Howard Named Next Director Of TADL
By Beth Milligan | June 7, 2019
A Traverse City commissioner will soon assume another high-profile community position – serving as the next director of Traverse Area District Library (TADL).
TADL board trustees unanimously selected Michele Howard to be the library’s next leader at a special meeting Wednesday. Howard, who has served for the past year-and-a-half as a reference librarian and adult services coordinator for TADL, was one of three finalists invited to in-person interviews for the director position out of 11 total applicants. The other finalists included Allegan District Library Director Ryan Deery and Willard Library Director Leah Dodd of Battle Creek.
TADL Board Chair Caroline Gersch says all three candidates were “very highly qualified,” but that through the interview process, trustees reached a “clear consensus that (Howard) was the best fit. She has the best understanding of the culture that exists at the library, and also in the greater Traverse City community. She brought an intense positive energy that’s contagious, and appears to have a real vision for what the library can do as we move forward.” Even though Howard doesn’t have past directorship experience – as Deery and Dodd do – Gersch says Howard has “the tools and capacity and insight to grow into the role and do a fantastic job.”
Board Treasurer Jason Gillman agrees, adding that the support of library staff for Howard’s hiring also influenced the board’s decision. “While recognizing the on-paper qualifications of the Allegan and Battle Creek library directors may have been at a higher level, it was clear that the board of trustees saw an opportunity to work with a new director choice who is absolutely grounded and well-respected within the community we serve,” Gillman wrote in an email.
Howard will take over the position from Gail Parsons Juett, who is retiring at the end of September. Parsons Juett, who has overseen Howard at TADL, is enthusiastic about her successor. She says even before Howard came to work at the library, Parsons Juett saw her in action as a city commissioner and was impressed. “She has such a gentle way of dealing with issues that could be controversial or touchy,” Parsons Juett says. “It totally disarms people. It doesn’t mean she’s a pushover, because she isn’t at all. But she’s very fair, she’s a got a very funny personality and is great to work with, and her level of common sense is high. She will be a great benefit to the library going forward.”
As soon as Howard finalizes a contract with the TADL board, Howard and Parsons Juett will begin working together on transitioning roles. Howard is expected to start shadowing Parsons Juett in August before officially taking the helm as director October 1. Howard, who has 25 years of experience as a librarian – including 12 years at the Northwestern Michigan College library – says she applied for the TADL director role because of the opportunity to “create a vision and carry it out with all the wonderful staff we have here.”
“I think it’s time for TADL to talk to our community, to talk to our board and patrons, and make a plan for what we’re going to do in one, five, and ten years,” she says. “Some of our biggest challenges are our infrastructure…our building is getting older, we have branch libraries like East Bay that are packed. I’d like to look at our spaces and how we can improve those.” Howard says she also hopes to explore ways to boost TADL’s technology resources, including applying for technology grants and working with local STEM programs and tech nonprofits like Newton’s Road.
As for Howard’s other job, she doesn’t see any conflicts – timing or otherwise – between serving as both city commissioner and director of TADL. “There are no additional conflicts than what I already have being a library employee,” she says. “I’ve recused myself from votes (involving TADL) before, and I would continue to do that. I think my role as a library director makes me that much more in touch with the community, to be a better city commissioner. I think it’s a really nice marriage, actually.”
In other library news….
Peninsula Community Library is less than two months away from a targeted grand opening celebration the first week of August in its new $2.5 million, 5,694 square-foot facility at the corner of Island View and Center roads. While the library board initially hoped to open by end of June, director Vicki Shurly says the long winter pushed back the construction schedule. “Our expected completion date is the end of July,” she says. “There is finish work going on now, the siding is going up, the masonry on the fireplace is being done, drywall is going up.”
The library has already surpassed its fundraising goal for the project, though donations are still being accepted to support operations. Shurly says Peninsula Community Library will close its existing location in the Old Mission Peninsula School on June 29 and remain closed for the following month as employees complete final preparations to open in the new space.
Glen Lake Library is also in the midst of a major transition. Staff closed the library’s doors on Front Street in Empire in April and moved into a temporary locale for the next year – affectionately called the “Limebrary” for the new building’s bright color – in the former Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate building on M-22. The move will accommodate a $1.75 million expansion of the Front Street property that will increase the library’s size from 3,400 square feet to nearly 6,000 square feet, double the children’s area, add a community room that can accommodate up to 50 people, and increase seating, technology, study areas, and collections storage. A groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion project was held on May 4.
Library Director David Diller says approximately one-third of Glen Lake Library’s collection is on offer at the temporary Limebrary, with the rest in storage and additional materials available through interlibrary loan service. “The biggest limitation is we just don’t have much space within the building for people to come and spend time inside,” he says. “There’s limited seating. But we will still have summer activities, and if the weather allows, we’ll sit outside.”
The group has successfully raised the necessary funds for the capital project – though like Peninsula Community Library, it continues to fundraise for operations – and plans to be open in the renovated Front Street facility before summer 2020. “In broad terms, we hope to move in next spring,” says Dillard. “Whether that’s March or May, we don’t know yet.”