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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 Seven: Preparation and posting of job advertisement

To reach as many potential candidates as possible, director positions should always be advertised. In some municipalities, human resources will handle the posting and initial screening of applicants. Job advertisements should be placed as soon as possible.

Job advertisements often contain several parts:

  • brief description of the job with responsibilities and duties, reporting structure or supervision
  • qualifications, skills, and abilities
  • salary range
  • request for resume, cover letter, several professional references
  • email and/or mailing address where applications should be received
  • closing date for receipt of applications, recommended one month open period

The cover letter provides an opportunity to expand on information contained in the resume, and it also enables the board to judge a candidate’s ability to express themselves in writing. Be specific about what the board is looking for in a cover letter, to assess candidates equally.

Job notices should be posted to several locations to elicit qualified candidates. For statewide postings, boards can post directly to the MBLC website. The outgoing or interim director, or another staff member, can share the job posting to the network listserv. Boards may want to utilize additional job posting resources related to the public sector, like InDeed. When posting on job sites, review the content they require, and make sure to include a link to the job description on the city/town website for a more expanded description.

See a complete list of Job Posting Resources with links in the Digital Resource Guide.


  • If human resources manages any part of the search, understand those factors and what they will deliver to the search committee.
  • References should only be checked for final candidates. Ensure information is kept confidential.
  • Consider placing ads in local newspapers for public relations purposes.
  • Consider telling a story about the library and community - what makes the library unique and an attractive place to work.
  • When considering where to post, consider if the board is able to cover travel expenses, and be transparent about this information.
  • Consider language to encourage more applicants. Studies show that women and people of color are less likely to apply for jobs unless they meet every qualification. Encourage their application with encouraging language.

Step Eight: Decision on procedures for the screening process

All applications must be screened to determine which candidates merit further consideration and which ones do not. Preliminary screening of the applications may be done by human resources, the screening subcommittee, or full board. If the full board does the screening, this must be done in open session, following Open Meeting Law (OML).

The board should know what role the municipal government wants to or expects to have. Clear and direct communication will manage any expectations. Partnering with the municipal government will set up the director for success.

In the screening process, the role of the departing director should be limited to furnishing information about the process and the job itself. The incumbent should not directly engage in the recruitment or selection process, and interviewing.

Forming a Screening Subcommittee

Most boards will select a screening subcommittee, made up of three to seven members. Members of the screening subcommittee could be library trustees, library staff, municipal stakeholders, Friends, or foundation board members. A sample charge from the trustees to a screening committee is in Appendix N. Look for diversity in the screening committee, including but not limited to gender identity, race, ethnicity, age, ability, sexual orientation, and nationality.

The screening subcommittee must follow Open Meeting Law requirements when having meetings and interviewing candidates. If the screening subcommittee has less than a quorum of board members, they will post meeting agendas and conduct their business in executive session. Boards are advised to follow the Public Body Checklist for Preliminary Screening Committees Issued by the Attorney General’s This resource can be found in the Digital Resource Guide.

If a subcommittee includes a quorum of the board, meetings must be conducted in open session per open meeting requirements. Finalists are interviewed by the full board in an open meeting. See Appendix for OML Screening Consideration.

Early in the process, the board should consider the role of library staff in the process and communicate that decision to the staff. A common practice is to include a staff member on the screening committee; frequently, staff members select a representative. Other practices are to ask a senior staff member to take candidates who come for interviews on a tour of the building or to arrange for the candidates to talk with staff over lunch or at an informal meeting. Observations obtained from staff in these ways can provide valuable insights about a candidate, which the board itself may not be in a position to see. In these instances, there should be a mechanism for staff to communicate their reactions to candidates to the board. One suggestion is for the staff representative on the screening committee to collect feedback and present to the board.

To the extent possible, efforts should be made to have candidates interact with the same group of staff members, so that the staff’s observations can be more comparative and useful. If these contacts with the staff are likely to be strong factors in the final selection process, it is essential that the same staff members meet all the candidates and give feedback to the board in a consistent manner. Keep in mind, staff feedback is one data point.

Clear and timely communication is critical. As applications are received, they should be promptly acknowledged. This can be an auto-response sent through the application management system or through email. If there are unusual delays in the process, inform candidates of the revised target dates.

When starting to screen the applications, the board (or screening committee) should keep in mind the responsibilities of the job as stated in the job description and the qualifications for which the board is looking. Boards should resist the tendency to favor candidates who have an interesting and unusual background, but who lack the background needed in a public library director.

