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Trustee Support Resources

How to Hire a Library Director

Trustees need to carefully determine the qualities, knowledge, and skills that they expect their next director to possess. From the candidates’ point of view, the size of the community served by the library, the qualifications of its staff, the depth of library funding, and the location and status of the library will all be of great interest. The goal of the board is to match their criteria for the “ideal director” with the candidate whose experience, skills, and interest in the community result in the best possible fit. The public expects a smooth transition to new leadership, and that the board will hire the best possible candidate for the job while using public funds judicially to secure such a candidate - a daunting task, indeed!

Boards of municipal libraries must abide by the process set out in the municipal code or they may need to work with city authorities to clarify the roles and procedures that will be followed when hiring the library director. Advisory boards may make recommendations to their governing authority throughout the hiring process, but do not have the authority to hire - that is in the hands of the governing authority.

As stated above, trustees must ensure that the hiring process complies with all applicable federal and state laws, regulations, policies, and procedures such as:

  • Not discriminating against qualified applicants on the basis of sex, race, creed, color, religion, age, marital status, most handicaps, and country of national origin.
  • Using questions at interviews that fall within legal parameters.
  • Meeting all open public meeting and public records requirements.
  • Handling requests from candidates regarding confidentiality.

Steps for Hiring a Director

  1. Appoint an interim director.

    Tip: It may be several months before a new director is hired and on board. In the meantime:

    • Appoint an individual who can carry out the duties and responsibilities of the director and pay them a commensurate salary.
    • Announce the interim appointment to the community, to library staff, and to other libraries.
    • Be sure to provide the interim director with the assistance needed to carry out operations and services. It is usually necessary to hire temporary staff to assure that services do not suffer due to the absence of the interim director from daily library operations.
  2. Assess the library and its current needs.
    • Conduct an exit interview with the departing director:
      • What are the strengths and successes of the library programs and staff?
      • What key activities and priorities would best contribute to future successes?
      • What knowledge, skills, and abilities should be added to, or removed from, the current library director’s job description?
      • What needs to work better?
    • Gather opinions from library users and non-users:
      • How successful is the library in presenting library services that meet community needs and interests?
      • Is the library keeping pace with technology?
      • Does the collection meet community expectations and needs?
      • What segments of the community use the library?
      • What segments of the community do not use the library and why?
      • What are community’s priorities for library programs?
  3. Draft a job description.

    Work with your organization’s human resources specialist who is usually the person responsible for drafting job descriptions. Job Description Components - Library Director offers some suggestions for content.

    Tip: Look at positions currently being advertised. Sites to explore include the following:

    Current data about public library funding, including salaries and benefits, may be found in the annual online publication from the Washington State Library, Washington Public Library Statistics. Information about employee benefits may be found in the EBRI Databook on Employee Benefits. Economic data for Washington, including pay and benefits may be found on the Western Information Office (Washington) page from the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bottom of this page also provides a number of tools, including one for Inflation.

  4. Prepare information that will accompany the job description.


    • Information about the library and the community it serves such as:
      • Current description of the community.
      • Library mission statement.
      • Strategic plan for the library.
      • Any anticipated significant trends or changes.
    • Application deadline.
    • Request for resumé and references.
    • Release form that allows the library to check references of former employers and/or personal references.
    • Any other pertinent information.
  5. Establish a search committee.

    Even though there may be highly qualified applicants among current library staff, it is good practice to conduct an external search in order to select the best person for the library. Internal promotion is a very desirable goal, but it should be balanced with the added value of outside expertise.

    • Determine the search process:
      • The board as a whole may constitute itself as the search committee, drawing in representatives from staff, local officials, Friends of the Library, foundation members, citizens, local librarians who will regularly work with the library director, and others.
      • The board may appoint one or more of their members to chair a search committee that includes representatives noted above. The committee will usually recommend the top candidates to be interviewed by the board as a whole.
      • The board may contract with a consulting firm to carry out the search and structure the interview process, again involving staff and community. Some boards decide to accept the recommendations of the consultant and proceed directly to interviews. Others may decide to collaborate with the consultant to evaluate the candidates and select interviewees.
    • Create a timeline, defining critical dates and responsibilities.
    • Determine criteria that will be used in the initial screening of job applications and how applications will be scored.
    • Develop the evaluation form to be used during interviews to rate the candidates.
    • Develop policies for:
      • Reimbursing candidate travel, lodging, and per diem expenses during the interviews.
      • Reimbursing successful candidate for relocation costs.
    • Determine how the job will be structured:
      • Decide if the new director will be offered a contract or an open-ended agreement.
      • Determine the length of the probationary period. —Note: Legal counsel should be included in the discussion and in preparing any contracts.
    • Create a budget for:
      • Search committee costs.
      • Any consultant fees.
      • Advertising costs.
      • Reimbursing candidate travel, lodging, and expenses during interviews.
      • Relocation costs for successful applicant.
  6. Advertise the position.

