By Cassidy DeStefano, news correspondent
In a year that has already brought several changes, the Boston Public Library (BPL) is tackling an obstacle that could significantly alter the course of its future: the search for a new president.
The BPL has been without a full-time president since Amy Ryan’s resignation in June.
Ryan departed in the wake of a scandal involving two missing pieces of valuable artwork, worth $630,000 in total. They were later found, incorrectly filed, in a secure area within the library.
Last week, Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced that John Palfrey, headmaster of Phillips Academy in Andover and author of “BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google,” would lead the search.
“John is held in high regard in his industry and has inspiring ideas about the importance of libraries in the digital age,” John Hailer, interim chair of the Boston Public Library Board of Trustees, said in a statement released by the Mayor’s office on Sept. 9.
“I’m thrilled he is taking a leadership role in our search for the next president of the Boston Public Library.”
Palfrey’s qualifications include previous positions with several libraries, according to Mayor Walsh’s press release. Palfrey served as founding president of the Digital Public Libraries of America, oversaw Harvard University’s library systems and currently chairs the board of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a non-profit organization that funds libraries.
Palfrey has not yet released definite qualifications for potential candidates, although he says he has a general idea in mind.
“I have heard from prospective candidates already,” Palfrey said. “[Good] candidates must have great management skills as well as a vision for the future of the Boston Public Library.”
Palfrey declined to disclose the names and titles of these applicants, saying the guidelines of the search process have not yet been finalized. He did say he that the search board will consider internal and external applicants.
The library’s interim director, David Leonard, worked closely under Ryan for more than six years. Leonard said that while many appreciated Ryan’s leadership, staff members have reacted quite well to the sudden change in environment.
“I was one of the people that she hired when she first came on board seven years ago,” Leonard said. “I think that many of [the staff] worked closely with Amy Ryan and were sad to see her departure occur, but we all recognize that the library itself is bigger than one individual.”
Under Leonard’s direction, the BPL has made headway on several projects, including renovating its Jamaica Plain branch, launching the institution’s first mobile app and initiating a series of community engagement strategies and remodeling the Central Library in Copley Square.
Phase One of the Central Library Renovation was completed this spring.
Leonard said he will remain interim director for at least a few months while the board plans its next steps.
“This is a 150-year-old establishment and a premier cultural institution, and with that comes a great deal of responsibility,” he said.
Photo by Scotty Schenck