For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
August 8, 2001 - Boardsmanship
I think I've worked about every side of this now. I have worked FOR a Board in three capacities: as the Chief Executive Officer (a library director hired by, reporting to, and accountable solely to the Board), as the staff member working for the CEO (but presenting information to the Board), and as an independent contractor or consultant.
I have worked ON a Board as a member (sometimes with few responsibilities, sometimes as a committee member or chair), as an executive officer (Secretary, for instance), and as Board President.
In that time, I've worked out some expectations of Board members. I sure wish someone had given all this to me at the beginning. So in the hopes that this might do some good, I hereby offer Nine Principles of Boardsmanship.
1. Understand the difference between governance and management. The purpose of the Board is oversight -- the big issues. Keep your eye on mission, on planning, on broad institutional strategy. Don't mess with day to day operational decisions.
2. Respect your fellow Board members' time. Stay focused on the tasks before you. All of us have lives that matter to us. Unless you have good reasons not to (meaning "reasons that are vital to the organization and actually involve you"), stick to the agenda.
3. Bring all relevant information to the Board. The purpose of the Board is to make informed decisions, to provide intelligent organizational leadership. If you have data that matters, bring it forth. Don't sit on it in the hopes you'll get your way. That's intellectually sloppy and morally dishonest.
4. Thoughtfully consider the opinions of others. Board deliberations do not consist of waiting for the other person to finish so you can speak. They consist of open-minded evaluations of the ideas of your colleagues, and staff. This obligation extends to each issue, not just to the people you usually agree with.
5. Have your say. Argue passionately for your beliefs. Articulate your opinions as clearly, concisely, and forcefully as possible.,
6. Vote your conscience -- what you believe, not what you think others might believe. Don't assume consensus when it could be that people are waiting to see how it comes out, or waiting for someone else to voice their dissatisfied but inchoate opinion. Take a stand!
7. Represent the "Board decision" honestly. It could be that you voted your conscience -- and were roundly defeated. So be it. Be clear about when you're speaking as yourself, and when you represent the Board. You're entitled to your opinions, your doubts, and your free speech. But do your colleagues and your audience the courtesy of clearly identifying the speaker. As a member of the Board, begin with a careful representation, without slander, of the decision of that body.
8. Move forward until new evidence urges a reconsideration. Don't keep revisiting things you've already decided. On the other hand, sometimes new evidence arises that compels you to think again. It could be that new evidence supports your dissenting opinion. Or it could be that it contradicts the majority opinion that you agreed with. But if you've got new data, be prepared to consider a new decision.
9. Build the organization by example. This is a big one. It speaks to fundamental attitude. There are lots of pieces to this, but here are the main ones:
Presume innocence and the good intention of all parties.
Make each other look good: speak well of your fellow Board members. Build on each other's work.
Hold to the vision -- spend your time working FOR the big organization goals (not against this or that).
And, just in case you don't hear this enough, thank you for caring enough about an organization to give it your time.