One interview

Mayor says she didn’t meet with other library director candidates

The woman who likely will become the next director of Springfield’s public library is a longtime employee of the Illinois State Library and worked at Lincoln Library for 16 years at the beginning of her career.

click to enlarge One interview
Photo courtesy of Gwendolyn Harrison
Gwendolyn Harrison is Mayor Misty Buscher's top choice to become director of Lincoln Library.
Gwendolyn Harrison of Springfield was Mayor Misty Buscher’s top choice among candidates to replace Summer Beck-Griffith, an appointee of the previous mayor whom Buscher fired shortly after taking office.

Beck-Griffith was appointed by former Mayor Jim Langfelder, who was defeated by Buscher in the April election, after Langfelder fired former library director Rochelle Hartman in January 2022.

When asked why she terminated Beck-Griffith, Buscher said she kept only a few of Langfelder's department directors and picked new directors based on "who I thought would fit ... my personality, my views, my goals (and) my initiatives."

The mayor wouldn't say whether Beck-Griffith, whom she didn't talk with before firing, wasn't a good fit. "I just wanted to set up my own team," Buscher said.

Buscher told the news media after the Sept. 5 Springfield City Council meeting that Harrison “stood out amongst all of them” because of her experience and her previous work for Lincoln Library.

“The other applicants had not worked for a library as large as ours,” Buscher said.

Harrison, 61, who couldn’t be reached for comment, could start as early as Oct. 2, the mayor said. Harrison would become the library’s first African American permanent director.

The beginning of Harrison’s tenure would overlap for a week with the end of interim library director Kathryn Harris’ term to allow for a smooth transition, Buscher said.

If approved by the City Council at its Sept. 19 meeting, Harrison would be paid $115,000 annually. Beck-Griffith’s salary was about $96,000. Buscher said Harrison deserves to be paid more than Beck-Griffith because of Harrison’s master’s degree in library science.

Beck-Griffith was the city’s first library director without a library degree, though she told Illinois Times after her appointment that it’s not uncommon for big-city libraries to have a director without one. Beck-Griffth had bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications, both from University of Illinois Springfield.

The library, 326 S. Seventh St., a wing of city government, operates with a staff of about 40 employees and a $5 million annual budget.

According to a copy of Harrison’s resume provided by Buscher’s office, Harrison has been a library program specialist at the Illinois State Library since 2005, a reference librarian there from 2000 to 2005, and chief librarian for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services from 1999 to 2000.

She is being paid $96,000 per year in her job at the state library, which is part of the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office and serves library systems throughout Illinois as well as state agencies.

Harrison was a library assistant at Lincoln Library from 1983 to 1999, managing the library’s now-closed Southeast Branch.

She completed her master’s degree in library and information science in 1997 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She earned a bachelor’s degree in library science in 1984 from Illinois State University.

Harrison has been active in the Illinois Library Association and the Illinois Association of Minorities in Government. She was lead plaintiff in a 2014 lawsuit filed by members and retirees from several unions in state government that resulted in the Illinois Supreme Court striking down the landmark 2013 state pension reform law as unconstitutional.

Buscher said there were five applicants for the director’s job, and one of the applicants later withdrew from the process. The mayor didn’t reveal the other applicants’ identities.

Based on Harris’ recommendation, Harrison was the only person who was interviewed for the position, Buscher said.

“I do not interview people I have no intention of hiring,” Buscher said. “I think it’s disrespectful to spend someone’s time and give them false hope.”

Harris, former division manager of library services at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, was acquainted with Harrison, the mayor said.

Harris told Illinois Times she has known Harrison personally and professionally for years. Harris said the fact that Harrison is a Springfield native, her contacts with other library professionals in the area and statewide, and her familiarity with Lincoln Library made her stand out.

“I am very confident that she will be a good director for the public library,” Harris said.

Buscher said she allowed the Lincoln Library Board of Trustees, an unpaid advisory panel appointed by the mayor, to interview Harrison. Buscher said she didn’t know whether the board agreed with her hiring decision.

The board members wanted to look at the other candidates’ resumes and interview them, the mayor said, but she didn’t grant that request.

“I find it disrespectful for a professional to be interviewed by a nonpaid board when the person hiring them isn’t going to interview them,” Buscher said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

The library board complained in a July 18 statement to the council about the trend of first Langfelder, and then Buscher, ignoring the board’s bylaws and city code, both of which call for the board to be involved in interviews, hirings and firings of directors.

“The position of library director should not be a political one,” the statement said.

The library board issued another statement, this one dated Sept. 6, after Buscher’s preference for Harrison was announced and after the board had interviewed Harrison. The statement said Harrison is qualified for the position but that the board “is not in a position either to recommend that she be hired over the other candidates or to recommend that she not be hired.”

The Sept. 6 statement said Harris, the interim director, “believes that Ms. Harrison would be a successful executive director” but “the board was not given the chance to interview any other candidates.”

The board, made up mostly of Langfelder appointees, said Buscher may be correct “in her conclusion that Ms. Harrison was the most qualified applicant; however, the board did not have the information to reach that conclusion.”

Buscher said Harrison didn’t need any assurance of job security amid the recent turnover in the director position. “She was very excited to do it,” Buscher said.

The mayor said she is looking forward to the arrival of a $400,000 bookmobile that has been ordered for Lincoln Library. Expanding the library’s services to Springfield’s neighborhoods and District 186 schools and private schools are all top priorities, Buscher said.

The library’s branch libraries closed in 2005 and 2010.

About The Author

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
[email protected], 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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