Archives For meetings


The library world has mixed feelings about icebreakers. Some of us will avoid them at all costs and show up late to meetings if the agenda starts off with an icebreaker. Some of us love goofy icebreaker activities like a group paper scissors rock competition.

Given these very strong and totally opposed opinions, how can you use icebreakers wisely in library meetings?

I confess: ice breakers are starting to make more sense to me. When volunteering for a service committee, icebreakers can help people from different libraries get to know each other. For staff days, where all the participants theoretically know each other, icebreakers can engage those who are reluctant to join in wholeheartedly.

On my library team, icebreakers help us get started on our monthly departmental meeting.

When people first step into the conference room, their minds are on the patron they just helped at the desk, or on the report they have to run afterward. An icebreaker can re-focus everyone’s attention on the other people in the conference room.

Icebreakers have to be used with caution, however, because of those opposing viewpoints on them. I stick with a very simple icebreaker that the dean of my last library used at managers’ meetings.

The icebreaker I use is a connection question. It’s a very simple question that each person answers briefly. It might be about work, or not about work at all.

I share the connection question in the meeting agenda so that everyone has a chance to think about it.

A few connection questions I’ve used include:

  • What book have you enjoyed lately?
  • What’s your hobby outside of work?
  • What work skill are you particularly proud to have?
  • What date on your calendar are you looking forward to?
  • What professional development activity has helped most in your career?
  • What’s your favorite restaurant near the library?

These questions aren’t too personal, but they do encourage people to share a a little bit about themselves.

When I started this library manager job a year ago, several people across my team said that they wanted to get to know their colleagues better. The connection question helps individuals connect about their interests and goals.

Through this icebreaker, I’ve learned surprising things about the people I work with in libraries. I learned that one person is an accomplished musician, that another is a huge science fiction fan, and that most people pack their lunches and therefore don’t have strong opinions on restaurants near campus.

The connection questions get everyone in the mode of speaking up in the meeting. They swing us into a group conversation, and sometimes spark good conversations afterward.

Of course, some people will loathe icebreakers no matter what. The connection question has the virtue of being short enough that icebreaker haters get done with it quickly. The quick time also helps keep meetings short and effective – which we all agree is good.


How to Avoid Being the Notetaker

Eva —  April 12, 2016 — 2 Comments

Meeting table with mobile devices and hands writing in a notepad

As the library director, I attend a lot of meetings with other community leaders. These are meetings of equals. If at some point we realize that someone should be taking notes, however, more often than not eyes will turn to me.

I get it, but I have come to resent this in the same way that I resented being in science class and having everyone look at me expectantly when the teacher asked a particularly tough question. Just because I’m Asian doesn’t mean I know all about science, and just because I’m a woman and a librarian doesn’t mean I’ll default to being the notetaker.

I should point out that I’m currently serving as Secretary of my homeowners’ association and Secretary on the board of a library collaborative. These situations are different because I intentionally signed up for them. In the meetings I’m talking about, it’s not a formal committee or board meeting, and as the (usually) only library representative, my priority is advocating for and communicating the services of my library.

If my head is down and I’m taking minutes, I’m distracted from participating fully in the discussion. I stymie myself, though, because my helpful nature makes it difficult for me to turn down the request to take minutes.

I’ve done some observations of other women in similar meetings, and I’ve discovered a pattern in the ones who don’t get asked to take notes. My first inclination when sitting down at a meeting was to take out a pen and paper. I noticed that the women who don’t do this are passed over when “We need someone to take minutes” comes up. They still get the look, but people’s eyes continue past when they see that these women have no note-taking tools.

So now when I get to a meeting I don’t immediately take out a pen or notepad. I have them, of course, because I’m a planner like that, but they stay in my bag unless I really, truly, desperately need to write something down. This method eliminates any awkwardness about appearing uncooperative by saying no when you clearly already have a pen and paper out.

If you try this, let me know in the comments how it works for you!

hands writing on a document at a meeting table with text "can shorter meetings improve your library?"

Photo by Olu Eletu via Unsplash


How long is the default meeting time at your library?

There’s a default meeting length in most calendar software. Google and Outlook both start at 30 minutes, though the default can be changed at will.

In practice, a library’s default meeting length for each of us has more to do with internal social standards than software parameters. The standard meeting times for libraries seems to be a little longer than the software defaults.

Based on my extremely scientific poll of 8 library employees on Twitter, 100% of libraries set meetings for an hour.

Why are we meeting for a full hour?

