Panel screens library director picks
An ad hoc committee of the Library Board of Control chose E. Spencer Watts on Saturday as the lone finalist for the post of East Baton Rouge Parish Library director.
Watts, the director of the Mobile, Ala., public library system, was chosen from among five candidates after the board conducted 45-minute online interviews with each one.
Watts is scheduled to visit Baton Rouge the weekend of Aug. 17-18, when he will be given library tours, meet with staff, give a presentation and be interviewed by the full board, officials said.
Watts’ experience with building projects helped his cause, said ad hoc committee Chairman Stanford O. Bardwell Jr.
“His experience uniquely fit my sense of the needs of the library at this time,” Bardwell said.
Two branch libraries are either being built or are about to go under construction: the Fairwood Branch Library on Old Hammond Highway and the Rouzan Library off of Perkins Road.
A third, the $19 million River Center Branch Library, is in the design phase. Construction could begin late next year.
“I have a lot of construction experience,” Watts said. “You have some nice construction projects and more on the way.”
Watts has been the director of Mobile’s libraries for 12 years, he said.
The financial stability of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library was one of the reasons he applied for the director’s job, Watts said.
As director of the Mobile Public Library, Watts oversees a system with an annual operating budget of approximately $9.1 million, according to information provided by Bradbury Associates/Gossage Sager Associates, the firm hired by the Library Board to help conduct the search.
By contrast, the East Baton Rouge Parish Library’s 2012 operating budget is about $34 million.
“Unlike many libraries, you have a very nice budget,” he said. “You have the funding that many of us would like to have.”
Watts said cuts to the Mobile library system, which is funded by local governments, have been a “challenge.”
“Frankly, I have enough of that kind of challenge,” he said.
Despite being impressed with the library system’s funding, Watts queried the committee about the status of the director’s salary.
“The salary thing has come up, that’s a little bit of an issue,” he said. “Is this the kind of thing that could be adjusted in the not too distant future?”
In July, the Metro Council rejected a proposal by the Library Board to raise the director’s salary scale by more than 50 percent.
The minimum salary would have gone from $72,388 to $115,000 a year and the maximum would have gone from $100,202 to $160,000 annually.
Despite the rejection, board members said they were hopeful the director’s salary would be increased soon.
The Metro Council “recognizes the value and recognizes that the salary needs to be raised,” said board President Kizzy Payton, who is not a member of the ad hoc committee, but attended the interviews. “I believe they are supportive of the library director having a higher salary.”
Payton said she thought the Metro Council wanted to wait for the completion of a salary study, currently under way, before acting on resetting the library director’s salary.
That study is expected to be finished by the end of the year, though the Library Board has requested that a study of the library director’s salary be expedited.
Watts was the third of the five candidates interviewed by the committee Saturday morning.
The committee decided not to invite for on-site interviews Barry Bradford, director of the Tangipahoa Parish Library; Mary LeBouef, director of the Terrebonne Parish Library; Adam Brooks, library service manager of the Hernando County, Fla., Public Library; and Sandra Cooper, director of the Sonoma County Public Library.
Watts’ position as the only finalist doesn’t mean he will be offered the job, board member Travis Woodard said.
“I am not personally, at this point, committed to extending an offer pending the outcome of that interview,” Woodard said. If board members are unsatisfied with Watts, they could reopen the search once the salary study’s results are known, Woodard said.
After roughly four-and-a-half hours of interviews Saturday, the ad hoc committee met behind closed doors for about an hour before reconvening to announce the finalist. The committee could have named up to three finalists or none at all, board members said.