Finalists to lead library meet public

District board hopes to appoint new executive director this month

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Three people interested in leading the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District into its next phase are getting a chance to introduce themselves this week.

The finalists who have emerged after a national search are: Nicolle Davies, deputy director of the Arapahoe Library District in Englewood, Colo.; Jody Risacher, director of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center in Fayetteville, N.C.; and Nancy Tessman, former director of the Salt Lake City Public Library.

The library district's board of trustees are looking for an executive director to replace Bruce Ziegman, who retired in October. During Ziegman's 11-year tenure, the district was able to wrap up its building phase, said Bill Yee, chairman of the board of trustees.

"Bruce took us through our expansion, with three new libraries in Vancouver, Cascade Park and Battle Ground," Yee said Friday. His successor will focus on new service models and technological resources.

In a public meet-and-greet event Friday morning at the new Vancouver branch, the three finalists told library staffers and community members why they applied.

Tessman, former director of the Salt Lake City Public Library, said she is ready to get back to work after what she called a "super-sabbatical." In 2007, her career hit the 30-year mark and she decided to take a break.

Tessman did some consulting. But after spending hours on the Web, looking at different library systems' strategic plans, she realized: "Maybe I really ought to get back in the game," Tessman said.

Davies, deputy director of the Arapahoe Library District in Colorado, said she was impressed by Southwest Washington -- the place as well as its people.

"It's absolutely gorgeous," Davies said. "And I can't say I've ever seen a community that loves its library the way this community loves its library."

Davies added that the library district "has lots of good stuff to work with," and said she sees untapped potential.

As executive director, Davies would get to lead it during what she called "the most exciting time" for public libraries, with the next five to 10 years crucial to their survival.

Davies said a key part of her job would be getting out into the community and building relationships.

Risacher has been director of North Carolina's fifth-largest library system since 2008.

Risacher said she likes the Northwest, and described the Fort Vancouver library district as "a robust system, without a doubt." Risacher said she would bring good organizational skills to the position.

The library district hosted similar meet-and-greet events Thursday in Battle Ground and White Salmon. Tessman, Davis and Risacher also were scheduled to visit seven of the district's library branches.

Operations Director Patty Duitman has been interim executive director since Ziegman's retirement.

Library officials would like to make the appointment by the end of the month.

The board scheduled three executive sessions Friday and this morning to interview the finalists.

The opening drew 21 applicants.

"Cutting from 21 to eight was fairly easy," trustee Jane Higgins said. "Cutting from eight to three was hard."

The job posting did not specify a salary, Yee said. Compensation was described as competitive for a system of this size, Yee said. Ziegman had a base salary of about $131,000.

The executive director will manage a system with an annual budget of about $24 million and about 200 employees.

The finalists' individual statement documents are available as links at http://fvrl.org in the "featured events" listing.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.