There’s a reason long meetings (and committees, which schedule even longer meetings) are common in libraries. Libraries value harmony, transparency, and consensus. Meetings serve to open communication flows and build consensus.

I have a proposition: communicate and build all that consensus . . . in half the time.

Conversations will inevitably take up the time allotted to them, like a potted plant growing to fit its bowl. Have you ever been in a meeting that ended early?

On the other hand, have you ever been in a meeting that was run efficiently, cut off side conversations, and got to the point quickly? Constraining the time to half an hour can do that. If everyone knows you have limited time for the discussion, attendees will stick to the reason for the meeting.

Peter Bregman talks about the advantage of shorter meetings in a recent Harvard Business Review article. Bregman says that after cutting standard meetings from 60 minutes to 30, he found that everyone was more engaged, focused, and productive during that short time.

Meetings can help us decide what we’re going to do together, but then we need time to do that thing. Bregman says:

The sign of a great meeting isn’t the meeting itself. It’s what happens after that meeting. Save at least the last five minutes to summarize what you learned, articulate what was valuable, commit to what you are going to do as a result of the meeting, and clarify how you will assess the success of your next steps.

Just like time spent on email inbox management, time spent in needlessly long meetings is time that you could spend doing transformative library work.

I like my colleagues, but I didn’t get into libraries to sit around a table with them. I got into libraries in order to help people change their lives through access to information. Here’s a few tips for shortening meetings and using that time effectively:

  • Share relevant readings ahead of time and ask attendees to come prepared.
  • Create an agenda, with time estimates – and stick to it
  • Clarify decisions that will be made together
  • Consider ways for everyone’s voice to be heard efficiently
  • Assign actions as a result of the meeting

By condensing our decision-making, consensus-building meeting time, we can spend more time actually doing. That extra time means we can be better at our jobs, which will make our libraries more effective, which will make us happier in our personal lives (because we’re all in this for the positive change).

I might be getting carried away. 30 minute meetings might not have a direct line to greater personal happiness. It might not even be feasible to cut down all meetings to 30 minutes.

I noticed my monthly, hour-long departmental meetings were always running over 60 minutes, and yet we weren’t all on the same page about what each of us was doing. We weren’t making decisions together – we were just sharing announcements.

In order to facilitate information sharing and keep each other posted, we borrowed an Agile technique and started practicing 15 minute weekly standups. Every Friday, we gather around and stay standing while sharing what we’re up to and what we might need help with. The time limit makes sure we keep things moving.

The 15 minute weekly check ins are awesome and efficient, and now our monthly meetings are more interactive. We use the time to discuss ideas for improvement. We’re still working on getting that meeting time down, but we’re using it more effectively and no longer running over the time limit.

Rethink your default meeting time. If your meetings are more about information sharing than decision-making, try cutting some standard hour meetings down to half an hour (or shorter!) and see if your work life becomes more effective.

How you doin’?

Eva —  February 18, 2014 — 1 Comment
photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

Evaluations. People have argued the many different, “best” ways to do them, or argued to get rid of them all together. You may love them, hate them, see them as a necessary evil, or be entirely indifferent to them, but at my library, they are here to stay.

Evaluations are an opportunity within the larger performance management cycle to assess and adjust expectations and performance. If the cycle is managed properly, performance evaluations are just one step in a larger, year-long process that feeds into the library’s goals and strategic plan.

When I came here, evaluations were inconsistent and unstandardized. Every year since 2008, we’ve learned a little bit more about what works for us and made incremental improvements. Here’s how we do it now:

Goal-setting: Strategic plan goals lead to annual library goals, which lead to departmental goals, which lead to individual goals. This way, we ensure that we are following the strategies approved by the library board and supported by our own research and data. The management team discusses goals in advance, particularly when goals will overlap departments, to make sure all of the affected managers are on board. Employees have the opportunity to suggest goals, too, as part of their self-evaluation. The goals follow the SMART template: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound.

Progress meetings: Managers meet with individual employees at least once during the year, sometimes as often as monthly, to review their progress on goals. Sometimes goals are abandoned because of environmental or situational factors–stuff happens. Sometimes they are adjusted based on new information. Sometimes the employee has questions or needs guidance. Sometimes new goals are added as the year unfolds. The managers keep notes throughout the year as well as notes from these meetings–this really helps when it’s time to write the evaluations, because you have a broad view of the employee’s entire year, not just that week or that month when you are writing evaluations. Some managers keep electronic notes, others handwrite notes and keep them in physical folders–whatever works best for each manager.

