Downtown Public Library building Credit: Nashville Scene File Photo

After a long and convoluted process, four candidates for executive director of the Nashville Public Library System may be rejected in lieu of interim director Terri Luke.

Former director Kent Oliver notified the board of his departure 18 months ago and since then, the system and board have endured a year-long procurement process for a search firm, a multi-month search resulting in the selection of four finalist candidates, and a weeklong interview process culminating in two days of public interviews. On Tuesday afternoon, at the conclusion, the board voted to suspend the search until their next board meeting, and will explore hiring Luke permanently. 

“You know what I heard today?” board member Charvis Rand asked the room. “I didn’t hear anyone say ‘that’s my person.’ Not one person said that. You know what else I heard today? ‘Terri.’ A wise person once told me, ‘don’t make simple complicated.’”

Throughout the meeting, some board members expressed concern that a bloated search process might have left NPL without the best possible candidates to fill the executive director position. And while members of the board were pleased with the candidates, they ultimately expressed that Luke seemed like the best option. 

“There’s pluses and minuses to all this stuff, but I don’t feel like Terri is a risky decision,” said board member Keith Simmons. “I feel like all these people could be good, but I actually think Terri is better.”

The meeting concluded with the board asking chair Joyce Searcy to work with Metro Human Relations to explore the next step in the process. While the board indicated that they would like Terri Luke to be the Executive Director, due to diversity and equity requirements, they are required to go through HR and make sure that an equitable hiring process is conducted. No job was offered to Luke on Tuesday. The board did talk to Luke, who was at the meeting, to make sure she actually wanted the job.

“I didn’t apply because I turned 66 in April,” said Luke. “I love this library… I do feel like I want a new director to come in. And I want them to be able to stay 10 years or 15 years so that then they can build on what we have and make us better. So that’s why I didn’t apply.” 

Luke explained that despite this, she would love to do the job, even going so far as to say that she is so passionate about the job that it hardly feels like work. And although she would only stay for four to five years, the board indicated that that might be what the library system needs right now. 

“This process might have made the majority of this board realize that what they had was great,” said Rand. “I think that’s why you’re hearing this now.”

Because Metro has to go through a whole new hiring process with Luke, there is still potential that they could decide she is not the right fit and go back to the other four candidates. Karen Miller, president of the search firm, warned the board that this decision could potentially cause the four candidates to decide to pull their names from contention. 

“What you’re talking about is dispensing the entire process that you have enacted and hiring someone that there was no input on. There was no actual documentation from. I’m just saying I think you need to think about these things.” said Miller.

But while the board agreed that they needed to be careful and ensure the hiring process is equitable, they remained firm in their decision.

“I think the board has [thought about it] to be honest with you” said Rand.

Connor Daryani is a staff reporter. He has previously freelanced for the Nashville Scene and the Nashville Post covering the state legislature and Metro.