Every three decades or so, the Spokane County Library District announces an impending transition at the administrative helm.
The last applications for district director were distributed in 1979, the year Mike Wirt was hired to lead the countywide library system. An employee of the district since 1972, when he was brought on as an institutional services librarian, Wirt has served as director for the past 32 years.
Earlier this year, when Wirt announced his plans to retire, the SCLD board went about the task of finding a replacement. The job itself was posted in late August and applications were accepted until Oct. 14.
Eventually nine candidates were whittled down to two: Nancy Ledeboer, director of the Pima County Public Library in the Tucson, Ariz., area and Diane Smikahl Vieira, director of the Benicia Public Library in Northern California.
Last week, Ledeboer and Smikahl Vieira visited Spokane as part of the final phase of the interview process. On Dec. 1, each candidate toured three branch sites – Spokane Valley, Airway Heights and Deer Park – talking with employees and asking questions.
Smikahl Vieira – who has served as library director in Benicia, a Bay Area city of around 28,000 residents, since 2005 – said it was clear from the tours that each library has a valuable niche in its respective area.
“You could see that they are so involved in helping their communities,” she said. “That is really important.”
Ledeboer, who has also been a director since 2005 and currently serves as the president of the Arizona Library Association, said the expedition provided an overview of three sites in different environments, ranging from urban to rural.
“The Valley library was very well maintained while the Airway Heights site was integrated nicely into the municipal complex,” Ledeboer said.
Later on Thursday, a reception for the candidates was held at the CenterPlace Regional Events Center in Spokane Valley with close to 50 people dropping by. Representatives from the Central Valley and West Valley school districts were among those in attendance.
Both Ledeboer and Smikahl Vieira have connections to the Inland Northwest. Ledeboer worked as a deputy director with the Spokane Public Library from 1996 to 1998. She also has a son who still lives in the Spokane area and a daughter who resides in Seattle. Smikahl’s husband, meanwhile, has family and friends who live in the Spokane area.
“I’ve missed the Northwest,” Ledeboer said. “I’d like to plant roots here and be part of the community.”
Smikahl Vieira said she appreciated the weather and landscape of her prospective home and called the SCLD job “a great opportunity.”
While each candidate currently holds the position of director, the scale of library system varies widely from Pima County to Benicia. Ledeboer manages a district that covers 9,000 square miles and includes 27 library branches and 500 employees. Smikahl Vieira’s district consists of one central branch and 55 employees.
Last Friday, Dec. 2, both candidates answered questions from around 60 SCLD employees (close to one-third of the district’s total staff) representing all 10 of the district’s branches at CenterPlace. Wirt said the tours and roundtable discussion provided “an opportunity for employees to talk with each candidate and for the candidates to get a better idea of the library system.”
The search process is being led by June Garcia, a consultant from the Denver area who was brought on earlier this year by SCLD. The SCLD board has indicated that a decision on the new director should be announced no later than its next meeting set for Dec. 20.