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Pratt names Ohio librarian to replace Hayden

Heidi Daniel tajkes over as president of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

An Ohio librarian has been tapped to lead Baltimore's public library system as the historic central branch undergoes a $115 million renovation to bring it into the digital age.

Heidi Daniel, who has led the Youngstown and Mahoning County system since 2012, will replace longtime Enoch Pratt Free Library president Carla Hayden, who was selected last year to head the Library of Congress.

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Daniel said she sees the library system as a resource for all and wants to focus on ways to draw people in using mobile tools, such as pop-up libraries and Wi-Fi hotspots.

She will start her new position by Aug. 1 and earn $180,000 annually. As president, she'll manage the 22-branch system, 500 employees and a $40 million budget.

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Daniel, 41, said she sees the library as a "convener of people."

"I don't know any other space where a mom can come in with a child for story time, a teen can find a refuge, someone who is homeless or suffering economic tragedy in their life can come in and find the resources they need to get back on track.

"Every aspect of society can come into that building and find something."

The library board used a Kansas City, Mo.-based firm for a nationwide candidate search that began shortly after Hayden's confirmation in July. Gordon Krabbe has served as interim president.

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Daniel began her career in children's and teen programing in Oklahoma City and Houston before moving into library administration. She managed half of Houston's more than 40 branches before becoming director of the Ohio system.

She oversaw construction projects, expanded digital offerings and focused on ways to cater services to a wide variety of library users — inside and outside of the branches, said Pat Lasher, who chairs the Pratt board of directors.

"She has a vision for the library that it has got to serve the community," Lasher said. "She has roots in the traditions of the library but also recognizes the importance of technology to both the youth in terms of their homework and finding knowledge but also to adults who need training for another career.

"Her enthusiasm is contagious."

The daughter of a factory worker, she said her parents did not go to college, but used the library in her hometown to impress upon her the importance of education.

"This was the place where I could always get whatever I wanted; the answer was always 'yes,'" Daniel said. "I could always take it home with me. Nothing was too expensive. Nothing was out of the realm of possibility."

She said she has long paid attention to the Pratt's programing — including events with high-profile speakers such as Misty Copeland, free tax preparation and popular teen poetry workshops.

"Enoch Pratt is in the library profession considered a standard bearer," Daniel said. "I think every librarian in the country knows Enoch Pratt, the work of this library and, of course, they know Dr. Carla Hayden.

"To me, this is a gold standard."

Ben Rosenberg, the Pratt board's incoming chairman, said he is eager to work with Daniel and won't be looking to measure her performance against Hayden's.

"We did not look for a Carla Hayden clone," Rosenberg said. "We looked for who we thought could do the best job of heading the library going forward. Heidi will be best served if she's evaluated on what she is doing, not what Carla would have done."

Hayden, who had led the Pratt system since 1993, is the first woman and first African-American to lead the nation's largest library. She was nominated by former President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate.

Daniel will be charged with shepherding the Pratt's largest renovation.

The central library, which opened on Cathedral Street in 1933, is undergoing $115 million in improvements to preserve its collection of 1 million books while updating technology and restoring the building's historical features. It should be complete by late 2018 or early 2019.

Over the past decade, the library has spent nearly $40 million to renovate six neighborhood branches around the city. The money has come from a combination of state, city and private funds.

The Pratt also serves as the state library resource center. It has an extensive collection of research materials and historical titles.

Daniel said she could not lay out any immediate plans for the system, because she wants to talk to staff and community members first.

Fundamentally, she said she believes in expanding technology and access, especially in high-need areas. Daniel said she will use data to make decisions, wants to offer services to job-seekers and small businesses and make the library a "vibrant and responsive place for all sectors of Baltimore."

Deborah Taylor, director of the Pratt's school and student services and a library employee of 43 years, helped screen the candidates. Daniel stood out for her "energy and enthusiasm, and the quality of the various experiences she had at various types of libraries."

"She has a bit of a 'can do' spirit — and that's the Pratt spirit," Taylor said.

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Heidi Daniel

Education: Bachelor's degree in women's studies, DePaul University; master's degree in library studies, Texas Woman's University.

Experience: Oversees 15 branch libraries in Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio. Previously worked in the Houston Public Library and the Metropolitan Library System of Oklahoma City.

Age: 41

Family: Married, two children.

Hometown: Alma, Mich.

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