The three finalists to be director of the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries found different ways to express the same sentiment:
This would be a great job to get because this a great public library system in a great community, and they help make each other great.
About 50 folks attended Thursday evening's public interview and reception in the Columbus Public Library for the finalists: Alan Harkness, assistant state librarian with the Georgia Public Library Service; Karen Odom, director of the Houston County (Ga.) Library System; and Anne Shepherd, director of the Charlotte County (Fla.) Library System.
Each finalist made a five-minute opening statement. Then, for 30 minutes, search consultant June Garcia of Denver asked the finalists questions compiled by the search committee and the Muscogee County Library Board. The event ended with an informal meet-and-greet, where residents could ask the finalists their questions in person and could fill out a comment form to help decide the top choice.
The most direct question for the finalists was why they want to be the library director here. In the order that they replied:
Odom, who is moving to Columbus anyway, said she seeks the challenge of a larger library system, taking something "already great and raising it to the next level. Being part of something that has so much support is a really awesome thing."
Shepherd said, "This community is really committed to its libraries. You don't always see that. The staff is very active, very active in the decision-making." She also lauded the culture, history and diversity here, as well as being adjacent to Fort Benning, where her deployed son's family expects to be stationed next.
Harkness said he learned during his last director job, at the Piedmont Regional Library System in Winder, Ga., that his passion for library service doesn't matter if the community doesn't respond in kind. "I want to go somewhere where people want their library."
The most offbeat question for the finalists was what the title of their life story would be. In the order that they replied:
Shepherd: "Life was Never Dull."
Harkness: "Never Say Never, and Be Careful of What You Wish."
Odom: "Small in Stature but Big in Heart."
The finalists emerged from a field of 40 applicants. Thursday morning, the finalists took individual tours of Muscogee County's four public libraries and the branch in Cusseta. In the afternoon, the board interviewed them in successive 40-minute closed sessions. Friday, they will meet library staff members and have a final interview with the search committee.
The committee is scheduled to recommend its top choice by May 23, when the board expects to vote on that recommendation.
The board's leadership has known since late December that Claudya Muller was going to end her directorship of more than 11 years on Feb. 28. Muller's salary was $150,628, plus $3,339 for travel, in the past 2011-2012 fiscal year (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012). That is the second-highest salary in the Muscogee County School District, which owns and operates the county's public libraries. Susan Andrews, the last full-time superintendent in Muscogee County, annually cost the district $190,713 in salary and $9,144 in travel before she left last summer.
Wanda Edwards has been serving as interim library director. She is head of the popular materials and circulation departments.
Muscogee County Library Board chairwoman Meridith Jarrell said she was pleased with the finalists' performance.
"They have a lot of energy and a real sense of community," she said. "I think that's where we need to continue to go. I think that's where Claudya took us, and we just need to continue to build on that.
FINALISTS AT A GLANCE
Alan Harkness: Assistant state librarian for library development at Georgia Public Library Service, where he has worked the past two years. He has 28 years of experience in Georgia's public libraries, including four years as director of the Piedmont Regional Library System in Winder, Ga. He didn't provide his educational background in the fact sheet he submitted, but he noted that he is a native of Georgia, married to a medical librarian and the father of four children, ages 21, 10, 6 and 3.
Karen Odom: A month shy of two years as director of the Houston County Public Library System in Perry, Ga. She has worked in that system for 6 1/2 years and 13 years in libraries overall. She earned master's and specialist degrees in library and information science from Florida State University.
Anne Shepherd: Manager of library and historical services for the Charlotte County Library System in Port Charlotte, Fla., since 2010. She has been a senior manager or director of libraries for more than 20 years in five states. She earned a master's of library science degree from Western Michigan University.
Lyn Anderson, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries chief financial officer
Silvia Bunn, Mildred L. Terry Branch Library manager
Alice Budge, Muscogee County Friends of Libraries vice president
Abbie Dillard, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries Board chairwoman
M.A. Dowdell, Muscogee County Library Board member
Wanda Edwards, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries interim director
Linda Hyles, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries funding coordinator
Meridith Jarrell, Muscogee County Library Board chairwoman
Carole Rutland, former Muscogee County Library Board member