New Brunswick

Qualifications of new head of public library service questioned

The new person in charge of the province's 64 public libraries does not appear to have any library training or experience.

Kevin Cormier, in charge of 64 libraries across New Brunswick, is former CEO of Kings Landing

Kevin Cormier is the executive director of the New Brunswick Public Library Service, effective Feb. 18. (Kevin Cormier/Facebook)

The new person in charge of the province's 64 public libraries does not appear to have any library training or experience.

Kevin Cormier was appointed executive director of the New Brunswick Public Library Service last week.

The job posting listed "essential qualifications" as a master's degree in library and/or information studies from an American Library Association-accredited program.

Cormier's LinkedIn profile lists his education as a single year at York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto (2005) and two years at the Moncton Flight College (1998-2000).

The competition for the library position, which comes with an annual salary of up to nearly $114,000, also called for a minimum of eight years of "progressively responsible related work experience," including at least three years of management experience in a "complex operational environment involving responsibility for human and financial resources."

A combination of education, training and experience may be considered, it said.

Cormier spent the past year as a strategic adviser in the Executive Council Office, working on corporate governance and accountability with agencies, boards and commissions of the public service.

He was previously the chief executive officer of Kings Landing Corporation and made some contentious changes during his seven years at the historical settlement near Fredericton, at least one of which was reversed following public outcry.

His other work experience includes three years in advertising and several years in various marketing-related positions — all in senior roles, including owning his own marketing company.

'Puts the library system at risk'

Courtney Pyrke, who has a master's degree in library science from the University of Western Ontario, worked at the Saint John Free Public Library for about 18 months and is now doing her PhD at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, called the appointment surprising and disappointing.

"It doesn't sound like he has any experience even working in a library let alone having a degree in library science, so I think that's troublesome for the profession to not really understand, I guess, the theoretical concepts of librarianship," said Pyrke.

"I mean not understanding how collection development works, not understanding how community outreach works — it kind of puts the library system at risk."

It would be like hiring an economist to head a social work department.- Joann Hamilton-Barry, retired  director, Saint John Free Public Library

Joann Hamilton-Barry, who recently retired as the director of the Saint John Free Public Library after 33 years, said when other provinces and municipalities have hired non-librarians to head up library systems, "it didn't usually go well."

"It would be like hiring an economist to head a social work department. It's just not usually done."

Pyrke compared it to hiring somebody without a medical degree or experience in the medical field to run a medical system and said it "looks bad on the profession."

"I think just to not have that skill set or even have an understanding of the skill set that's needed to work as a librarian, that kind of calls into question the types of people that they're going to hire moving forward," she said.

"Like for me as a librarian, it makes me not want to work in that system."

Filled through talent program

The Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour declined an interview about Cormier's appointment to the Fredericton-based job that required written and spoken "competence" in both English and French.

But in an emailed statement, spokesperson Leigh Watson said the department is "confident that his past experience, skills and abilities will serve the public library service very well."

Watson declined further comment, referring to it as "an internal human resources matter."

Pressed further, the acting communications director for the department, Erika Jutras, said the position was advertised as a competition and ultimately filled by the deputy minister through the Corporate Talent Management Program.

Liberal MLA Guy Arseneault said the government should base its hiring decisions on qualifications alone. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

The Corporate Talent Management Program provides current and aspiring executives in the upper pay bands with "opportunities to further develop their executive competencies within and/or outside their current department," according to the government's website.

"We have an outstanding workforce and expertise in [the New Brunswick Public Library Service] across the province, along with committed local, regional, and provincial stakeholders," Jutras said in an emailed statement.

"Mr. Cormier has the training, experience and leadership we are looking for at this time."

Cormier did not respond to a request for an interview.

His predecessor, Sylvie Nadeau, retired.

Hires should be based on qualifications

Guy Arseneault, the Official Opposition's critic for Post-Secondary Education, said he could not speak to Cormier's resumé, but "government hires should be based on qualifications alone."

"We have seen this government make some questionable hires for high-paying jobs," Arseneault, the MLA for Campbellton-Dalhousie, said in an emailed statement. "If this is another political hire then it just further tarnishes Blaine Higgs's image.

"I hope that he was not hired to implement the rumoured cuts to library services."

In some jurisdictions, such as British Columbia, the legislation governing the public library service clearly stipulates the director must be "a qualified librarian."

An inter-office memo announcing Cormier's appointment said he "brings a diverse background to the role."

When he was CEO at Kings Landing near Fredericton, Cormier came under criticism for replacing some historical re-enactments and costumed actors with static exhibits. (Sarah Petz/CBC )

The Feb. 20 memo, obtained by CBC News, describes Cormier, as a "team-oriented, creative and dynamic individual who is an outside the box thinker."

In 2018, Cormier made headlines when some re-enactments at Kings Landing were replaced, under his leadership, with static exhibits, prompting public meetings and online petitions.

Critics said character interpretation gave guests a better understanding of what rural life was like in the 19th century, and was crucial to the popular tourist attraction being an authentic historic settlement.

Last March, Cormier announced plans to start using costumed characters in the three old houses again.

In his LinkedIn profile, Cormier describes himself as "a passionate fella."

"Whether it be leading teams and organizations in government and private sector through effective change management, developing new products or ways to experience them, building relationships with partners or facilitating relationships between brands and audiences — I love making awesome things happen."

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