Downtown Public Library building Credit: Nashville Scene File Photo

The Nashville Public Library Board concluded its search for a new executive director without selecting one, dismissing the four candidates who were finalists. 

The NPL system, which includes more than 20 branches in addition to the main location downtown, has been without an executive director since July 2022. During that time, a multi-month search followed a year-long procurement process, resulting in a pool of four candidates who then went through an interview process at the end of October. Board members expressed concern that the bloated search process might have left NPL without the best possible candidates for the job, going so far as to point at interim director Terri Luke as a potential hire rather than any of the four candidates who had gone through the hiring process. On Thursday, despite some backlash over comments from their last meeting, the Board dismissed the four candidates, maintaining Luke as interim director. 

“It appeared in our conversation last time, when we got off track and didn’t do it exactly the way we should have done it, and it appears in our comments today and it appears in our votes today that there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming feeling of support among all of us, for any individual candidate,” said Board member Katy Varney.

The motion to dismiss the candidates passed 3-2, with Chair Joyce Searcy joining Varney and Kate Ezell in the majority. Keith Simmons recused himself from the process at the beginning of the meeting after two people expressed concerns during the public comment period over statements he made during the last Board meeting. 

During the Board’s meeting on Oct. 31, Simmons brought up implicit bias as something that might influence the Board’s decision-making. He argued that none of the candidates stuck out to the board and that any preference he or other Board members had could come down to implicit bias. But during the public comment period on Tuesday, some seemed to have interpreted his statement as him saying he wanted “someone who looked like him” to run the library system. He recused himself so as not to “taint” the process.

Lisa Bubert, union steward for NPL staff, also spoke during this period on behalf of the unionized staff. She explained that while library staff have favorable opinions of Luke, they are frustrated with how the selection process has unfolded. 

“Our opinion of Terry as a kind, capable and generous leader has not changed,” said Bubert. “But I am not exaggerating when I say that staff feel robbed of the chance to lend their voice in this process now.”

During the search, library staff rated the candidates following presentations that each gave. The results of those surveys were considered by Board members when deliberating about the four candidates, but because Luke did not go through the hiring process, her name was not a part of that survey. 

The highest-scoring candidate in those surveys received a 3.38/5, which the Board considered when discussing the idea that the crop of candidates could have been better. The lowest-scoring candidate was NPL Assistant Director Linda Harrison, the one internal candidate in the group, who received a 2.3/5.

Karen Miller, president of the search firm selected to conduct the process, also expressed concern about dismissing the four candidates. She argued that doing so would mean launching another multi-month search, and that they might not get any better candidates after another go around. 

“It is a decision of this Board, and I don’t think you can define what starting over means for us,” Varney responded. “There are a number of Metro department heads who are interim. That is not an unusual thing. It does not have a time limit in this city.”

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