A New Library Director, If We Can Keep Her


Recently the Park Ridge Library Board of Trustees unanimously (Trustee Mike Reardon absent) approved the hiring of Heidi Smith as the new director of the Library. Smith is currently the assistant director of the Waukegan Public Library.

Smith, a Highland Park resident, will be paid $110,000 and receive health insurance and pension benefits.

She will assume her new position on April 16, relieving the three interim co-directors – Laura Scott, Anastasia Daskalos and Angela Berger – who have done an outstanding job holding down the fort since the sudden retirement last June of the Library’s long-time director, Janet Van De Carr, who was paid $140,000+.

The serendipity of Smith’s availability and selection is noteworthy for a few reasons.

After Van De Carr retired, the Library Board hired John Keister – who runs a recruiting service for library bureaucrats – to find a new director. Keister promptly persuaded a majority of the Board (with the notable exceptions of Trustees Joe Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann and Mike Reardon) to run the search process in closed-session semi-secrecy, thereby producing two “finalists” that the taxpayers could finally be trusted to know.

One of those finalists, Jeannie Dilger, withdrew her name almost immediately after becoming a finalist in order to take the director position at the Palatine library, a position for which Keister was simultaneously recruiting her – reportedly without telling our Library Board. We wrote about that seeming lack of integrity on Keister’s part in our 12.15.17 and 12.26.17 posts.

And Keister’s other finalist, Aaron Skog, mysteriously withdrew his name almost immediately after a public meet-and-greet on November 27 of last year.

That commenced a round of hand-wringing from the likes of Go Green gadfly Amy Bartucci, who talks and acts like taxpayers exist for the government’s benefit; and who seems to consider public employment as the work of the angels, notwithstanding the good pay, job security and Cadillac constitutionally-guaranteed pensions that can be taken years earlier than the rest of us can collect our modest Social Security benefits. We wrote about Bartucci’s strange obsession with Library Board member meeting attendance in our 03.05.2018 post.

With Keister’s first flight of candidates having either crashed and burned or flown the coop, the Library Board authorized Keister to tender four new candidates from his stable of usual suspects.

Two of those, reportedly, were just plain unqualified non-starters who may have been thrown into the mix by Keister solely to create a plausible field of four candidates. And a third suspiciously pulled his name the moment he was designated a finalist – although the fact that he lived with his family way out in DeKalb suggests that he may have been little more than a stalking horse for the candidate whom Keister wanted the Library Board to accept: Ms. Smith.

This blog’s editor attended both the November 2017 meet-and-greet for Aaron Skog as well as the March 15 meet-and-greet for Ms. Smith, and Smith looked and sounded like a far better choice than Skog. So that’s a good thing for our Library.

But let’s not be naïve here.

The serendipity of Ms. Smith’s availability appears to have been the product of her being passed over for the top job in Waukegan in January, despite the strong endorsement of Waukegan mayor Sam Cunningham. Instead, the WPL board imported an Hispanic candidate, Selina Gomez-Beloz, from the Crown Point, Indiana library where she had served as director since 2014. Given that more than 50% of Waukegan’s population is Hispanic, with many having ESL needs, we can see how identity politics may have shaped the WPL board’s decision.

But we have to wonder whether the Park Ridge Library directorship is merely a resume-builder for Ms. Smith that Keister can use in a couple/few years to better market her to other libraries for another fee and even greater influence over the Chicagoland public library hiring market that he already seems to dominate.

In light of that possibility, we are reminded of when Benjamin Franklin was asked about what form of government was being proposed for the United States, and he answered: “A republic…if you can keep it.” His point was that a republic, although less factional than a democracy, was still a demanding form of self-government – the success of which would depend on an informed and committed electorate.

If Ms. Smith is accepting the directorship of our Library in order to position herself for her (and Keister’s) next move, the Library Board and we taxpayers need to be wary of any “new” Library programs and initiatives instituted by her more for their resume enhancement value than to meet the legitimate needs of our community. And the Library Board also needs to start thinking about ways to retain her, assuming she does a good enough job to deserve retention.

Because when you live in Highland Park, there are a number of public libraries requiring shorter commutes than the one to Park Ridge, starting with Deerfield, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Northbrook, Glenview, Winnetka, Wilmette, Buffalo Grove, Vernon Area and Indian Trails (Wheeling).

With that caveat, however, it looks like Ms. Smith has the potential for being a welcome breath of fresh air for a Library bureaucracy that had embraced a this-is-how-we’ve-always-done-it performance benchmark for much of the past decade, if not longer. And for that reason we encourage all Park Ridge residents – and especially Park Ridge Library users – to welcome Ms. Smith with open arms.

And with wide-open eyes.

To read or post comments, click on title.

9 comments so far

It’s a big advantage to have a job where you commute 5-10 minutes (like Ms. Van De Carr did and most Park Ridge Library employees can do) instead of 30-60 minutes. I hope you are wrong about this being a short-term job for Smith, but I see your point and am glad you made it.

More sour grapes about the library from Park Ridge’s No. 1 curmudgeon. First you tried to close the library, then you cut its funding, and now you are trying to scare away the new director. Why don’t you move to Des Plaines?

