Becoming the chief executive officer of the Tulsa City-County Library was not something Laurie Sundborg said she dreamed of as a little girl.
But after two decades of working within the local library system she finds herself in, if not a dream situation, an "ideal" position in her career. As interim chief--named when the Library Commission voted to install her in that job last month--her job is clear. Sundborg takes over for longtime director Linda Saferite, who has been on medical leave and will retire from the library in March 2010.
Sundborg inherits the job during a particularly tumultuous time, with the commission having run afoul of the state's open meetings law earlier this summer and employee morale reportedly flagging. Those might seem like less-than-ideal circumstances for Sundborg to begin her new assignment, but she doesn't see it that way.
"I think they are ideal circumstances in that I'm a 20-year employee of the library, and I've been through the different steps within the system. I'm a person who cares very much about the staff and their well-being and happiness. It's been tremendous to come up through that process of working with people across that system."
Sundborg said she is undecided about whether she will seek the position on a permanent basis.
"Actually, I've been so busy, that's not something I've thought about much," she said.
But she has some time to make up her mind. Sundborg said the commission is only now in the process of interviewing search firms and likely will make a decision about which one to hire within the next couple of weeks. Once a firm has been hired, the search for a new CEO will begin, and Sundborg will decide whether she wishes to be considered a candidate for the job.
In the meantime, she has her hands full. She was named deputy director a year ago and chief operating officer in June. Two months later, she became the interim CEO and has been performing her old duties, as well as her new ones, ever since. One of the main items on her agenda has been addressing employee morale, which some employees have complained suffered under Saferite.
"I would like to position the library to work on the staff morale issue and do what we need to do to be ready for the new leader," she said, adding that maintaining momentum and continuing the library's standard of customer service are also on her list.
Sundborg said she thinks any organization of the library's size--it has 400 full- and part-time employees--is likely to have staff members who are unhappy, although she emphasized she was not downplaying the level of that dissatisfaction.
"We're not trying to ignore what the staff has told us are areas we need to improve," she said. "But I think the majority of our staff is excited and committed and proud of the work they do. I think this is an excellent chance for us to address areas we need to address."
Sundborg said the library has come a long way over the last decade in terms of staff compensation, benefits and training--"All those things that contribute to a well-rounded staff with good morale," she said.
Sundborg declined to speculate about the cause of the employee unrest or the timing of it.
"I think you would have to ask the people who say their morale is low," she said. "Over the span of a career or a lifetime of work, there are going to be periods when people are happy or less happy with the direction things are taking. Morale is a variable kind of thing."
Another item on Sundborg's to-do list is managing the move of the library's collections, technical and facilities departments from the main downtown branch to a new building on Lansing Avenue. That move will take place sometime in December, she said, opening up a good deal of new space on the first floor of the downtown location.
"Now we need to decide how we're going to use that space," she said.
The distractions of that planned move and the tumult over Saferite's departure have not stopped the library from accomplishing its mission, Sundborg said.
"We still have been doing the work we need to do," she said. "We are pulling together as a staff, and our leadership team is focused on building on the success of the past."
Sundborg noted with pride that the library earned a five-star rating earlier this year from the nationally circulated Library Journal, a designation that places it in the top 20 in the country for a public library of its budget size, she said. Ratings were based on such per-capita service indicators as visits, circulation, program attendance and public Internet computer users. The highest-scoring libraries were rated according to a five-star, four-star and three-star system.
She said the library has enjoyed a number of successes lately, pointing to the 47,500 children who participated in the summer reading program--a record number--and the 5.2 million materials that were circulated, which also eclipsed the previous mark.
Sundborg cited all that as evidence that the leadership change and the open meetings flap have not had much of an effect on day-to-day operations.
"We have kept on all summer doing normal things," she said. "I'm not sure we ever lost our sense of normalcy. There have been hiccups, but we've made great strides."
Another change coming the library's way is its possible move to a new downtown location in the coming years. Sundborg said the library's current downtown branch has been a good home, but it has the kind of issues one might expect from a building that is 40 or 45 years old. Particularly challenging, she said, has been the process of building server rooms, maintaining appropriate environmental controls and meeting the dramatically higher electrical needs that are required to support the library's computer network.
Sundborg said the Library Commission's long-range planning committee is exploring the possibility of acquiring new downtown property for a potential move, but she said no decision has been made about when or if that move will take place.
"I think it's a little bit premature," she said. "We're still evaluating and talking about what the best solutions are."
For the time being, Sundborg said the library will work with the resources it has.
"I think everybody on the staff is committed to moving forward and making the organization the best organization it can be, as it has been in the past," she said. "We're all really proud of our contribution to the quality of life for the county and the work we do."
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