The Columbus Public Library Board of Directors recently named Karen Connell its new library director officially. It brings to an end the search for the successor of Laura Whitehead, who vacated the role earlier this year.

Connell, who has worked at Columbus Public Library since 2012 as a reference librarian, served in the interim director position on three separate occasions before her Wednesday, April 3, hiring. Leading up to the 2014 hiring of Drew Brookhart, she filled the shoes. And following his departure to Colorado prior to Whitehead’s arrival in December 2017, she manned the helm as director for a few months.

In early February, following Whitehead’s departure, the veteran staff member was once again called to lead while its next leader was found. Ironically, leading up to last week’s official hiring, numerous patrons had already started congratulating her for taking over the new position, she said.

So she politely informed them that it wasn’t her position yet, but remained optimistic. She interviewed for the position on Monday, April 1, and learned two days later that the decision was a unanimous no-brainer.

She received the call from Columbus City Administrator Tara Vasicek informing her that the library director position was hers. Connell, who was posted up at the reference librarian desk, said she barely heard what Vasicek said because she was also being engaged by facility patrons.

“I don’t know everything that she said,” Connell said of the conversation, with a laugh. “Obviously there was this silence, and she was like, ‘Unless you changed your mind,’ and I was like ‘no, no, no.’

Vasicek wasn’t the only one likely happy with Connell’s decision to accept the role. Library Board member Stephanie Miller said that it didn’t take long at all for the Library’s governing body to land on Connell as its person.

Three people were interviewed, Miller said, and that was that.

“After the interviews we debriefed, discussed and evaluated,” Miller said. “And we all thought that she was the right person. So we felt like we didn’t need to have another wave of interviews just for the sake of doing it …

“I think one of the major factors is that she is a proven entity, and we were always impressed with the work she did in the interim role. She seems to have the respect of all of her staff and she is so invested in the community. She wants to be here and involved here.”

With Connell taking over her new position comes additional change. Former young adult librarian Rachelle McPhillips is taking over Connell’s former position, which is leaving a vacancy on the young adult librarian front that will need filling in the near future.

Although she has served in the interim director capacity several times, she only applied to fill the vacancy once before – when Brookhart resigned and headed to Colorado. It was difficult not receiving the position at the time, but she said she is now more equipped to handle everything that will be required of her moving forward.

It was also perhaps a blessing in disguise, she said, noting that this past year her husband, Will, got a business venture off of the ground which, in conjunction with her getting hired then, could have been problematic.

“All of last year he was just so busy with work that I barely saw him,” Connell said. “So if I was doing the director job at that time we just would have never seen each other, which would obviously be pretty disappointing.”

One of the major things on Connell’s mind now, in addition to settling into her new office, is continuing the process of pushing for a new bond order that would allow the library to relocate into a more suitable facility.

In May 2016, residents at the polls by nearly a 2-to-1 vote expressed their desire to extend a local half-cent sales tax to pay for the library/cultural arts center and proposed improvements to the police and fire departments.

A $16 million bond issue for the fire and police department projects passed with ease in May 2018, but prior to that, the library project was halted in its tracks. In April 2017, residents voted 1,763 to 1,514 against issuing up to $8.5 million in bonds to design, furnish and build the roughly 45,000-square-foot library facility along 14th Street between 23rd and 24th avenues – now the construction site of the new CPD facility.

For the new director, it’s all about continuing to offer the community the best resources she can in the best possible setting.

“I’m really excited to do this, and give the community something that they can be really proud of,” Connell said. “Obviously not everyone can get everything they want with a new building, but I just want something that everyone in town can say, ‘that’s our library,’ and have something in it for everyone.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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