarian aid organizations. Clients include the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), the New York Public Library, and Columbia University, among many others.
Dan Bradbury, managing partner with Bradbury Associates / Miller Associates, a search firm that specializes in director and executive level recruiting mandates for libraries, said that finding leaders for venerable systems like Boston Public Library “is always a challenge because the positions take such a mixed skill set — leadership, technological vision, political and fundraising skill — and a tremendous passion for both the historical role of books and libraries and the belief that libraries can transform lives and build even better communities.” He said this particular post “will be an amazing opportunity for the right person.” About 80 percent of Mr. Bradbury’s search work is for public libraries, though it also conducts searches for state libraries, library networks or consortia, and academic libraries.
Like most other sectors, libraries are anticipating high turnover as aging baby boomers continue their migration into retirement. A recent American Library Association study projected that 28 percent of U.S.-based working librarians are expected to retire by 2020.
“The uptick in searches throughout the field has been growing for the last couple of years,” said Mr. Bradbury. “Finding the best library president, CEO, executive director, or director — probably the most important decision a sitting library board or commission will make — is becoming more challenging because many of the logical successors who have been serving in deputy, assistant or associate director roles are aging baby boomers themselves.” The pools of willing and able prospects are, therefore, shrinking, he said.
“Libraries are seeking dynamic leaders with a vision for what the library can be for the communities they serve,” said Mr. Bradbury. “Governing boards are looking for top drawer talent to serve as inspirational leaders who are collaborative in building meaningful community partnerships,” he added.
“Fortunately, there are strong library credentialed leaders out there who can fill the bill, but they have to be sought out,” said Mr. Bradbury. When not bound by other requirements, governing boards, he added, often look for leaders from other industries, including non-profit, education, government and even the private sector.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media