LENOX — Just in time for Thanksgiving, the former executive director of the Lenox Library, Sharon Hawkes, has landed a new position as director of the historic, town-owned Nahant Public Library on the North Shore.
The state's third oldest public library, founded in 1819, serves the community of 3,500 residents on an island reached by a causeway. The town, 14 miles northeast of Boston and located near Lynn, was settled in 1630.
According to Christine Stevens, who chairs the library's three-member board of trustees, the position first advertised on Sept. 1 attracted at least 15 applicants from far and wide, including one from Israel and from the Caribbean.
Nine semifinalists were interviewed before the search was narrowed down to two finalists.
Stevens said Hawkes, who will be a municipal department head, won the position through "her passion; she's very excited about the job and brings a lot of enthusiasm. She clearly understands the science of how libraries work, including the municipal side."
The trustees were especially impressed by a photo album of library programs Hawkes brought to her interview. "We loved that she was able to show us some of the things she had done," Stevens said.
"I'm thrilled to begin the next chapter of my life," Hawkes said in a telephone interview from Nahant, where she was about to sign a lease for an apartment.
After nearly five years at the Lenox library, where she was widely credited for increasing patronage, expanding programming and forging close ties with patrons and with the community, Hawkes was terminated by a unanimous vote of the 15-member board of trustees. Her departure was announced without explanation in a library Facebook posting on Oct. 14.
Many library patrons and others in town said they were bewildered by the turn of events, especially since Hawkes had garnered lavish praise from Town Hall leaders following her monthly updates to the Select Board.
"I'm grateful for the many members of the Lenox community who were so supportive of my time at the library," Hawkes said. "It's an amazing building, with a dedicated staff and volunteers. I've made many friends in Lenox and I will miss them all."
She described the outpouring of support from the community as "remarkable ... Many, many people tracked me down to offer comfort, and they didn't have to do that."
She voiced confidence that the town will make its "needs and desires" known so that the library will continue to be embedded in the Lenox community.
Following the trustees' vote, Hawkes was placed on a monthlong administrative leave that expired in early November. She is engaged in ongoing negotiations with the board in connection with the terms of her departure.
"I want to be in a community where I can make a positive impact," said Hawkes. She depicted Nahant as "a small town, very intimately connected, very much engaged as a community. I'm looking forward to serving it."
Unlike the Lenox Library, whose building is owned by the town but is operated by a private association, the Nahant Library is a municipal department.
"We have a really beautiful building on the National Registry of Historic Places," said Stevens. "We needed someone not only to care for the collection but also the building."
Hawkes, who told The Eagle she expects to begin her new job early next month, is being asked as a top priority to rebuild the library's collection, Stevens said. A previous director had whittled down portions of the collection beyond expectations, she said.
Expansion of programming and patronage are also on the priority list, she said. The library has built a program for teens, "and we're hoping Sharon can build on that," Stevens said.
"There's always going to be a place for libraries," she said, "where people seek knowledge whether they get it from books or electronically."
Hawkes, who is signing a one-year contract with a three-year extension, described Nahant as "a lovely community whose residents are very affectionate toward the library. We'll work together to increase usage and make sure the library is responding to local needs and interests."
"Every library is different," she said, "but they need to be responsive to the local community. The board and I will be discussing very soon what immediate actions will be taken and then look at longer-term strategic planning for the building and for programming. I look forward to continuing those conversations to determine how the library will position itself."
In its posting for the full-time position, the Nahant library board advertised a negotiable salary range of $61,300 to $70,040, "with excellent benefits." According to the Lenox Library Association's latest available IRS filing, Hawkes was paid $48,972.
Requirements sought by the Nahant trustees included "experience leading staff ... knowledge of the budgetary process" and "proven ability to develop and maintain effective working relationships with staff, the trustees and community partners."
The trustees also called for "excellent public relations and interpersonal communication skills."