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Phillips Academy leader to guide Boston Public Library search

The exterior of the Boston Public Library’s Johnson Building in Copley Square.
The exterior of the Boston Public Library’s Johnson Building in Copley Square.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/File

John Palfrey, the 42-year-old head of school at Phillips Academy in Andover, will lead the search for a new permanent president of the Boston Public Library, city officials said Tuesday.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh named Palfrey chairman of the Boston Public Library presidential search committee, charging him with selecting committee members and working with a search firm to find a permanent replacement for Amy E. Ryan.

Ryan resigned earlier this year after two costly pieces of artwork went missing from the library’s print collection. The Adam and Eve engraving by Albrecht Dürer — valued at more than $600,000 — and an etching of a Rembrandt self-portrait — worth $20,000 to $30,000 — were later discovered not far from where they were last seen.

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Ryan withstood withering criticism from Walsh and his top aide over the missing art. After Ryan resigned, Walsh appointed an interim team — David Leonard as president and John T. Hailer as board chairman — to lead the library.

The mayor, in a statement Tuesday, lauded the library as “a highly esteemed institution’’ and Palfrey as a great choice to help find a president.

“I have full confidence in John’s abilities to lead the presidential search committee, and identify a strong and innovative leader for the Boston Public Library,’’ Walsh said.

Palfrey, in an interview, described his appointment as “an enormous honor,’’ pledging to work with the search committee to identify and deliver the best candidate for the job.

He said his first steps will be working with the mayor and establishing a broad and diverse search team.

The city will begin soliciting bids for a search firm this month.

“It’s critical we find a candidate who brings a forward-looking vision to the library that is grounded in respect for this crucial institution,’’ Palfrey said.

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He said the next president should be able to align the goals of the library with the needs of the city, understand the ways in which libraries can play a critical role in residents’ lives, and be a strong manager who can lead a complex institution.

Palfrey could not provide a timeline for when the library president will be chosen, saying only that the search will conclude “when we find the right person.”

Palfrey was the founding president of the board of directors of the Digital Public Library of America, housed at the BPL.

Ryan, the former Boston library president, is on the national steering committee of the Digital Public Library, a groundbreaking project that digitizes the contents of American libraries and archives and makes them freely available online, according to the library’s website.

For the past four years, Palfrey has been head of school at Phillips Academy, the alma mater of Daniel Koh, the mayor’s chief of staff.

A scholar of new media and learning, Palfrey is the author of “BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google.” He has served on the Harvard University library board, and as the Henry N. Ess III professor of law and vice dean for library and information resources at Harvard Law School.


Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.