The Seattle Public Library System, one of America’s leading urban public libraries, seeks an energetic, innovative, community-minded, and collaborative leader for the role of Executive Director and Chief Librarian. The Seattle Public Library Board is launching the search after nearly ten years of leadership by the previous Executive Director. Reporting to the Board of Trustees, the Executive Director also holds a mayoral cabinet-level role on the City of Seattle Mayor’s Office leadership team.
The next Executive Director will join a vibrant, diverse, and socially conscious urban community, a strong and dedicated library team, and supportive Trustee, Foundation, and Friends partners to lead The Seattle Public Library into the future. The next Executive Director will have the opportunity to develop and implement a new strategic vision, while continuing to provide the social and community resources that create a positive impact on community inclusiveness and wellbeing.
About The Seattle Public Library
The Seattle Public Library is the public library system serving the city of Seattle, Washington. Since 1891, The Seattle Public Library has grown from a single reading room to a world-class library system with an internationally-renowned downtown Central Library, 26 neighborhood branches, and mobile services. Efforts to start a Seattle library had commenced as early as 1868, with the system eventually being established by the city in 1891. The popular downtown Central Library was designed by notable Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and opened in 2004.
The Seattle Public Library also founded the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library, which is now part of the National Library Service and administered by the Library of Congress.
As early as 1915, the library was collecting books not only in English but in many other languages spoken in Seattle (though all of the languages collected at that time were European). Today the Library offers translation of materials in Spanish (mainly Latin American), Somali, and Amharic, in addition to European and Asian languages.
A Resource for All
The Seattle Public Library delivers exceptional services and programs to more than 12.5 million visitors annually, with a mission to improve lives and build a stronger community. The Library guides development of its program of service with a racial and social justice lens, and focuses on initiatives that enhance service to under-represented populations, as well as early learning programs that help young children become better prepared for school.
The Library believes that the power of knowledge improves people’s lives. It promotes literacy and a love of reading as it brings people, information, and ideas together to enrich lives and build healthy, connected, and thriving communities. The Seattle Public Library has become more than a traditional library system—it is a critical, integral element in how the city provides a broad array of social services to the community, especially those who have been traditionally under-served and under-represented.
Guided by a five-member volunteer Library Board of Trustees, and driven by the work of over 650 leadership and staff members, the Library builds collections, services, and programs to reflect the many diverse communities it serves. Library leadership and staff conduct continuous community outreach to understand and meet the needs of Seattle residents. The leadership and the staff union, AFSCME Local 2083, are committed partners in sustaining and enhancing an organizational culture that is grounded in a cooperative labor-management relationship.
The seven-year, $219.1 million Library Levy—overwhelmingly supported by Seattle voters in 2019—provides 34% of Library funding. The levy supplements General Fund support from the City of Seattle, which currently provides 59% of Library funding. Fundraising efforts through The Seattle Public Library Foundation provide an additional 5% of funding. In 1998, Seattle residents voted to invest in a $196.4 million 1998 bond measure to rebuild the Central Library, rebuild or renovate every neighborhood branch, and build four new branches; and voters approved Seattle’s first seven-year $123 million Library Levy in 2012 to expand hours and make investments in collections, technology, and building maintenance.
The Seattle Public Library was named the Library Journal/GALE 2020 Library of the Year for its efforts to reach and serve inequitably under-resourced communities, including low-income children and families, the insecurely housed, and immigrants and refugees. It was also recognized as a 5-Star Library for ten years in a row, as well as a 4-Star Library in 2021, by the Library Journal’s Index of Public Library Service.
In 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 17 million people visited the Library’s physical and digital spaces. Library patrons checked out 11.6 million physical and digital items, and nearly 330,000 people attended over 10,000 educational classes, workshops, and author programs.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut the doors of Seattle libraries, the organization went to work redefining what a library could be for the community. Staff quickly developed a new online library card system; expanded instant digital library access to all public school students and educators; developed the Your Next Job program to support people who found themselves out of work; and expanded a Wi-Fi HotSpot program to provide internet access to keep communities connected, including encampments, day shelters, and more.
