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The New Director Search Process

An MBLC Guide

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners' New Library Director Search Process Guide

Step One: Consideration of whether a member of the staff should be made acting director.

If there isn't enough time to complete the hiring process before the current director will leave, appointing an acting director can help relieve some stress and create time to carry out a thorough, thoughtful hiring process. Someone must be named as an acting director for State Aid compliance.

If an acting director is to be named, duties and responsibilities should be clarified, and, if necessary, that person’s other assignments deferred or delegated to make time exclusively for the temporary responsibilities. Compensation should be increased to reflect the greater responsibilities.

If there is an assistant director, that individual is generally appointed acting director; where there is no assistant director, a staff member with a broad working knowledge of library operations and the ability to communicate well with the board, city/town officials, staff, and the public, should be appointed.

If the Board does not have anyone qualified to be named acting director, it may have to hire a temporary director. Boards can either advertise and conduct a quick search for an acting director or use BiblioTemps, a short-term staffing solution for libraries run by the Massachusetts Library System.


  • How much notice did the current director give? If it is less than 5 months, consider appointing an interim director.
  • Ensure Permanent Director Resignation and Acting Director Verification forms are submitted to MBLC for compliance with library director staffing requirements to maintain library certification. The board of trustees must select one person to be acting director.
  • Communicate with human resources that the board will be executing a new search soon. If any conflict exists between the board and municipality, start to resolve.

Step Two: Review of the library’s existing personnel policies and procedures regarding hiring.

If the library is a municipal department or its employees are municipal employees, trustees must review the relevant city/town personnel policies and procedures, as well as applicable town charter language. Requirements of these policies and procedures must be met during the hiring process. Check the Trustee’s ordinance to see if there is an established committee within the board that can focus on the various tasks and manage the workload.

Several state and federal laws also affect the way the hiring process is conducted and will be referenced when applicable in this guide. When in doubt, library boards should seek legal advice, either from a municipal attorney or outside council.

Library boards should begin a conversation with the appropriate stakeholders, like a town manager or administrator and Human Resources. These stakeholders may have information about salary range, benefits, and job posting requirements. In some communities, the hiring authority may not be with the board of trustees per charter language. In these cases, trustees should advocate for management of the search process as the appointed body for library services.

At this point, some library boards may consider the use of an outside consultant to assist with the search process. A consultant may manage some to all aspects of the search process, as well as recruiting candidates and preparing them for the interviews.


  • Review personnel policies and procedures, as well as applicable town charter language. Resolve any confusion about roles and responsibilities.
  • Notify the municipality’s human resources and/or town manager about the vacancy and detail the board will execute the search process.
  • If considering a consultant, determine a budget and funding source. Contact MBLC for a list of Library Director Search Consultants and Firms.
  • Are there any employee union requirements? Do certain staff members need to be on a search committee?

Step Three: Review the required and preferred qualifications and experiences desired in a director

The board must know what the required skills, experience, education, responsibilities are needed to be successful at the job. Focus on the job itself- what is the role of the director.

Major Challenges Facing Our Library is a helpful exercise included in this packet that will help you with this. It may also help you with your job description, job posting and interview questions. Reference to the library’s current long-range plan will assist the board in determining the skills needed by the new director. These skills and qualifications will help with writing the job description, screening, and interviewing candidates.

In Massachusetts, a library director must meet minimum educational requirements specified in Massachusetts Minimum Standards of Free Public Library Service to qualify for State Aid based on population size. Municipalities are allowed to hire acting directors for 3 years. For example, if a community with a population over 10,000 wants to hire a candidate without an MLS, that person would have three years to meet the degree requirement.

Review job descriptions for library directors in comparable municipalities, available upon request from MBLC.

Massachusetts General Laws state that a library must "employ trained library personnel in accordance with regulations promulgated by the Board of Library Commissioners."

Minimum director personnel requirements for municipalities with populations over 10,000:

  • Hold a Master's degree from an ALA-accredited Library Science program
  • Have experience in library work including supervisory experience
  • Hold a certificate of Professional Librarianship issued by the Board of Library Commissioners

Minimum director personnel requirements for municipalities with populations over 10,000:

  • Hold a Bachelor's degree
  • Complete the Basic Library Techniques special training in Administration, Cataloging, Materials Selection, and Reference (within 5 years)
  • Hold a certificate of Subprofessional Librarianship issued by the Board of Library Commissioners

Other requirements may include:

  • Residency, if applicable
  • Years of managerial or progressively responsible experience
  • Strong background in budgetary forecasting, management and administration preferred;
  • Strong personnel management experience; demonstrated ability to inspire, lead, mentor, supervise

Step Four: Determination of the salary range that can be offered, and whether the starting salary is negotiable

A competitive salary is one of the most important factors in attracting qualified applicants. The board must know how much it can offer or if they are responsible for discussing salary. This may require discussion with the personnel board, town manager or human resources department. Trustees should be realistic about any shortcomings of the salary being paid to the departing director and be prepared to mount a campaign for an increase in order to attract better candidates. Trustees can contact MBLC for assistance in benchmarking salaries with neighboring and comparable municipalities.

