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Boston Public Library taps San Jose official as president

Jill Bourne, city librarian for the San Jose Public Library, pictured at the Boston Public Library on the day of her interview for the library’s top job. She got it through a unanimous Board of Trustees decision.
Jill Bourne, city librarian for the San Jose Public Library, pictured at the Boston Public Library on the day of her interview for the library’s top job. She got it through a unanimous Board of Trustees decision.Kieran Kesner for the Boston Globe

The Boston Public Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously Saturday to appoint a career librarian from California, whom they called a “star” with creative fund-raising chops and a commitment to diversity, as the new president of the Boston Public Library.

Trustees chose Jill Bourne, city librarian for the San Jose Public Library, after spending several hours publicly interviewing both finalists: Bourne and current interim library president David Leonard. The board spent just 20 minutes deliberating once the interviews concluded.

“The library is at an inflection point, and it’s important that we be as innovative and creative as possible,” said board member Carol Fulp at the meeting, held at the Central Library in Copley Square. “Jill represents that new way of thinking, a breath of fresh air, an opportunity to really demonstrate the value of individuals and all people. I think this is an opportunity for Boston.”

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Bourne currently leads the San Jose city library system, where she has dramatically expanded staffing and hours of operation, and established partnerships with Silicon Valley technology companies such as eBay and PayPal to help expand the library’s services and resources.

But while the trustees enthusiastically backed Bourne, they said they owed a debt to Leonard for his deft leadership seeing the library through what has been a tumultuous year. He stepped in to manage the library when its last president, Amy E. Ryan, resigned in July after two expensive pieces of art housed there were temporarily misplaced.

“He’s been a remarkable stabilizing influence and leader,” Board of Trustees Chair Robert Gallery said.

After the meeting, Gallery said he had asked Leonard to continue to play a role in the Boston Public Library. Gallery said he would have to work with Bourne, the administration, the trustees, and Leonard to determine what that role would be.

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In a statement, Leonard said he was honored and privileged to be considered for president, but that the trustees “made a great choice.”

“This remains one of the greatest libraries and places to work,” he said. “I want to thank all those that supported my candidacy and I look forward to working with Jill as she steps into her new role.”

Bourne got her start almost 20 years ago, working in a library set up in a cramped trailer in a South Seattle housing development — an experience she said taught her the “absolute essential quality” of a public library.

The trailer was packed from open to close, she said, with patrons speaking 10 to 15 languages; every morning, she printed out newspapers from Eritrea, Somalia, and Ethiopia. The library, she said, was welcoming and friendly in a way that stiffer bureaucracies her patrons interacted with were not — it was a safe space, and the foundation of the community.

“Every parent in that space wanted a better life for her child,” she said. “They saw the library as the place they could get it.”

After spending almost nine years in Seattle, where she rose to assistant director for public services, she worked for another seven years in San Francisco as the deputy city librarian before moving to San Jose.

Bourne has held nearly every position there is in a library. She has shelved books and worked as a desk clerk, librarian, and reference specialist. She has managed collections, then graduated to managing branches, main libraries, and eventually entire library systems. She has overseen vast budgets, earning the nickname “Spreadsheet Queen” in San Francisco, and she has worked closely with labor. It has always been her dream, she said, to work in Boston.

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“I’m incredibly honored by this opportunity the Boston Public Library Board of Trustees has extended to me,” Bourne said in a statement after the decision was announced. “The BPL is a multi-faceted institution providing critical neighborhood resources, access to opportunity, and a wealth of research services.”

Gallery said he did not know when Bourne would begin, as contract details had not yet been worked out.

Ryan, the former president, started in 2008 at a base salary of $175,000 and was making about $180,000 when she resigned, library spokeswoman Melina Schuler said.

Schuler said the salary and benefits package of the next library president will be negotiated with the city after the trustees vote. The library’s budget is $43 million, with about $34 million from the city.

A third finalist for the position of president, Andrea Sáenz, the first deputy commissioner at the Chicago Public Library, withdrew from consideration Friday night after her current employer asked her to stay on, a library spokeswoman said.

Jill Bourne interviewed with library trustees Saturday.
Jill Bourne interviewed with library trustees Saturday.Kieran Kesner for the Boston Globe

Meghan E. Irons of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @EvanMAllen.