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Occasional Papers

Occasional Paper 21: Evaluating Library Directors

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Prepared by George Soete

The following is excerpted from OLMS Occasional Paper 21, Evaluating Library Directors

A Checklist of Recommendations

This checklist is intended to assist those who are responsible for or who will participate in the performance evaluations of academic library directors. Its aim is to promote greater knowledge among those who participate in the director evaluation process, to foster both effectiveness and fairness in director evaluations, and to strengthen library leadership as part of the overall process of improving libraries.

The Academic Library Director Today

Today's academic library directors often hold positions of broad responsibility and high visibility within their institutions. They may be responsible for information systems beyond the walls of the library: education and outreach programs; archives, museums, and galleries; and computing and telecommunications operations of vast proportions. Virtually everyone on campus uses or benefits from the library and its allied operations.

Clearly, the director's leadership is a key factor in the success or failure of the library. Directors have leadership responsibility for envisioning the future of their organizations and setting goals to achieve that future, choosing and leading the best possible staff, managing resources wisely, fund raising, seeing that exciting new programs get implemented, and assuring that the technology is there to support those programs. Because libraries are a critical aspect of the educational process, designing and maintaining systems for evaluating the performance of library directors is now more important today than ever before.

Ideally, participants in the director review process should be well informed about what library directors do and what should be expected of the director. More important, participants need to be aware of the director's goals and expectations as well as her or his accomplishments during the period of review. Participants should also work to make sure that the evaluation process is one that will promote the growth and development of the director and the improvement of library services and collections.

Key Leadership Roles

In order to assess the library director's performance, the variety of her or his leadership roles should be considered. Though the director delegates portions of these responsibilities to others, she or he has leadership responsibility for effectiveness in these areas. It is important to consider which roles are most relevant to the successful performance of the library's director. For some institutions, there may be other roles that should be added to this list.

  1. Chief Representative and Spokesperson.
    Directors act as the chief external representatives of their libraries; they present and explain the library to others; they distribute information to people (especially influential stakeholders) outside the library; they inform outsiders of progress within the library; and they promote the library to external constituents.

  2. Campus Administrator.
    Directors actively participate in the governance of the university or college through membership on committees, standing administrative groups, and task forces; they help develop policy on information issues, but also serve the larger community in tasks that may have little or no direct bearing on the library or on information policy; and they may administer — or partner with others who administer — operations outside the library (e.g., information technology).

  3. Liaison.
    Directors maintain contacts outside the library with key stakeholders in the parent institution (e.g., faculty and other constituent groups, advisory groups, other administrators), as well as with stakeholders outside the parent institution (e.g., community advisory and advocacy groups); they build external information networks; they serve as a significant contact point for those who wish to influence the library's goals; and they attempt through interactions with outside organizations to influence the environment in ways that are beneficial to the library (e.g., legislation).

  4. Monitor.
    Successful directors remain informed about critical developments in the external environment, including changes in how library users use the library and what users need in terms of information services; they are aware of current developments in other libraries and in the library profession; they use that knowledge to solve problems and to develop new services; and they educate the parent institution and the internal organization about information and communication technology issues.

  5. Negotiator and Advocate. Directors negotiate with organizations and individuals outside the library to secure funding, reach agreement on key issues, and safeguard the interests of the library.

  6. Fund Raiser. Directors lead the effort to identify needs that cannot be adequately supported by the parent institution, set priorities, and garner external funding through grants, gifts, endowments, and other development activities.

  7. Leader of Planning and Operations. Directors lead members of the library organization in developing value systems, visions, and goals for the library; they promote high-quality services by involving library staff appropriately in planning and decision making; they assure that there are performance measures and accountability systems and hold staff to them; they seek to understand internal library issues, problems, and operations in sufficient depth to make informed decisions; and they plan, coordinate, and oversee major multi-year capital projects, as well as smaller facilities projects.

  8. Leader of Staff.
    Directors create and support a continuous learning environment within the library and encourage staff to actively participate in virtually all the leadership roles noted in this list; they monitor the human relations side of the operation, insuring high-quality hiring, placement, retention, training, motivation, performance evaluation, and reward systems; they practice "facilitational leadership," especially in leading a diverse work force; they handle conflicts and crises within the library; they take corrective actions when unexpected disturbances occur; and some directors may serve as deans with responsibility for librarians who have faculty appointments.

