Evaluating The State of The Library – Director Evaluation

Evaluating The State of The Library: Director Evaluation
MHLS Across The Board | Winter 2006

FOR YEARS library boards have asked us how they should evaluate the library director. We have responded by offering links on our web site and tools that we considered adequate, but we have never found a method that is superior. Now, after researching (using the excellent tools available through our HOMEACCESS databases), we have synthesized ideas and developed our own model. We think you will find it an effective process for improving the health of your library.

What Is Being Evaluated?
The board–director relationship is not a manager–employee relationship. It is a partnership for the purpose of running a highly important community organization: a public library. Rather than evaluating the director, you need to evaluate the administration of the library. This approach enables the board and the director, as a team, to design steps that will enhance the development of the organization.

The Process
Areas to be evaluated should provide a comprehensive view of the library’s operations. We have identified five areas, you may come up with others if you have specific local conditions such as a building project:

  • Customer Service and Community Relations
  • Organizational Growth
  • Administration and Human Resource Management
  • Financial Management and Legal Compliance
  • Board of Trustee relationship

Use a form to assess the state of your library. The form should be based on the five areas above. Structure the form more tightly by adding questions under each area. For example, in the area of Customer Service and Community Relations:

  • Sample Evaluation Form Questions:
    (e=excellent; S=satisfactory; N=needs improvement; U=unknown)
    Level of patron satisfactionE S N U
    Customer service received by patronsE S N U
    Consistent application of policies that affect the publicE S N U

View our suggested evaluation form that encompasses all five areas. Evaluation Form.

Each member of the board should individually respond to the form. In responding to the form, board members could refer to the plan of service, board minutes, usage statistics, program results or other information sources from the year. Once all forms have been submitted, summarize the results. A sample summation form is available on the MHLS site. This will provide the board with a picture of how the organization is functioning and will shape the evaluation process. If the summation shows:

    • The organization is functioning well, your evaluation process should focus on motivating and supporting the director.
    • Everything is basically OK, but some specific things need to be addressed, then clarify the board’s expectations through the evaluation process, and also offer support and motivation.
    • The organization is functioning unsatisfactorily, identify the issues, determine what is needed to get the organization on track, and create a timeline for progress reports.

Once the board has developed some agreement on the functioning of the organization, they should meet with the director, either as a full board in executive session, a committee, or one or two board members. The discussion should use the summation as an outline. Take this opportunity to discuss areas of weakness within the organization, then, with the director, develop goals to improve the organization. Also use this opportunity to tell your director if they are doing well in areas, no one likes their successes to go unnoticed.

The summation, with the issues to be addressed written in, should be signed by both the board president and the director.

Some might object that this model does not evaluate the director, but earlier models tend to separate the performance of the organization from the performance of the director. You could conceivably have situations where the library is failing, but the director is receiving a good evaluation. This model ties the responsibility for the performance of the organization to the director.

Comparison of Models

Focus on DirectorFocus on Library
Assumes Hierarchical Manager-Employee RelationshipAssumes Governance-Executive Partnership
Personality DriverPerformance Driven
Focus on what is wrongFocus on Success
Develops methods for improving DirectorDevelops methods for improving library
Corrects past problemsBuilds future development

Worst Case Scenario: Dismissing The Director
Many boards feel the only time they need to evaluate the director is when things are going badly. By then it is too late. The director evaluation should be an annual event and the best and easiest time to begin this schedule is when thing are going well.

  • “Ideally, evaluations are positive, developmental processes that include praise and constructive guidance. The board should review the library plan, job descriptions, goals and objectives and the annual report submitted by the director, documenting accomplishments of the library. Other relevant information should be obtained as needed.” -Massachusetts Public Library Trustees Handbook
  • In the event that the library is not functioning well and the board feels the need to change directors, the evaluation process, although possibly the starting point, is not the best method for removing the director.
  • New York State is an “employment-at-will” state which means, barring a contract, the board can remove the director without cause. If you have an employment contract with the director, or the director is under Civil Service, you need to show cause. In any case to remove a director you need to build a clear paper trail documenting how you have communicated your dissatisfaction to the director, provided opportunities for improvement, and provided a warning notice if improvement has not happened. This process needs to be done through written communications with the director. Addressing this issue only during an annual evaluation could draw out the process by three years or more.
  • Governing an effective library is a complex job that takes hard work and dedication. Make your efforts count by regularly evaluating the state of the organization, this will help to make your job as a trustee more fulfilling and create the best possible library for your community.

PART 2 of “Evaluating the State of the Library”: Evaluating Your Board


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