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Library Director Heidi Daniel Reviews All She Achieved

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It wasn’t that Heidi Daniel, in her fifth year as executive director of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County, was looking for a new job.

Daniel and her family had bought a house in Canfield less than two years ago. Her two young children were in school and getting involved in local activities. And earlier this year she was joining new boards and committees, adding to her already busy schedule.

So when the top position opened at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Daniel expected nothing would result if she applied, she says.

But she knew she would always wonder if she didn’t.

“I wasn’t looking to be leaving at this point,” she says. “The previous CEO of the Enoch Pratt Library left to become the librarian of Congress.” Throughout her library career, the Pratt “stood out as a gem in the library system,” Daniel continues.

Daniel’s initiative – a quality that library patrons and the Mahoning Valley community are well acquainted with – paid off. She starts Aug. 1 as president and CEO of Pratt.

“When the opening came about, I applied, not really expecting it to go anywhere, but it did,” she says. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t turn down.”

Daniel was the Pratt board’s first choice for the job from among the dozens of candidates whom Meghan McCorkell, Pratt’s director of communications, says applied for the post. Her “energy and enthusiasm immediately stood out,” McCorkell says.

“She is a proven leader who has taken creative steps to provide access to library customers, including circulating mobile Wi-Fi hotspots and creating a Pop-Up Library. She also has overseen multiple construction projects,” she continues.

The Youngstown-Mahoning County library system served as a proving ground.

Daniel’s career path began with her parents, who imbued her at an early age with an appreciation of libraries. Neither parent had a college education but they wanted their daughter to have one. They thought the best thing they could do was to instill a love of reading.

“It was a great place because I could go there and I could have anything I wanted. Nothing was too expensive. Nothing was out of the realm of possibility for us,” Daniel recalls. “It taught me all about the world beyond my little four corners. It really was how I just grew and developed as a person.”

After receiving her baccalaureate in women’s studies at DePaul University, she began working at a library, where she discovered she enjoyed doing programming and children’s services. “I had a great boss at the time who encouraged me to use my creativity and think outside the box,” Daniel says. That same employer encouraged her to consider getting her master’s degree in library science, which she earned at Texas Woman’s University in Dallas.

She rose through the ranks of the Houston Public Library, where she managed 16 branches before Youngstown hired her in 2012.

Daniel views libraries as a community catalyst. “All people from different walks of life can come to the public library and be doing different things in the same space,” she says. “That just makes the public library an incredibly powerful and important resource.”

Reflecting on her time here, Daniel says she’s proudest of how the library has reached out to serve the community in meaningful ways.

“I’m really proud of our fine-free cards for kids. I’m proud of our Pop-Up Library and all of the community events that we’ve taken part in,” she continues. “I’m proud of the way that the community seems to have an enhanced awareness of the library system and its offerings. And I’m proud that we’ve really expanded our programmatic offerings in the last five years.”

Daniel oversaw construction of the Tri-Lakes branch, which broke ground as she arrived, and the renovation of the Boardman branch. The new Canfield branch, which opened in early 2016, “has a special place in my heart [as] the first one here that I got to do start to finish,” as well as being in the community where she and her family made their home, she says.

Last year, she launched construction of the Michael Kusalaba Branch to replace the former West Branch, a “lingering problem” she was glad the library system could resolve.

Among the community partnerships are collaborations with the Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology, which most recently established a limited-service branch in the Oh Wow lobby. Earlier this year, Daniel joined the Oh Wow board of directors.

“She’s a very innovative thinker. She brings a lot of ideas from her experiences, so that’s been really helpful for us,” says Suzanne Barbati, Oh Wow president and executive director.

For her efforts, the Ohio Library Council chose Daniel as its 2015 Librarian of the Year.

“From the day we hired her, she performed well above everything we expected,” says Dr. David Ritchie, president of the library board of trustees. He praises her oversight of construction projects, her efforts to keep the library financially sound and her involvement in the community.

“She was more than willing to do anything and everything she could, not only for the library but for the area,” he says.

Finding as qualified a successor will not be easy, Richie continues, although he felt the same way when Carlton Sears, Daniel’s predecessor, announced his retirement. “This one worked out very well,” he says. “Can we strike gold again? I’m not sure. Everyone says she was top-notch.”

Despite the opportunity, the decision to take the Pratt job was still a tough one, Daniel says. She and her family have made close friends here.

“And this library system really gave me a chance. This is my first director’s position so they hired someone with no director’s experience,” she says.

She credits the library board with giving her the opportunity to be creative and offer her vision for the library system.

“Being able to work in such a great community with such a wonderful supportive board and excellent staff is something that definitely makes it a hard decision to leave,” she says.

Daniel says she would like to have seen the Kusalaba project through to completion, but is satisfied with its progress.

“Overall we’ve made great strides in five years. I feel like I’m leaving the library system in a better place than it was even five years ago, even though I found it in excellent condition,” she reflects. “I inherited a wonderful system. I hope that I made it even a little bit more wonderful and special for the community.”

Pictured: Heidi Daniel.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.