After a long prologue, library launches national search for new director

The Massanutten Regional Library serves the area with its seven branches: Harrisonburg, Elkton, Grottoes, Bridgewater, Luray, Shenandoah and Broadway. (File photo)

By Jessica Kronzer, contributor

Massanutten Regional Library’s longtime director Lois Jones officially retired Aug. 31, and the job listing to hire her replacement went out the day before. That leaves the library to operate with a team approach at the top for the next few months. 

After 33 years of working at Massanutten Regional Library, Jones announced her retirement in May. 

Laura Thomas, the president of the library’s Board of Trustees, said the library conducted an initial search locally but didn’t receive a high number of applications. The library, which is set up as a nonprofit organization and manages the downtown library and branches across the Valley, sought help from an Ohio-based hiring firm, Bradbury Miller Associates, to widen the search nationally. 

“They’re all former librarians who work there, so they just have a lot of contacts across the U.S., and just a lot more experience in what to look for,” Thomas said. “The board of trustees, we all love the library, but none of us are librarians. We’re experts in our own fields.”

The job listing went live Aug. 30 and will close Oct. 17. Afterward, the firm will screen candidates before the board interviews them and selects its new director. Instead of appointing an interim director, Thomas said the library’s administrative team of employees will oversee operations for three or four months until a replacement director comes aboard. 

“As a board, we felt really good about that [decision],” Thomas said. “I think they’d (the library administrators) prefer that team approach to us bringing in a stranger, who would have to be trained anyway, for four months. It didn’t make sense.”

While Thomas said she doesn’t foresee any “big policy decisions in the next four months,” she said the board would need to approve those decisions anyway. She also said most members of the administrative team have worked at the library for 8-10 years and are “capable.” 

As a part of their “fact-finding mission,” Karen Miller, Bradbury Miller Associates’ president, said the firm conducted an anonymous survey among MRL employees. The firm asked employees about skills and attitudes they’re looking for in a leader, as well as challenges and opportunities for the next director and what would excite a candidate about coming to the Valley. It also asked employees if they had any recommendations for potential candidates. 

“We know how important it is for staff to be included in a process like this because it’s a very stressful time for people to think about losing a boss that they’ve had for a long time,” Miller said. “They want to feel like they’re being included in the process.” 

The survey helped to shape the final job description. Among other things, it asks for a candidate who can lead “key initiatives,” such as “a review of organizational structure … and development of services for Spanish-speaking residents.” The library also purchased land off of Route 33 that could become the site for a new library and it’s hoping to hire a director with some relevant experience with construction projects. 

Thomas said she hopes the next director will mirror Jones’ “diplomacy.” She said she appreciates Jones’ “apolitical” approach as it helped her to meet the needs of visitors from both the county, which leans conservative, and Harrisonburg, whose residents tend to be more liberal. 

“She just would really treat everybody the same and wouldn’t push an agenda,” Thomas said. “It was really always about the library and the good of the library.”

Mary Golden Hughes, the library’s director of advancement, rejoined MRL earlier this year after a stint as Eastern Mennonite School’s director of advancement. Golden Hughes, who handled public relations for the library earlier in her career, called Jones a “true public servant” and said she returned to MRL in part because of a desire to work with Jones.

“Her ideas are here with us,” Golden Hughes said. “I’m just honored to play a small part in carrying those forward.” 

Covid-19 also has complicated operations over the last year. Thomas said because the library is a nonprofit, it had to incorporate the governor’s covid-related mandates and Virginia Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to create its own regulations. 

“The leadership is really gonna have to kind of make some decisions without being told,” Thomas said. “They (Jones and her staff) just did an amazing amount of work trying to figure out how to keep everybody safe.”

As for Jones, retiring hasn’t been easy after she spent most of her life working in libraries. Her interest in being librarian began when she was in first grade and her teacher asked for a student volunteer to be in charge of the books. In 1988, Jones became MRL’s part-time reference librarian and eventually was appointed director.

“Retirement is very difficult to even think about, let alone talk about, so I need to get the phone back to Mary before I burst into tears,” Jones said as she passed the phone away during an interview earlier this summer. “Just kidding.”

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