  9. Communicator.
    Directors share and distribute information within the library through staff meetings, personal contacts, and other means; they invite input from individuals and groups within the library, listen attentively to that input, and act on it for the good of the library and its users.

  10. Change Agent and Entrepreneur.
    Directors introduce change within the library by identifying problems, recognizing and seizing opportunities, and implementing new systems and programs; they promote experimentation and risk taking within the library (e.g., through the application of new technologies and innovative uses of networks); and they encourage staff to develop entrepreneurial skills.

  11. Resource Allocator.
    Directors develop priorities for resource allocation and design the organizational structure to achieve those priorities; they allocate funds, time, staff, materials, and equipment to assure that the library is a successful one; and they authorize major resource-related decisions made within the library.

This list of leadership roles is based on the work of Henry Mintzberg (The Structuring of Organizations, 1979) and Michael Ann Moskowitz ("The Managerial Roles of Academic Library Directors: The Mintzberg Model," Sept. 1986).

Checklist for Assessing the Performance Evaluation Process

The checklist is divided into three general areas: review process guidelines, review process criteria, and review process participants. There are at least two important uses of the checklist: 1) as a framework for discussion between the directors and those who are responsible for evaluating them; and 2) as a tool for educating those who participate in the director's review. Although this list is not meant to be conclusive or restrictive, it presents important questions that should be addressed during the performance evaluation process.

I. Review Process Guidelines

A. Is there a formal process for performance review of the library director, or are there other effective means for monitoring her or his performance and providing feedback?

B. Are there documented procedural guidelines for the review process? If not, are the ad hoc guidelines mutually satisfactory to both the director and her or his supervisor?

C. Does the review have a clear purpose? Is it:

  1. a decision tool (used to decide whether the director will be reappointed or given a salary adjustment);
  2. a development tool (used to assist the director in performance improvement);
  3. a communication tool (used to share information about campus and library goals, problems, etc.)
  4. or any combination of the above?

D. Is the frequency of the review satisfactory to key participants in the process?

E. Does the process result in specific, candid feedback that is behavioral and recognizable and that will help the director build on performance strengths and work on performance weaknesses?

F. Are discussions of institutional and library priorities, goals, and objectives between director and participants part of the review process?

G. Is there an opportunity for the director to provide documentation or context, which may include planning goals or context, which may include planning goals, accomplishments, constraints, and participants in the review to make informed judgments?

II. Review Process Criteria

A. Are there documented criteria for the review that specifically refer to the director's position and responsibilities? Alternatively, are there generic criteria that are customized as part of the review process?

B. A principal measure of the director's performance is her or his success in achieving negotiated expectations as documented in library and institutional planning documents. Are the expectations clearly outlined and understood by participants? Does the review initiator provide an overall context for the review participants, especially regarding factors outside the director's control (e.g., a campus-mandated budget cut)?

C. Are the changing and evolving roles of many directors (e.g., fund raising) sufficiently recognized in the review process?

D. Is there a distinction between the performance of the library and the performance of its director? It should be clear to those involved in the process which aspects of the library's performance might be attributable to the director's leadership and which might not.

III. Review Process Participants

A. Is there an opportunity for a variety of participants to have input into the performance review process, which may include library staff, library users, institutional stakeholders with whom the director works, and external persons with knowledge of the director's work?

B. Is the input of those who know the director's performance first-hand given more weight than others? If anonymous input is offered, is it evaluated as such?

C. Does the review committee include another administrator comparable to the director who can provide assistance to the group during the process?

D. Is the director's supervisor actively involved in the process even though she or he might not be the review initiator? Does the supervisor give direct feedback to the director and provide participants with contextual information that will help them evaluate the director's performance?

See also

SPEC Kit #229, Evaluating Academic Library Directors, May 1998

Order Information

Occasional Paper 21: Evaluating Library Directors: A Study of Current Practice and a Checklist of Recommendations
George Soete • 1998 • ISBN 0-918006-34-1 • 47 pp.
$25 ($18 for ARL members)
Order from ARL Publications