Since reopening, The Seattle Public Library is transitioning again to reintroduce and rebuild traditional and digital library services safely and to return to pre-pandemic staffing levels and open hours.
The Seattle Public Library is governed by a five-member Library Board of Trustees. Trustees are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Seattle City Council to serve five-year terms as volunteers. The Executive Director reports to the Board, while also serving as a member of the Mayor’s Cabinet. The board meets monthly to discuss issues and make decisions related to Library services and operations. The current Board President, Jay Reich, was appointed to the Library Board by Mayor Ed Murray in September 2016 and reappointed by Mayor Jenny Durkan in June 2019.
Learn more about the Library’s leadership here.
Support for the Library
The City of Seattle is considered one of the most literate cities in the U.S. Seattle residents are magnanimous and supportive of their Library system, as indicated by their strong usage of the system, their consistently strong support on Library ballot initiatives, and their generous gifts through The Seattle Public Library Foundation.
Seattle residents themselves are known for their commitment to reading and literature. Since 2003, Central Connecticut State University has conducted a study on the most literate cities in the United States, with Seattle ranking in the top three each year since the study began. And in 2017, Seattle was designated a City of Literature by the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, which recognizes the vitality, range and vigor of the city’s literary culture. There are thirty-nine Cities of Literature spanning 28 countries and six continents, and Seattle is one of only two U.S. cities to achieve this unique designation.
The Seattle Public Library Foundation, founded in 1980, is a nonprofit partner of the Library and is the largest public library foundation in the country based on assets under management. The Foundation is the founding organization for Library Giving Day, an annual nationwide day of charitable giving to libraries. The Foundation provides a way for people who value libraries to contribute financial support and advocate for The Seattle Public Library, enhancing its impact in the community and ensuring its long-term vitality.
Active and engaged members and volunteers from the grassroots nonprofit, the Friends of The Seattle Public Library, have been important allies and advocates of the Library since 1942. Their gift shop, the FriendShop, is a popular stop for visitors of the downtown Central Library.
For more information on The Seattle Public Library, please visit www.spl.org.
The Executive Director has responsibility for the comprehensive vision, direction, growth, effectiveness, stewardship, operational management, and sustainability of the library system. The Executive Director reports to the Board of Trustees and leads a team of division directors responsible for Library Programs and Services, Administrative Services, Human Resources, and Institutional and Strategic Advancement. The Executive Director is responsible for the overall professional development, management, and leadership for the 650 employees and many dedicated volunteers at the Library.
Key responsibilities of the Executive Director include, among others:
Strategic Innovation & Leadership:
- Ensure the continued position of the Library as a leading library system regionally, nationally, and internationally.
- Serve as a creative thought leader providing innovative leadership and support for technology improvement to grow and guide the Library’s relevance and impact in its next chapter.
- Lead the trustees and staff in identifying and implementing strategic initiatives that expand the Library’s capacity to meet present and future community needs.
- Facilitate ongoing progress toward a continued commitment to equitable access, inclusive practices, and diversity in all areas of operations, including staffing, collections, communications, outreach, and community programming.
Financial & Resource Management
- Ensure sufficient resource mix and amount of resources and investment to fund current and intermediate operating and capital needs. Ensure the Library has strategies in place to ensure the long-term organizational sustainability, enabling the Library to provide free services and access to all.
- Ensure that the Library has the support and resources for people, processes, policies, procedures, and partners in place to achieve its financial goals; operate with the highest level of financial integrity; and enjoy a strong reputation for public transparency and financial stewardship.
- Manage the Library’s relationships with City of Seattle staff, appropriate committees, and elected leaders to ensure a predictable and consistent level of support and funding.
