The two finalists under consideration to be the Westport Library's next executive director were "checked out" at a public forum Wednesday night.

Nearly 100 people were on hand to meet and question the potential successors to Maxine Bleiweis, who is stepping down in July after 17 years on the job.

"This is the opportunity for the community to participate in the process," said Mike Guthman, chairman of the library's board of trustees, before introducing William Harmer, the library director in Chelsea, Mich., and David Hinkley, the director of the Montclair, N.J., library.

Hinkley, whose work career began as a land surveyor in Connecticut, cited "awareness of the trends, knowing what's possible and being ready to take the risks" as key elements of library innovation.

Now working in a suburb of Newark, N.J., he said he could bring insights into Westport's importance in relation to surrounding communities and the opportunities. "It's very important in Montclair to have effective community outreach," he said, explaining that the library there has worked closely with the local schools to develop tutoring programs.

Harmer, who came to the forum with his wife, Jill, gave a slide presentation that centered on a recipe for innovation. "Westport has already identified itself as innovators," he said. "You have a whole team of chefs and cooks already in place, (and) it exists in the spirit of this community, not just the library.

"Our goal is to make sure that no one is left out of our kitchen," he said. "We want to make sure everyone has a seat at our table," and that they "satisfy, delight and nourish the community."

Harmer and Hinkley were among six candidates who previously were interviewed by board members via Skype, chosen from a pool of 25 assembled by the St. Louis-based library executive search group, Bradbury Associates.

"We do search for library directors and executive directors all around the country," said Dan Bradbury, who attended to oversee the forum.

"In this particular setting, Westport has exciting things ahead of it," he said, including future building renovations and expansion.

Bradbury said the library board wanted to see candidates with "a high level of customer service, a high level of programming experience, imagination and innovation, which Westport has come to expect."

The board plans to review public comments before making its final decision.