Candidates looking to become the next director of the Lawrence Public Library may want to come equipped with both an open mind and a hard hat.
Members of the Lawrence Public Library Board confirmed recently they’ve begun interviewing candidates to fill the top administrative position at the library and hope to have a director in place before construction on the new $19 million downtown library expansion begins this summer.
“I think it is a high priority to have somebody involved in that process as it unfolds,” said Terry Leibold, a longtime member of the library board. “I think out of fairness we need to have somebody on board sooner rather than later.”
Thirty people from across the country applied for the position, and board members last week conducted telephone interviews with six applicants. Leibold said he expects the board will decide in the next week or so how many finalists should be invited for an on-site interview.
Leibold said the board hasn’t set a formal timeline for naming a new director, but he thinks there is a chance that a decision could be made in March, which would give the new director time to arrive before construction on the expanded library begins in the summer.
The position became open after longtime director Bruce Flanders “retired” in late October and then surprised library board members by taking a library director job at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe.
Library board members said they’ve been pleased with the quality of candidates.
“I think we have some applicants who are very vibrant,” said Chris Burger, a member of the library board.
Both Burger and Leibold said finding a leader who grasps the importance of new technology in the future of libraries while balancing traditional library functions will be important.
“I’m looking for somebody who can keep the staff united and move the library in more electronic directions,” Burger said. “But simultaneously they need to keep all the paper that is well-bound on the shelves. It is a difficult task because libraries do serve so many function beyond books, but you can never forget the books.”
Leibold said he also wants a director who is open to expanding the traditional role of a library. For example, he said Lawrence residents have expressed an interest in the library hosting a “content creation room” that would allow for film editing, music production and other functions that spur creativity.
“I think we’re going to want to look at doing some things that libraries don’t traditionally do,” Leibold said.
Depending on how quickly a hire can be made, Leibold said, a library director also can help the library board and the City Commission make a major decision: Whether the library should move from its Seventh and Vermont location during the $19 million construction project.
Library leaders are not expected to tackle that decision until after the city has hired a construction manager who can calculate how much the city could save in time and money if the library were to move to a temporary location.
City Manager David Corliss said his office will interview five finalists today to serve as the construction manager. Corliss said his office expects to make a recommendation to the library board and the City Commission later this month.
Architects on the library project have said they think there is a good chance the project could save time and money if it moves to another location during the construction process.
“I think that is likely because the contractor would have complete reign over the entire building, and it would make for a more efficient process,” Corliss said. “And there is nothing quite like seeing a library ‘quiet’ sign and then having a jackhammer running in the background.”
But if a decision were made to move the library, city leaders will have to decide where it would go. Leibold said he does not believe the board has a strong feeling yet on whether a temporary location would have to be downtown or whether it could be elsewhere in Lawrence. Corliss also said leaders would have to decide whether the library would operate out of a single temporary location or multiple locations.
“I would like to see it downtown,” Leibold said, “but I think we’ll have to be open to other locations too.”