Library system leader candidates meet the Harbor


About 50 residents and library employees gathered inside the Aberdeen Library Friday morning to meet the three candidates for the top job at the Timberland Regional Library District.

The candidates are Cheryl Heywood, the current interim public services manager at Timberland Regional Library; Ann Hammond, a library director from Kentucky; and Jeff Scott, the deputy director of a library system in Visalia, Calif.

The library board is meeting Saturday in Tumwater to interview candidates and deliberate.

The new head of the library will have the immediate task of continuing to build relationships with the Timberland community following the termination in April of its previous director Michael Crose, largely over communication issues. Although the Timberland Regional Library board has largely praised interim director Gwen Culp, who chose not to seek the full-time position, a lot remains to be done on the local level.

Crose had been instrumental in teaming with Oakville community leaders on a new project that planned to place a library at the old Oakville Elementary School. Cosmopolis city officials also had been teased about the possibility of a new library inside Cosmopolis Elementary, but despite an initial investment in designing the project paid for by Timberland and started by Crose, those plans were scrapped a few months ago. Cosmopolis residents, who pay property taxes for Timberland services, are hoping to get at least something in the community for their money, be it a kiosk, a drop-off box or another alternative.

There’s also the issue of communication. A staff survey before Crose left showed a largely unsatisfied workforce, who weren’t happy that their concerns were not being heard. In Crose’s evaluation before he was let go, the staff survey was often cited by the board. Board members also weren’t happy that they weren’t included in meetings where Crose was scheduled to appear and said community members were frustrated about inconsistent information given at public meetings. Board members say things have improved under Culp.

The Timberland Board is still weighing a new Internet filtering policy. A recent staff survey showed that 90 percent of the library staff who responded are against filtering all computers in the library district. In August, the library board kicked the potential policy down to a committee level.

The library district serves about 475,000 residents across Pacific, Grays Harbor, Mason, Thurston and Lewis counties, has about 300 employees and a $20.2 million operating budget. The library budget is relatively solid, with no big cuts on the horizon. However, local libraries continue working with reduced hours and the district relies on overdue fees, put in place a couple years ago.

A consultant fielded prepared questions to the three candidates for about 50 minutes on Friday. The public was not allowed to ask the candidates questions during this time and no follow-ups were asked. Each answer was kept to a strict three minutes, but the format made it so that local issues or questions of interest by the public could not be aired.

After the session, members of the public were able to meet candidates and asks questions one-on-one.

Scott, a deputy library director in California, told The Daily World he prefers that libraries keep the option of no filters on the table because without that option, a library could jeopardize some grant dollars.

“Filtering gives a false sense of security,” Scott said. “You think something’s blocked and it’s not. It over-blocks things when it shouldn’t.”

Hammond said that her library system in Lexington, Ky., filters the children’s computers but nothing else.

“My personal philosophy is you do what you need to do because I’ve worked under both types of situations,” Hammond said. “In San Diego, they filtered everything but when I was in Alameda in the Bay area of San Francisco it was a much more liberal area and they did not believe in filtering. … I think it’s more important to have a policy on what is an acceptable use of the Internet and what is not — nudity, sexual content, extreme violence, we feel that’s appropriate for a public building where our staff and guards are on the lookout and we deal with it as it comes up.”

Heywood, who works for Timberland now, refused to stake out a position on filtering because of the ongoing Timberland board deliberations, but noted that while she was director of the Olympia Timberland Library, she understood the importance of computers without filters. She cited a time when a woman needed access to breast reconstructive surgery photos and couldn’t access them on a library computer until staff made it possible.

All three candidates say they have experience working with communities and cited communication as a top asset. All three said they know the troubles that Timberland has been through recently.

Heywood said that her leadership helped turn around the Olympia library.

“During those 12 years, the staff and I created a very original vision, a very original outreach,” she said. “… When a community feels that palpable energy in their library, they want to be a part of it. We saw an increase in the number of participants in our library and we actually increased the applications for positions at the Olympia Timberland Library.”

Scott noted he’s particularly good at working with city officials to build an understanding of what libraries do, while Hammond noted that when she was first brought in at Lexington it was just after that library system had fired its previous director. Hammond says she has an established experience of building relationships.

Hammond said the best day in her professional life was her first day at Lexington “when everybody was so ready to put the past behind them and move forward.”

Asked by the consultant for three words that describe their personalities, Heywood noted she’s energetic, charismatic and compassionate. Scott says he’s a “scrapper,” and is creative and friendly. Hammond says she’s passionate, empathetic and determined.

Both Scott and Hammond talked about their extensive backgrounds in helping to create and build up a library’s e-book collection to be relevant for the future. Heywood also emphasized that she understands the importance of e-books.

Scott also talked about an innovative way he helped get more books in the hands of youth — using vending machines to distribute books in the community. A swipe of a library card and selecting a book on a machine, akin to a Red Box movie machine or a candy dispenser, and a library book can be in a user’s hands right away.

Online

View the session online at http://www.trl.org/About/Pages/AVCaptureAll.aspx