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. However, you need to get your facts straight:

1. I (along with Joe Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann, Pat Lamb and Dean Parisi) reopened the Library on summer Sundays in 2014 after Ms. Van De Carr and the previous Library Board majority chose to close it in order to put political pressure on the City Council to give the Library more money so it could continue its deficit-spending ways.

2. I (along with Egan and Foss-Eggemann, before Lamb and Parisi were appointed to the Board) supported going to referendum so that the taxpayers could vote on whether to give the Library an extra $1 million/year. Van De Carr and her Board majority didn’t want a referendum, preferring to play their political blame game with the Council, but Mayor Schmidt and Ald. Knight took matters in their own hands and got the Council to put the referendum question on the November 2014 ballot; and the taxpayers voted the Library the extra money.

3. I was one of a 7-member Library Board majority (along with Steve Dobrilovic, Egan, Foss-Eggemann, Lamb, Parisii and Mike Reardon – Karen Burkum and Judy Rayborn “abstaining”) that suggested the Library needed new leadership. And I sincerely welcome Ms. Smith as the new director. But only a fool would ignore the concerns raised in this post; and apparently you’re it. Congratulations!

Thank you once again, PW, for providing information that our local journalists either lack or don’t want to print, and for providing insight that our local journalists lack.

They can’t even figure out the who, what, when and where, while PW provides all that plus the how and the why.

You are definitely a “Community Star” but I have a feeling you won’t be getting that award anytime soon.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you for reading and for the kind words.

This editor already shared a Community Star award as a member of the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Committee. But if he ever got his own, he might have to send Sacheen Littlefeather to accept it for him, Marlon Brando-style. 🙂

I understand your concerns, but I think they may be less threatening than you do.

According to the embedded article about the WPL, Ms. Smith was at the WPL for 11 years, so that might be an indication that she might be amenable to a long-term commitment to our library.

The new WPL director is being paid $100,000, subject to COLA and performance increases at the WPL board’s discretion. That is $10,000 less than our library is paying Smith.

Like PW, however, I hope she works out here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You could be right, and we hope you are right.

But we have no knowledge if she was part of Keister’s inventory during those 11 years at WPL: She may have just been biding her time figuring she would get the director’s job when Mr. Lee retired. But she now arguably owes her current director’s job to Keister, and Keister’s principle concern is flesh peddling (hyperbole intended) and earning fees.

It’s not unusual for first-time directors to use smaller libraries as stepping stones. Department managers do this as well, and Park Ridge has seen a lot of that over the last decade or so. It would be helpful to have a director who will focus on the community long enough to understand its actual needs. This was a good post, PW.


Anonymous on 04.11.18 11:16 am:

Can you identify the managers that we’ve lost over the last decade or so, because I can’t think of many who left for other gov’t jobs.

Sean Hamilton (City Manager), Juliana Maller (Deputy City Manager), Allison Stutts (Finance Manager), Mike Zwanski (Fire Chief), David Keller (Deputy Chief of Police), Lou Jogman (Deputy Chief of Police)…..all left over the last five years for “bigger jobs”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not exactly.

Hamilton resigned in advance of what was going to be a second consecutive less-than-glowing performance review and is now back in the private sector as Area Vice President at Gallagher Benefit Services. Stutts resigned to found private sector A.M. Stutts Financial Management LLC. And Dave Keller retired from the police dept.

Maller did upgrade from deputy city mgr. here to village mgr. of Hanover Park – with a salary bump from $138K to $160K – after making it known to the City Council that she did not want the City Mgr. job after Jim Hock was fired. And Jogman did go from Dept. Chief here to Chief of Police in Highland Park. But Zywanski retired as fire chief to take what could only be considered a “smaller job” as Lead Instructor at the Romeoville Fire Academy.

You folks kill me. I have seen your comments. I mean you all think these are just public employee, right?? You all point out they are essentially overpaid with these freakin’ HUGE pensions, right?? They really do not work hard, right?? and so on and so on and so on……

Now it’s “if we can keep her”…….baaaaahhhhh!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s not a question of whether they “work hard”: We know a number of public employees who “work hard,” just like we know a number of private-sector employees who “work hard.”

But, yes, those public constitutionally-guaranteed pensions with their guaranteed COLAs are “freakin’ HUGE” – so much so that public employees (and especially their unions) don’t want the taxpayers knowing just how “freakin’ HUGE” they are, as such info might cause taxpayers to beef even more about the 20,295 Illinois teachers and school administrators who make $100K or more. And that’s not counting the 9,305 RETIRED teachers and administrators whose PENSIONS are in the six figures!

As for if the Park Ridge Library can keep Ms. Smith, that will depend on (a) whether her performance is good enough that the Library Board wants to keep her; and (b) if so, how much they will be willing to pay her when headhunter/flesh peddler John Keister floats a more attractive and/or higher-paying opportunity her way.

John Keister is running a private business that meets a demand at a cost the the market is willing to bear. Has he offended you personally in some way, or are you just bitter that librarians and other ‘mediocre bureaucrats’ get paid more than the night manager at McDonald’s?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Keister has not offended this editor personally, nor is this editor “bitter” about what librarians are paid.

And while Keister does, indeed, run a private business, the “market” he seems to dominate is not entirely free or fair: State law reportedly requires that library directors have an MLS – thereby preventing library boards from hiring MBAs or experienced managers for what is basically a CEO or COO position.

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