Applicants who do not meet the minimum criteria can be notified at once that they are not among the more qualified candidates who will receive further consideration.

The screening committee should keep in mind the most important criteria and refer to them often.

Evaluating the Applicants

The screening committee should develop and follow a process to evaluate candidates to be interviewed. It is recommended to develop a uniform evaluation form and scale for evaluating resumes based on the qualifications listed in the job.

Screening committee can start by sorting out resumes that don’t meet the minimum qualifications.


  • Endeavor to make the screening committee as diverse as possible, in all ways.
  • At the initial meeting of the screening committee, block out some dates for meetings following the closing of the job posting. These dates will be used for reviewing applications or conducting screening interviews. This will help ensure a timely process.
  • Learn about how implicit bias can appear during an interview process.
  • Avoid Eurocentric norms when assessing candidates.
  • Avoid looking for traits and skills that are identical to the departing director - the board is looking for a new director, not a clone.

Step Nine: The Interview


An interview is one of the board’s best opportunities to further explore a candidate’s ability to do the job. And for a candidate to interview the library board and community. The board’s preparation for interviewing should be thorough and done well ahead of time. Preparation for both the preliminary and final interviews is similar.

The board should agree on a set of common questions to be asked of all candidates, at both the preliminary and final interviews, so that responses can be compared equally, but it should also be prepared to ask follow-up questions to augment information given by the candidate’s answers. Questions should be open-ended so that the candidate is encouraged to provide as much information as possible. The board should expect candidates to ask questions about the library and the position, or any public issues regarding the library. To compare candidates fairly and accurately, it is important that all board or screening committee members attend all interviews. Sample interview questions and a rating sheet are included in this packet.

The board must in conformance with Equal Opportunity Laws as they relate to personnel selection and employment, which makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, transgender status, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

Interview questions must be free from bias. It is illegal to ask questions about marital status, age, number of children, spouse’s occupation, height, weight, or other items unrelated to an individual’s qualifications and ability to meet job requirements. Many questions can be asked in an interview, but they must be job-related and focus on work experience and ability. After the initial screening, consideration of the candidates must become public.

An interview should not be rushed. An hour is generally sufficient time for the preliminary interview. More time should be allowed for the final interview. Board should block out time in advance for final round interviews, do not leave scheduling till the last minute.

See Appendix for sample interview schedules.


Boards will want to conduct at least 2 interviews with candidates, and up to as many as 4. Initial screening may be conducted via video conferencing, with subsequent interviews conducted in person.

  • Consider what is right for your community and what stakeholders will want to be involved. Prepare in advance and have written questions. The questions should be designed to assess the candidate’s ability to successfully perform the responsibilities of the job as outlined in the job description. See Appendix for sample questions. Assign order for questions and allow search committee members to ask follow up questions.
  • Remember it is just as important for the board to make a good impression as it is for the candidate. If the board is to attract the best candidates available and ultimately be accepted by the very best one from among them, it must do all that it can to show itself and the library in the best possible light. Good candidates will have questions for the board, which the board should be prepared to answer. It is possible you may be interviewing a candidate who is an applicant a position at another library.
  • Boards should be prepared to answer questions about frequent turnover of library directors or other items in the news about the library.
  • Candidates should always be informed of the timetable for deciding. They should be given an approximate date by which an appointment is anticipated and should be advised subsequently if a significant delay occurs. In more than one instance, boards have lost their first choice for appointment because the candidate, having heard nothing for weeks after the interview, concluded they were no longer under serious consideration, and accepted another position.
  • When contacting candidates for interviews, provide all the important information: interview location, parking information, who they will be interviewing with.

Conducting the Interview:

  • Conduct an interview in an area free from interruptions and distractions. If using video interviewing, ensure candidates can hear all members of the screening committee.
  • Put candidates at ease when they arrive. Start the interview by reviewing the job summary and provide information on benefits. Have everyone introduce themselves.
  • Be an active listener and attentive to eye contact, body movement, common courtesy, respect, and other factors which may encourage or hinder an interview. Be aware of internal biases when listening to candidates.
  • Do not ask questions that violate basic rights of candidates.
  • Take notes during the interview and write an appraisal of a candidate immediately following an interview when impressions are sharpest. A standard evaluation sheet that lists the agreed-upon attributes and qualifications necessary will be useful in this process [sample available in appendix.]
  • If after the first round of interviews, clear choices are not obvious or questions remain, considering conducting a second round of interviews for the best candidates from the first round.
  • Immediately following the last screening committee interviews, the committee should recommend two to four candidates to advance to interviews with the whole board. Plan on second interviews for the top three to five candidates, involving the full board.
  • If possible, it is preferable to have the candidates come for interviews on different days. If this is not possible, sufficient time should be allowed between interviews to allow one candidate to leave before another one arrives or if interviews run long. Having candidates meet each other and wait until they are escorted into the interview room is awkward for all concerned.

