John Palfrey to Join Presidential Search Committee of Boston Public Library

Boston’s Mayor, Martin J. Walsh, appointed Head of School John Palfrey as the head of the Boston Public Library’s presidential search committee last Wednesday. “It’s a huge honor, and it’s one of the most important cultural institutions in the country. I feel like this is a way I could do ‘Non Sibi’ service while doing good at my day job. It’s time-limited, and I am not signing up for a new job; I am just helping to run the process,” said Palfrey in an interview with The Phillipian.

As the chair of the search committee, Palfrey will be leading his team to narrow down the possible candidates, before presenting the finalists to the mayor. The committee will be looking for a replacement for the previous president, Amy E. Ryan, who, according to the “Boston Globe,” resigned in July following controversy surrounding the disappearance of two expensive pieces of art.

According to Palfrey, the committee is looking for a president who will be a good manager and keeper of the library’s special collections, take advantage of the digital transformation and recognize the library’s broad spectrum of needs.

“One of the challenges of running a big institution clearly at this time when the technology and other factors are changing so quickly is to find somebody who has a broad range of skills. But fundamentally, we need somebody who is a very good manager. We need somebody who is able to build and nurture a team of people who will carry out that work day to day effectively. So that’s actually a big part of it, to say, ‘Do you have the skills to manage a diverse set of activities?’” said Palfrey.

In addition, Palfrey, having lived around Boston for most of his life, accounts spending a lot of time in the Boston Public Library during his childhood. Although Palfrey does not have any official experience working in the Boston Public Library, he previously served as the director of the Widener Library at Harvard University and was a member of the library board, supervising the 73 libraries at the University.

Additionally, Palfrey is the founding member of the Digital Public Library, a project looking to create an extensive, public digital library. He also wrote BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google, which he wrote while serving on the board of Harvard’s library.