Spears, who boasts an impressive résumé and has been director of several libraries, had never been to Salt Lake City until he arrived for an interview last week. It was something like love at first sight.
"I was amazed at the energy of both Salt Lake City and the library," he said in a telephone interview Friday. "The city is gorgeous and the people are friendly."
The City Library Board of Directors selected Spears late Thursday afternoon. A previous six-month search for a director came up empty when board members weren't satisfied the right candidate was among the applicants.
"John has a very strong résumé and has a lot of good experience," board member Hugh Gillilan said late Thursday. "We're very excited."
Among Spears' strengths is his ability to collaborate and build partnerships, said library spokeswoman Julianne Hancock. "The hallmark of a good leader is to embed the library in the community," she said.
Spears will take up the reins on July 15. Acting director Linda Hamilton said she will remain through a transition period of several weeks.
Hamilton is credited with calming a troubled library staff after the departure of embattled director Beth Elder 19 months ago. Until January she also was chief executive officer for former Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.
During his five-day visit, Spears said he found the library staff very "passionate" about making the library the best it could be.
"Any time you have a large staff with passion, there will be some disagreement," he said. "I will work to establish a shared vision and get everyone on board."
It appears as though he's starting on the right foot, said Brooke Young, president of the Library Employees Organization.
"We support the board's choice and believe the process was fair and transparent," she said. "The staff and library organization are excited to be embarking on this new leadership."
Like other libraries embracing the digital age, Salt Lake City has its share of challenges, Spears conceded.
One is to make sure the library keeps up with technology to provide a broad range of services to its patrons, he said. "The other challenge is to keep it as a place where people can escape the digital age to find serenity."