Compensation should be high enough to attract the best candidates and keep the person ultimately selected for a reasonable number of years. In determining salary level, boards should consider salaries paid to directors of similar libraries and look at salaries for positions in the community requiring similar skills, like the department heads in city/town government. Boards need to know what circumstances permit them to start a new director at a salary level above the initial step. The library director is a department head who, in addition to extensive specialized knowledge and expertise in library service, also has managerial and operational responsibilities like those of other department heads. Unlike many department heads, the library director also oversees a building. These responsibilities must be considered in establishing a fair and equitable salary.

Some boards of incorporated libraries have the authority to independently set salaries. In most cases salary matters are determined by the municipal government. Even when this is the case, often the starting salary can be above the minimum established for the range; sometimes it is possible to have the range increased. All library boards should make every effort to ensure that salary levels are as attractive and competitive as possible.

Each year the MA Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) publishes public library data reports collected from the Annual Report Information Survey (ARIS) that libraries submit yearly. Information about salaries in Massachusetts libraries of all sizes is available on the MBLC website (link opens in a new window). Staff at the MBLC is happy to assist you with finding this information.


  • Is the library hiring new directors every year due to attrition? There is a cost to hiring new library directors and can impact the organization.
  • If multiple library directors are leaving after short terms of service the board must be critical and look internally to determine if the cause is low salary, board management style, or municipal relations to name a few.
  • What other benefits is the library able to offer? Is there the ability to work hybrid? Is there tuition reimbursement? Consider all the benefits that can be offered.

Step Five: Review and, if necessary, revise the written job description.

The job description provides information essential to both the board and candidates for director, by defining duties, responsibilities, and qualifications. If no job description exists, one should be prepared. Boards can use the Major Challenges Facing Our Library exercise in the appendix to write the job description.

A starting place is to review the current job description with the outgoing library director if there has been a shift in the major responsibilities. Discussion with the top-level municipal administrator could yield information on the desired experiences and skills of the new library director. Human resources or a Personnel Board can assist in reviewing the written job description to ensure the language is inclusive and not biased.

A sample job description, which can be adapted to a specific library, is included in this packet. The Massachusetts Library System policy guide includes sample job descriptions and MBLC has job description samples in the New Director Search Guide.

Candidates will possess many of the professional and interpersonal abilities, attributes and experiences the board has detailed. Keep in mind, no candidate will have everything the board is looking for.

Job descriptions often contain several parts:

  • Summary — a high level overview of the role
  • Responsibilities and duties
  • Qualifications, Skills, and Abilities
  • Reporting structure or supervision
  • Salary Range
  • Physical requirements


  • A job description is not the same as a job advertisement. The job description will inform the advertisement.
  • Have several people review the job description to ensure the language is inclusive and not biased.
  • Use plain language to describe the job.
  • Consider using gender neutral language like they/them rather than he/his or she/her.
  • If an outgoing director has served for many years, what needs to be updated? Consider what is in the future, a building project or changing demographics in the community?

Step Six: Allocation of funds for advertising, recruitment, selection, and hiring expenses.

Selecting a competent and qualified new director is an infrequent and extremely important responsibility of the board. The Board should determine what expenses they are able to cover and identify the founding sources.

The board needs to decide what, if any, compensation can be offered to candidates. Compensation for travel should be applied equally to any candidates who are traveling, whether airfare or driving, or hotel rooms are needed.

One way to manage interview costs is to schedule virtual interviews, especially for distant candidates. Video conferencing has been used successfully by search committees especially for early interview rounds.

This process of allocating funds is an appropriate time for the board to review or consider whether and how the chosen candidate may be reimbursed for expenses associated with accepting the position. A housing or relocation allowance can make a difference in recruiting and attracting candidates.

If the board is using a consultant or a search firm to assist with the search process, or placing paid job advertisements, allocating funding for these services must be determined.


  • If the board can offer compensation for travel expenses, develop the process to receive receipts and issue payment. What fund will these be paid out of. Answer these questions in advance. Designate a board member, like the treasurer, to manage this process.
  • Consider providing water and refreshments to ensure both the interviewers and interviewees’ needs are met.