To fill the shoes of an executive director who "can't be replaced," the Westerville Public Library's leadership is taking a nontraditional route.

The library will give the public a glimpse of six candidates for the executive director position in a public forum later this month.

The event will serve as a way of tapping into the community outreach expertise the library's board of trustees expects of the new director, and letting residents share what they want from their library at the same time.

Jack Shinnock is the library board's secretary and head of the special director search committee. He said the board and committee are looking forward to the forum as a way to gauge both sides of the table.

"It gives the community an opportunity to talk with leaders in the library industry about where they see libraries going, in terms of service to customers," he said. "It gives stakeholders and thought leaders in Westerville an opportunity to talk with these people and see how they communicate publicly. Public speaking is an important part of this job."

The forum was one of the initiatives brought forward by Bradbury Miller Associates, the company the board hired to conduct the search for a new director.

Shinnock said the trustees simply decided they didn't have the expertise to find Barlow's replacement on their own.

"We didn't feel, as a board, that we were prepared to do it ourselves," Shinnock said. "We felt we had to hire an executive search firm. We found there were only a few that focus on library directors, even across the United States."

With the firm's help, the library received 47 applications for the job from all around the country. Shinnock said he and the board have felt the company's involvement was well worth it.

"I've found it very helpful to have the firm involved," he said. "They have a lot of experience in working with libraries who are searching for directors and trying to match up the right person with the personalities of the board and the community where the library sits. It's been very helpful."

By matching up the various roles and expectations, Shinnock said he believes the firm gives the library its best opportunity for finding someone to fill Barlow's shoes.

"We know we can't replace Don Barlow," he said. "He's done a wonderful job and he's done it for 28 years. So it's very difficult to just go out and replace that type of experience and wealth of knowledge.

"But we wanted someone who could continue with the excellent service Don has provided to the community.

"We're looking for someone who's innovative or promotes innovation, visionary ... and we have been fortunate in that all six candidates are now or have been directors in the past, so they're coming into a director position with some experience," Shinnock said.

The public forum runs from 6 to 8 p.m. March 29 at the library, 126 S. State St. After the forum, the board will choose which candidates will move on to full interviews with board members.

Barlow's last day as executive director will be May 31.