Final Interview:

  • The screening committee will make a recommendation of finalists to the library board. Subsequent interviews may be required to happen in an Open Meeting when they involve the entire board.
  • Develop a schedule for the final round of interviews which may involve meeting with municipal stakeholders or staff. Make sure everyone internally is aware of the interviews. Share this information with staff.
  • Provide final round interview questions in advance.
  • The public meeting notice must identify the individuals under consideration for appointment if their identity is known 48 hours before the meeting. OML 2014-155.

Step Ten: Selection of a final candidate and making a job offer.

Final Decision Making:

The next steps will depend on the outcome of the interviews. Sometimes, one candidate will emerge as the clear best choice for the role, and a simple motion to appoint the candidate will be the next step.

If the board is considering two strong candidates, here is a suggested model for decision making. For some boards, this meeting will be held in Open Session and candidates may be in attendance or watching, as well as the video may be viewable after the fact.

  • The chair reviews the attributes and qualifications outlined at the outset of the search process.
  • Interview notes and results of reference checks are reviewed.
  • The chair asks for a motion to nominate a final candidate; if there is one, parliamentary procedure is followed.
  • If no motion is offered, the Chair asks each trustee in turn if he/she would like to advocate for the appointment of a particular candidate. At the completion of that step, the Chair again asks for a motion to nominate a final candidate.

If there is no clear finalist, the search process should be re-initiated, with possible adjustments to ensure a successful process for the next time.

Checking References:

It is recommended that boards wait until after the first round of interviews so that only references of the final candidates need be checked, prior to making the final selection. The information being verified is only job-related and should not violate discrimination laws.

At least three references should be contacted, and if previous employers are not listed as references, ask the candidate for the name of someone to contact. Boards could ask for specific references as it relates to skills and responsibilities, from subordinates to supervisors and peers.

Query the people who interviewed the candidate for areas to focus the reference check. Start by making the reference feel at ease. Remember, you will be interested in making an offer to a candidate at this stage, so start by praising the candidate and explaining the role they are applying for. Then ask specific, yet open-ended questions.

Request both email address and phone number for references. It is highly recommended that references always be contacted by phone, even if they have already responded in writing. This allows the reference to be more candid and may very well provide information not contained in a written reference. Email references before calling to set up a time with them. This will make sure they are prepared to speak to you. Under no circumstances should a job offer be made until references have been thoroughly checked and the board is satisfied that the references are as candid as possible. Information obtained from references should always be treated with discretion. Sample questions for references are included in this packet.

Ensure reference questions are focused on the skills of the candidate and avoid questions that may cause bias.

Keep the facts at the center of the reference check, and don’t read too much into the tone or inflections of the reference. You may not be aware of the reference’s personality.

Making the Job Offer

When the board has agreed on its top candidate, it should make a job offer without delay. A phone call should be made immediately to the candidate. Expect some negotiation from the candidate and be aware of what room there is to negotiate. Municipal charters may have an impact on this part of the hiring process, and this should be established well in advance as well as any additional requirements like a CORI check or a physical.

Once the terms of employment and start date are agreed on, execute those in a formal letter. The remaining finalists should be notified only after the offer has been accepted in writing. It is extremely important that all applicants, whether finalists or not, be notified as soon as they are no longer under consideration.

MGL Chapter 78 Section 34 states boards of trustees will execute written employment contracts with library directors which outline the basic conditions of employment, including the procedure for dismissal. Having an employment contract helps both the board and the new director clarify their expectations in regard to responsibilities, salary, and benefits package, and helps to prevent misunderstandings. A sample contract is included in this packet. Again, the Board should check Town Charter to be sure that this is something that they can do. Boards are advised to plan for this step well in advance.

Once the contract is signed, announce the new director! Congratulations on hiring your next library director.