The Muscogee County Library Board unanimously voted Thursday to offer the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries director’s job to Alan Harkness, an assistant state librarian.
The selection committee’s recommendation also was unanimous, said board chairwoman Meridith Jarrell.
The other two finalists among the 40 applicants were Karen Odom, director of the Houston County (Ga.) Library System, and Anne Shepherd, director of the Charlotte County (Fla.) Library System.
Harkness, 46, is assistant state librarian for library development at the Georgia Public Library Service, where he has worked the past 2 1/2 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.
Jarrell told the board Harkness is the top choice because:
His experience at the state level could connect the local system to new resources.
He was clear about wanting to help the local system “get to the next level, and that’s what we need.”
He also was clear about wanting to be involved in the local community.
Harkness is married to a medical librarian and the father of four children, ages 21, 10, 6 and 3.
The only other board member to speak about Harkness during the meeting was Owen Ditchfield, who praised his experience working with children and his communication skills.
After the meeting, Jarrell noted Harkness received rave reviews for his work in Winder.
“My best friend grew up there, and she has all kinds of family there,” Jarrell said. “I asked her if there was any scuttlebutt about him, and she said there was nothing but good said about him in that community and library. They said he left it a much better place than when he got there.”
June Garcia of Denver, the consultant who led the search for $25,000, said by telephone that Harkness’ passion for quality customer service and his commitment to listening stood out.
“He understands that the library system is made up of many different facilities that service unique communities and each one is valuable,” she said. “ He also has a sense of humor and the ability to connect with people.”
Reached by telephone at his Atlanta office, Harkness said he has had his eye on Columbus as he looked to return to a local library system.
“There were a number of places on a short list I would want to go to,” he said. “The list had gotten shorter the last couple of years as my wife and I talked about wanting to live in a smaller town, and Columbus is a great size and a place that really loves its libraries.
“ I love the job I have — it’s a great job — but I miss being part of a community.”
The board interviewed the finalists May 9 in closed sessions. That evening, the finalists went through a public interview Garcia conducted, and residents in attendance could fill out a comment card to give the selection committee their opinions. The next day, the finalists met the library staff, who also could fill out a comment card. Then the finalists had another interview with the selection committee. The only stumbling block could be the negotiations for a salary, which can range between $120,000 and $150,000, Jarrell said.
“I just hope we don’t get bogged down,” she said.
Not a problem, Harkness said.
“As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “it’s a done deal.”
The goal is to reach an agreement for the Muscogee County School Board to approve at its next monthly meeting, June 17.
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. That is the second-highest salary in the Muscogee County School District, which owns and operates the county’s public libraries. Susan Andrews, the district’s last full-time superintendent, cost $190,713 in salary and $9,144 in travel before she left last summer.
Wanda Edwards, head of the local library system’s popular materials and circulation, has been serving as interim director. She said Harkness is “very well respected throughout the state.”
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