The search for a Teton County Library director is down to the finalists.
The library announced Monday that its top candidates are Dawn Jenkin, of New Jersey, and Alexandria Eccles, of Idaho. Whoever is hired will replace Valerie Maginnis, who retired in October after an almost three-year tenure.
The library is inviting the public to a community meet-and-greet to hear directly from the candidates from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Dec. 12 in its Ordway Auditorium. Short presentations from the candidates begin at 5:45.
“We certainly hope that people show up,” library board Chairwoman Carol Peck said. “The more, the merrier.”
The search committee, Peck said, has interviewed the candidates once. Teton County’s Human Resources department is checking references.
“We used a process that we used last time, and luckily we had some well-qualified applicants,” she said. “We’ll see where it ends up.”
Peck declined to comment on Eccles’ employment history, including a report by The Lewiston Tribune that Eccles was fired from Lewiston City Library in August. The library’s board of trustees voted 4-0 to let her go.
Eccles said in a Facebook message that she left the Lewiston library for a six-month leave due to health issues and was fired for "no cause."
"Reported speculation surrounding my departure are woefully inaccurate," she wrote. "The board and city have always supported that the library and library staff were well managed during my tenure.
"The board has had to make difficult decisions in the past three years to reduce programming, eliminate services and cut hours of operation because of limited funding. The Lewiston library staff team is amazing and has worked hard under non-ideal circumstances," she wrote. "I am very proud of the staff and the community for showing me their ongoing confidence and support.”
In contrast, the Lewiston Tribune reported that “board members put Eccles on administrative leave in April after a rising tide of complaints about dwindling services and collections at the library, and other issues like a high rate of employee turnover."
When asked about Eccles employment history, Peck said, “I really can’t speak to that."
Hiring is a “process with a lot of different steps,” Peck said. “We’re going through those to the best of our ability, and I think it’s a thorough process so we’ll continue working on it.”
According to Teton County Library’s job description, an ideal candidate is a “dynamic, visionary leader with proven management skills” who must “exercise a high degree of judgment and discretion along with political and business acumen.
“Successful candidates will also be knowledgeable about current and emerging trends and best practices in library services and embrace rapid technology changes occurring in today’s public libraries.”
The other finalist, Jenkin, previously served as director of library services at Clark Public Library in New Jersey.
Nationwide, hiring a library director can be challenging. The American Library Association reports that 75 to 80 percent of library professionals will retire in the next five to seven years.
“Recruitment of library directors throughout the country has been extremely difficult in the past five years,” states the study, last updated in 2014.
Tough position to hire
The report notes $29.7 million in federal funds has been allocated to recruiting library and information professionals, which is expected to help longterm but not quell the need for people now.
“Due to professionally acknowledged needs for exceptional leadership with political savvy and a proven track record in public library management, as well as finance and HR experience, filling directorship positions will continue to be a challenging process for most library boards,” the report reads.
The report suggests boards not rush to a resolution when seeking a new director.
“Recognizing the importance of having a director in place, a board may hastily make a hiring decision and not reflect on the qualities and vision they need in a new director” the report reads.
The library’s search committee vetted 10 qualified candidates, according to a library news release. “Assuming a favorable outcome of the process, the library board expects to announce a new Director of Library Services before the end of the year,” the release said.
This story has been updated to include comments from library candidate Alexandria Eccles. — Eds.