Seattle libraries select new chief librarian following remote work controversy

Mar 2, 2022, 1:22 PM

chief librarian...

Seattle Public Library-Central Library (Credit Jessica Opalinski via Flickr)

(Credit Jessica Opalinski via Flickr)

The Seattle Public Library’s board of trustees unanimously appointed Tom Fay the chief librarian of the library system on Wednesday afternoon.

“I am honored and humbled to be selected as Seattle’s next Chief Librarian,” wrote Fay in a news release, upon accepting the position. “The Seattle Public Library is a beacon of learning, connection, opportunity and inspiration for our city. Its foundation of strength and excellence is due to the commitment of our public and our staff. I look forward to learning from the many communities we serve to help shape the future of the Library.”

Tom Fay is the current interim chief librarian. His appointment follows the 2021 departure of Marcellus Turner, who formerly held the position for 10 years.

Fay joined the SPL in 2015 as the director of programs and was appointed by the board to serve as interim chief last year.

The selection process for chief librarian was narrowed down to two candidates in January. The other, Chad Helton, served as the library director of Hennepin County, Minnesota.

Seattle chief librarian race takes a surprise twist with remote work dispute

Hennepin County announced that Helton had resigned from the position in February, following a settlement agreement that he reached with the county. Minnesota’s Star Tribune reports that the settlement was for a $60,000 sum for “emotional damages” suffered by Helton.

That information was not disclosed to the board of trustees during a lengthy interview process with the board on Feb. 10.

In that interview, Helton addressed Hennepin County’s residency policy which now explicitly states that county supervisors must live in Minnesota where they work, following Helton’s decision to serve as library director from his home in Los Angeles.

“I applied for the ability to work out of state on a permanent basis, and that was approved,” Helton told the board Feb. 10. “And I moved back to California. … Staff wasn’t really aware. And that was not communicated greatly. But I’ve never really been in a position where I had to tell people where I live. So I didn’t think it was something that was necessary.”

With Fay’s appointment, he will steward the libraries’ 650 employees. The chief librarian also holds a cabinet position with the mayor’s office.

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Seattle libraries select new chief librarian following remote work controversy