The new director of the Watertown Library impressed the Board of Trustees with her knowledge of libraries, her experience dealing with difficult situations, and her vision for the library.
Thursday night, the Board of Library Trustees voted unanimously to appoint Kim Hewitt as the next Director of the Watertown Free Public Library. The vote came two days after the board interviewed Hewitt, who is currently the director of the Needham Free Public Library, and the other finalist, Dan Brower, Library Director of the Cass County Public Library in Missouri.
All the trustees said the two candidates were very well qualified, but Hewitt stood out with her experience dealing with a range of challenges that face public libraries these days.
“What we need in Watertown, our strengths and our challenges, I think Kim is the perfect match for us,” said Trustee Maja Young. “I think her time in Waltham working the circulation department, is the perfect experience — working with all of the big ‘fires,’ the big things: drug overdoses, traumatic events, and violence. I think she’s been there, she’s seen it, she knows what to expect. She is not going to be surprised by anything.”
Trustee Sara Keary said Hewitt’s commitment to the safety of her staff was a big factor.
“What came down to the deciding factor for me was the straightforward, direct, non-negotiable stance on where she stood regarding her or her staff’s safety when they may be at risk,” Keary said.
She added that she liked the way that Hewitt said she would handle situations when a patron creates an unsafe situation or becomes disrespectful to a staff member.
“I was struck by her fierce advocacy for access and opportunities for all, but is also unwilling to sweep distressing or traumatic incidents under the rug, and is willing to support staff both individually and on a larger institutional level” Keary said.
Trustee Teddy Kokoros said he liked both candidates, and said any library would be lucky to have Brower as their director, but his selection was Hewitt.
“I think somebody called her a superstar. I think that came across in everything she is doing,” Kokoros said. “Her life experience and how she connected them to the library as the great equalizer … I think that lets her fully understand the importance of this library. And especially with her experience in Waltham, Newton and Needham that she understands this community.”
Kokoros also noted that Hewitt is the president of the Massachusetts Library Association.
“That makes me realize it is not just my bias, but other people who are experts in libraries see her as a leader in the field,” he said.
Trustee Sheppard Ferguson said he thinks that Hewitt has good political skills, and he liked her ideas about bringing more out of the library.
“The other thing that really impressed me about her was the idea that she wanted to get out of the library,” Ferguson said. “She said she wanted to get out of the library and she wanted the library to get out of itself into the town and that’s a change, and that’s an important change, for me.”
The Trustees asked both candidates about how they would handle a situation where an employee didn’t want to buy something for the library because it was controversial. Hewitt’s answer impressed Trustee Rose Mary Su.
“I thought that if I were working at the library that Kim should be my boss, and I would be more convinced and would feel more respected working for her,” Su said
In addition, Su noted that Hewitt handled a library feasibility study when she was in Needham, and her experience with local architects and how the process works in Massachusetts will be helpful as Watertown embarks on a similar study.
Leanne Hammonds, chair of the Trustees, said she was impressed by both candidates, and said that she really liked the innovative programming that Brower had come up with in Missouri, but she also leaned toward Hewitt.
“It’s been really great to get to know these two candidates, and I think we’re going to be in good hands with Kim,” Hammonds said.
Hewitt comes in after Library Director Caitlin Browne left the position after about a year for personal reasons. She succeeded Leone Cole, who was the library director for 27 years. In Needham, Hewitt faced a similar situation and took some bold steps.
“She came into Needham after a director who had been there for 30 years, and had been serving the library for 60 years,” Hammonds said. “For someone to walk in there and suggest a diversity study and a space study — that’s huge. She gained the respect of the staff and everybody had glowing remarks about both candidates.”
The Trustees voted 6-0 to appoint Hewitt the new library director, subject to contract negotiations.