- Provide ongoing direction to The Seattle Public Library Foundation and support and participation in fundraising and donor cultivation activities, and ensure that Library and Foundation activities are aligned.
- Participate in strategy development, activities and efforts to build a large and unrestricted endowment for the benefit of the Library
Advocacy, Relationship & Partnership Building
- Ensure that long-and short-range plans are in place and that resources are efficiently deployed to advance the Library’s goals and mission.
- Work with staff to ensure the quality, scope, and suitability of programs and activities that reflect the vision and values of the Library.
- Build productive and trusted relationships among and with the Library leadership team, staff, Union, trustees, and other local, state, and multiple constituents that influence Library outcomes and success.
Board & Volunteer Leadership Development
- Facilitate governance best practices through effective communication and collaboration with the trustees.
- Identify opportunities to communicate and collaborate across City departments and sister agencies to advance and advocate for Library resources, priorities, and initiatives.
- Identify opportunities to communicate and collaborate with Seattle businesses, chambers of commerce, and family, community, and civic organizations to grow visibility and appreciation of the Library’s impact and its services.
Organizational and Community Development
- Provide leadership ensuring the organization has the talent to fulfill its mission, that talent is engaged, motivated, coached, and recognized, and that the right people with the best skills are matched to the right roles working in support of the Library’s goals.
- Ensure that Library human resources, priorities, and goals are consistently aligned with a diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) focus.
- Create and nurture a positive and respectful workplace culture consistent with the Library’s core values and be a model by living those values.
- Ensure the Library is actively engaged and visible on the community stage, and act as a networker and connector between the community, its leaders, and the Library organization.
- Represent the Library to advance and build effective partnerships with existing and potential new resource development opportunities and initiatives.
- Serve as an active partner to The Seattle Public Library Foundation in their efforts to raise funds for the Library’s new and signature programs.
Candidates for the Executive Director must hold an ALA-accredited graduate degree, or an international equivalent, in Library Science/Library Information Science.
The ideal leader will possess the following professional and personal qualities, skills, and characteristics:
An Innovative and Strategic Thinker
The Executive Director is a strategic, pragmatic, inclusive, and influential leader who will articulate a vision and operationalize a plan for the Library’s next chapter. Collaborating closely with a range of constituents, the Executive Director will develop, execute, and evaluate the Library’s next strategic plan, focused on creating inclusive communities, enriching Seattle’s neighborhoods, and improving the quality of life for the city as a whole. The successful candidate will build upon the Library’s deep history of adapting to changing community needs through creative adaptation, innovation, and diversification of the Library’s offerings. The Executive Director will proactively seek opportunities to grow the Library’s impact and build upon the Library’s unique position in Seattle and the broader national landscape.
An Ambassador and Advocate
As an ambassador for the library system, the Executive Director will effectively convey the Library’s vision, strategy, and opportunities both within the organization and to its many external constituents. Able to communicate with both passion and humility, the Executive Director will inspire trust and confidence across a diverse range of audiences. An active partner to The Seattle Public Library Foundation, this leader will enthusiastically convey the value of the social and economic impact of the Library’s work to existing and potential funders, including donors, foundations, and other constituents and organizations. The Executive Director will inspire collaboration and support for the library system to maintain high-quality services, expand equitable access and programs, and increase visibility in the community.
Collaborative and Results-Oriented Partnership
The Executive Director will inspire library leaders, staff, trustees, and community to achieve continued improvements for the library system and improved outcomes for the communities the Library serves. The ideal candidate will be able to effectively balance collaboration and decisiveness with an intuitive approach to both collecting input and producing outcomes. As a collaborator, this leader is an excellent communicator who will listen to and learn from all Library constituents. Experienced in adeptly leading through change, the Executive Director will bring demonstrated success in motivating teams to achieve impact through creativity, innovative ideas, and teamwork. In engaging and supporting partners, the ideal candidate will effectively leverage individual strengths to inspire confidence and bring people together to achieve a common goal.