    Advertisements should include:

    • Job qualifications.
    • Salary range.
    • Description of the community served by the library.
    • Application deadline.
    • Request for any accompanying documentation, such as references, resumes, required certifications, etc.
    • E-mail address, URL, or mailing address for submission of applications.

    Positions may be advertised in a number of ways, including the following library-specific job sites:

  7. Screen applications.
    • Make an initial review of applications to identify viable candidates for the position.
    • Check references.

      Note: Some candidates may request that their applications be kept confidential and that their current employer not be contacted. During the initial screening this is not unusual but if the applicant is one of the top candidates being considered, the search committee should ask permission to investigate all references.

    • Acknowledge receipt of all applications and notify candidates who were not selected for interviews.
  8. Interview candidates, requesting input from staff and the community.
    • Make reservations for accommodations for candidates as needed.
    • The following interview processes and topics require board decisions:
      • The number of applicants to be interviewed (usually 3 to 5).
      • The order in which candidates will be interviewed.
      • Whether candidates will be interviewed on the same day.
      • Who will chair the interview process.
      • The time and place for board and/or search committee interviews.
      • The time and place for staff and community interviews and public announcements announcing same.
      • Who will host the candidates and provide a tour of the library and of the community.
      • The process that will be followed if members do not agree on the best candidate.
    • Before the interview, provide candidates with:
      • Scheduling information.
      • Policy and procedures for reimbursement of travel, lodging, and other costs associated with the interview.
      • Copies of the library mission, planning documents, budget, financial history, organizational and staffing structure, and other applicable documents.
  9. Select the new library director based on agreed upon criteria in a public board meeting.


    • Facilitate an open discussion that clearly outlines the expectations of the library board, the current status of the library, and the working conditions.
    • Ask the same questions of all candidates.
    • Allow adequate time for in-depth conversations, questions, and follow-up.


    • Ask questions that do not have anything to do with the job or are not vital to determine the applicant’s ability to perform the essential functions of the position.
    • Make promises or leave illusions that the board will be offering the job to the candidate being interviewed.

    After the interviews are completed:

    • Complete evaluation sheets and discuss candidate qualifications to gather immediate reactions.
    • Gather and review evaluation forms and comments from staff and community interviews.
    • Rank candidates based on the interview evaluations, taking into consideration the comments of the search committee, the staff, and the public.
    • Determine whether the second-choice candidate will be offered the position if the top candidate declines.
    • Seek a consensus of the search committee. The committee and/or board may decide to do an additional interview with selected candidates, ask further questions of references, or re-advertise the position.
  10. Make a conditional job offer.
    • Contact the candidate with a conditional job offer, requesting a response within a reasonable time period. The conditional offer protects the library during this period and allows the library to:
      • Ask about needed accommodations.
      • Require a medical examination.
      • Negotiate with the candidate regarding salary, starting date, reimbursement of moving expenses, etc.
    • If the candidate declines the offer, or if negotiations are unsatisfactory, the position may be offered to the second candidate, or the search may be reopened.
    • If the offer is accepted, send 2 official copies of the agreement or contract that include details of the appointment, duties, salary, benefits, probationary period, evaluation process, starting date, etc. Provide space for the candidate’s signature of acceptance and instructions for returning the signed copy of the agreement.
    • After acceptance, contact all other candidates, thanking them for their interview and informing them of the decision.
    • Immediately after the candidate accepts the position, the board should notify the interim director. Be sure to express gratitude to the individual at that time, as well as more formal appreciation when the interim appointment is completed.
  11. Develop a written contractual agreement, spelling out the relationship and expectations of the board and director.

    Note: Many boards and directors develop and sign a formal contract that is reviewed annually.

  12. Orient the new director.

    The board and new director need to agree on goals and the work plan as one of the first actions after the director arrives. The initial work plan should take into account the learning curve of a new director as well as the skills that the new director brings. It will form the basis for formal and informal reviews during board meetings.

  13. Evaluate the new director’s performance during the probationary period.

    Take full advantage of the probationary period to assess how well the director is meeting the expectations of the board, and vice versa. This is the time to identify and deal with mutual concerns to avoid future problems and to mutually agree on opportunities for counseling or education to assure that expectations can be met. Be sure this is done before the end of the probationary period, normally, at a minimum, within the first 3 to 6 months of employment. The final probationary evaluation will determine whether the library will retain or dismiss the library director.

    Note: If the library director will not be retained, the board should have objective documentation of the causes for dismissal prior to the final probationary evaluation.