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.
October 23, 2002 - Board Assessment
I was chatting one day with a friend in another profession who said, "I'm genuinely impressed by the quality of the library's service. Every time I come in, your staff is extraordinary. How do you do that?"
First I gave the glib answer: "We hire smart people." And so we do.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was more to it than that.
A better answer is, "We know what we're looking for, and we try to make it easy for our staff to succeed."
Here are all the things we do for our staff:
* First, we try to write clear job descriptions.
* Second, we have also put together some very specific job standards for our positions.
* Third, we interview our candidates very carefully, trying for a good match to our needs.
* Fourth, we offer a week of training for most new employees.
* Fifth, we assign them mentors -- staff who have gone through their own advanced training to support this function.
* Sixth, we do a 6 month evaluation to let the new person know how she (or he) is doing.
* Seventh, we offer a variety of continuing education opportunities, both within the library and without.
* Eighth, we then move to an annual evaluation cycle.
The annual evaluation is worth further explanation. First, it begins with a self-assessment. Staff members have the chance to measure themselves against relevant standards. They also are prompted to list all of their accomplishments, a good thing to get into the record. Then they are asked to detail any disappointments or concerns. Finally, they are asked to come up with some objectives for the next year, and say how their supervisor might assist them.
Then the person's supervisor goes through and comments on those things. Supervisors may also add or revise objectives.
The following year, the list of objectives (both from the employee and the supervisor) forms the basis for evaluation. How many of those objectives were accomplished, and how well? If employees do well, they receive raises -- from a bare cost of living up to a significant boost for especially good work. The Douglas Public Library District has always been run on the idea of accountability. People who don't live up to the job don't stay. People who do well, get rewarded. I've approved salary increases of up to 20% on the basis of achievement.
As important as staff are, however, they make up only one component of the library's personnel infrastructure. The director is another one. I, too, go through an annual evaluation process, also incorporating comments from all of the people I supervise, collected anonymously, then passed along to my bosses. Trust me, I am held accountable.
The third level involves our governing body, the Library Board of Trustees.
In a recent review of our bylaws, we got to the statutory requirement to address term limits. The more we talked about it, the stranger the idea became.
Imagine, for instance, that I announced that our new staff evaluation system would work like this: we would appoint people, regardless of their background and experience, not tell them what their job was, not give them any kind of guidance as to our expectations, not offer them any useful training, not tell them how they are doing, then, after some arbitrary number of years, fire them?
Wasn't the Board's performance worth the same level of support we provide to staff?
Next week, I'll tell you about our altogether innovative and perhaps ground-breaking answer.