Team Management and Administrative Oversight
The Executive Director will deftly manage a large multi-functional team in a dynamic library system. This leader will bring experience building and leading diverse, high-performing teams with an eye toward individual growth, mentoring, and professional development. Driven by both a personal and professional commitment to building diverse and inclusive teams and work environments, the Executive Director will establish priorities, goals, and timelines to achieve desired outcomes.
The Executive Director will steward relationships with labor union leaders representing The Seattle Public Library workforce. This leader will implement best practices including developing compelling communications and effective marketing strategies, leadership succession, and most importantly, ensuring that day-to-day operations are aligned with strategic goals. The Executive Director employs analytic, organizational, and problem-solving skills to support sound decision-making and empower others to contribute to the overall success of the institution.
The ideal candidate will build relationships between the Library and the Seattle community, using traditional means as well as via technology and digital platforms which are equitably available. It is imperative that this leader is capable of leveraging technology to advance the Library’s mission and articulate its value proposition to a wide range of constituents.
Passion for the Mission
The Executive Director will have an unwavering commitment to the values of the library system, embracing, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) as guiding principles for Library leadership. The Executive Director will share their love of reading, education and continuous learning, and literacy with the community. The ideal candidate leads by example and remains committed both personally and professionally to intellectual freedom, racial and social justice, equitable access to library resources, and creating an inclusive and engaging culture. Moreover, the ideal candidate is an individual of unquestioned integrity, ethics and values, and is someone who can be trusted without reservation.
In addition, strong candidates will offer:
- Experience working with a board or in support of board committees in senior level resource planning, organizing, resource development, coordinating, financial management, and budgeting.
- Ability to effectively engage, develop, and lead a diverse and dynamic workforce and management team, including a workforce with union representation.
- Ability to represent The Seattle Public Library on regional and state committees and serve as a resource on emerging urban library trends, opportunities, and challenges.
- Experience in evaluating community needs and building and developing partnerships with diverse groups of constituents across all Library locations.
- Strong communication, reflective, and interpersonal skills, both in writing and in public speaking and presenting with cultural sensitivity, active listening, and an ability to listen, influence, and successfully negotiate.
- An inclusive, creative, and data-informed approach to problem solving, change management, and project and program leadership.
- Knowledge of urban public library operations and current technology available to optimize the Library’s operational effectiveness.
- A record of progressively responsible leadership and team management experience, including experience in a public library system, or other public administration, and success as a manager of large multi-function teams in multiple sites.
- Experience in roles that include responsibility for financial and budget management, human resources, with an ability to administer government financial accounting and budget management, performance management, compensation and a range of related policies and programs.
- A record of attracting, engaging, and inspiring others, with sensitivity to other’s perspectives and an awareness of constituent needs and how to build partnerships based on fundamental integrity, principles, and values.
- A willingness and interest in attracting additional friends and resources to the Library through fundraising, and cultivation of relationships, serving as the face of the Library for critical fundraising efforts.
As of May 2021, the mid-point of the salary range for the position is $203,700. Based on cost-of-living adjustments, the Board of Trustees may allocate a range adjustment in 2022.
Beth Schaefer and Marisa Chock of Koya Partners have been exclusively retained for this search. To express your interest in this role please submit your materials here. All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.
The Seattle Public Library is an equal opportunity employer and strongly encourages applications from people of color, persons with disabilities, women, and LGBTQ+ applicants.
About Koya Partners
Koya Partners, a part of the Diversified Search Group, is a leading executive search and strategic advising firm dedicated to connecting exceptionally talented people with mission-driven clients. Our founding philosophy—The Right Person in the Right Place Can Change the World—guides our work as we partner with nonprofits & NGOs, institutions of higher education, responsible businesses, and social enterprises in local communities and around the world.
For more information about Koya Partners, visit www.koyapartners.com.