Bellwood Library Hires Search Firm To Find New Executive Director

Friday, July 6, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Screenshot of video from a July 5 special meeting of the Bellwood Library Board of Trustees, which is currently searching for a new executive director. 

The Bellwood Public Library Board of Trustees has started the search for a new executive director with the selection of John Keister & Associates — a head hunting firm based in Vernon Hills that specializes in finding library executives.   

During a special meeting held at the library on July 5, library board members met with John Keister — who owns and operates the firm along with his wife and daughter, according to the company’s website — and shared the criteria they were looking for in a new director.

Board members voted unanimously to hire Keister’s firm during a regular meeting on June 12.

The library’s former executive director, Jacqueline Spratt, resigned in April after a public falling out with some board members. At the time, Spratt said in an interview that she was dissatisfied with the way the board had conducted a performance evaluation, adding that she thought the evaluation was arbitrary and unfair.

During the Thursday meeting, however, library board President Dorothy Clark-Smith attributed much of the conflict between Spratt and some board members to the fact that Spratt did not have a master of library science (MLS) degree — a basic job requirement for library executive director positions.

“I want someone with an MLS, because that’s why we’re in the problem we’re in right now,” Clark-Smith said during the July 5 meeting. “We did not have a library director with an MLS and when she was asked to get one she refused.”

Keister, whose firm was chosen from among a pool of three finalists, said, in addition to having an MLS, they would also need to possess certain intangible strengths, primarily “passion,” “leadership” and “a well-developed sense of humor.”

Board member Deborah Giles, who was a vocal supporter of Spratt’s, said that she wants a candidate with experience before pointing out that the next director will also need to know how to navigate through different board conflicts. 

“No newbies,” she said. “We have had problems on this board and we need someone that has had some experience with that.”

“I feel like there’s a lack of cohesiveness and teamwork with this board,” said member Gloria Ward.

Giles added that she prefers someone who is “not corruptible,” “strong-minded” and who has “vision” toward the “good of the community.”

“The director we had before had a really strong relationship with the community and that is very, very important,” Giles said.

Board member Connie Riales said that she wants someone who can maintain the library’s programming for senior citizens and young people, but who is also enterprising enough to search out for alternative revenue sources.

“A person who is coming in should also have the get-up and go, as far as going and out and getting grants,” Riales said. “We can’t be stagnant. Go out and try to get grants.”

Keister said that he would limit his search to a regional pool of candidates who are already familiar with Illinois’ statutes and unique political climate.

He also said that “there’s a pretty good chance” that the new library director will be someone new to the position, but who has ample experience as, say, a department head at a large library. That person, he added, would be intimate with many of the day-to-day functions and crises that accompany operating a library.

Keister explained that, nationally, the pool of veteran library directors has hollowed out over the years, with many retiring. In addition, he said, a phenomenon that happened in higher education may also have some bearing on the national shortage of experience library leadership.

“In the 1990s, we told kids not to go to library school,” he said, adding that some colleges even closed their library schools.

During a phone interview on July 6, Clark-Smith said that the search should take about three months. In the meantime, Kristin Schultz, the library’s reference director, is serving as interim executive director. Schultz has not applied for the permanent position, Clark-Smith said.

She said she could not recall the cost of Keister’s contract, but said that the firm was “one of the lower bidders.”

Keister’s firm, which has been operating since 1987, has been rather prolific in the Chicago suburbs, with Arlington Heights and Park Ridge among a few of the firm’s recent clients. Keister was paid $19,500 and $16,500, respectively, for those jobs.

Keister said that on July 5 that he’d already met with library staff twice and is currently working on launching a website for the candidate search that will complement a variety of other search methods, such as postings on traditional job sites for libraries.

He said that, along with other intangible qualities, any future library director in Bellwood would need to understand how fast libraries as community institutions are evolving — and the extent to which that disruptive pace of change threatens the very existence of the venerable institutions.

The ideal candidate would “see the library in a new light … understand trends, and know where things are going,” he said, before referencing a 2017 Pew Research Center study.

The Pew study showed that millennials, people 18 to 35, were more likely to have used a library in the past year than any other adult generation cohort — but that a significant portion of that took place online, such as on a library’s website. VFP 

Bellwood library now site of notary publics

Community members looking for a notary public — or someone appointed by the government to act as an impartial witness during the signing of important documents, such as ballot petition sheets, can now go to the Bellwood Public Library.

According to library Board President Dorothy Clark-Smith, around three employees of the library were recently trained to conduct notarizations.

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