Self-evaluation: In the fall, each employee completes a self-evaluation, reviewing progress on/completion of their goals, summarizing their year overall, and talking about their achievements, contributions, lessons learned, and how they furthered our mission and strategic plan. They are also asked to suggest goals for the coming year, as described above. If the employee wants the self-evaluation included with their evaluation, there is a box to check and line to sign before they turn it in to their manager.

Evaluation & Goal-setting: Each manager completes an evaluation for every employee, referring to the self-evaluation, personnel file, job description, and the manager’s notes from throughout the year. There are standard rubrics in the evaluation form, divided into categories such as Quality of Work, Communication, Adaptability, and Judgment, with scores ranging from 1 to 5: Unsatisfactory, Inconsistent/Developing, Effective/Fully Functioning, Highly effective, and Exceptional. In addition to these general rubrics, managers also pull specific job duties from the job descriptions. The first half of the evaluation reviews the prior year, and the second half sets goals for the coming year. The goal-setting follows the same format I described above.

Calibration: The library director (that’s me) reads every evaluation–my library has about 100 employees. I make specific notes and ask specific questions, but I am also looking for consistency of scoring within the department and across the library. I have managers who are tough graders and others who are easier graders; while I try not to muzzle their personalities, I do nudge them when needed. Usually my questions center on, “Is this performance really Exceptional, or is that performance what you expect from every employee (which would make it Fully Functioning)?” I ask for additional comments and examples to justify individual scores, and I ask questions to ensure that nothing in the evaluation will be a surprise to the employee. I review the goals and ask questions about those, too.

This is not a rubber-stamp situation for me; to date, I have had comments and questions for every manager, every year. I write the managers’ evaluations after I have approved their employee evaluations, because one of the things managers are reviewed on is how they did with their employees’ performance management.

Compensation:  Scores are tabulated and the available merit pool for raises (if any–we didn’t have raises for three years due to budget cuts) is divided based on the scores. This part is a combination of science and art–there are usually natural breaks in scoring where clear lines can be drawn (below this line is 2%, above this line is 2.5%), but when my HR manager does the math sometimes we end up making minor adjustments (below this line is 2.15%, above this line is 2.45%) so that all of the merit pool is allocated. While no one has directly asked me to explain it, having a methodology for calculating increases give me peace of mind; if anyone asks, I have an answer that is clear and defensible, which was not previously the case.

Review meeting: Managers meet with each employee to discuss the evaluation and goals and deliver the compensation information (if applicable). Each employee has two weeks to submit a written statement to attach to the evaluation if they desire, to be included in their personnel file. In this way, employees have the first (self-evaluation) and the last (written statement) word when it goes in their file.

Job description updates: Within the first quarter of the new year, managers recommend necessary changes to job descriptions. Reviewing job descriptions annually helps us keep them updated and relevant, and after the evaluations have been delivered is a natural time to do it since we’ve just been referring to them.

Performance Management form updates: We’ve tweaked the self-evaluation and evaluation forms each year based on manager feedback, staff feedback, and benchmarking. For example, staff have previously requested the opportunity to give feedback about their managers, so this year we added a question to the self-evaluation about how your manager is supporting you currently and how s/he could improve in the future. We got feedback from other staff that they didn’t like it in the self-evaluation, though, so we’ll be working this year to strike a balance between the two. We will also be working on Core Competencies to include in the 2014 evaluations.

And then the cycle begins anew. For most employees, the only part they know or care about is the self-evaluation and evaluation, and that’s understandable. As library leaders, my managers and I see the full cycle; the bulk of our work on this may not readily visible to frontline staff, but the entire performance management cycle is important to our library’s success.

What about you: What is the performance management process at your library?

Buff vs. Cream

Mary Kelly —  June 6, 2013 — 4 Comments

exixbuffSXTrue story – A long time ago, a manager I worked for was making a decision about stationery for the company letterhead.  The color choices were buff and cream. To my eye, there was no difference. Several of us watched this poor woman obsess for hours on the buff vs. cream decision. Employees were polled. Meetings were held. To this day, I have no idea which color won. In my career, both in and out of libraries, I have been held hostage by buff vs. cream decisions. People get bogged down by decisions like this all the time.

Libraries are very vulnerable to the buff vs. cream problem.  Try to remember your last staff or committee meeting. I remember a meeting when we were supposed to be discussing the OPAC and 80% of the meeting was devoted to the color of the text. Granted, you want to have text that is visible, but seriously – that shouldn’t have taken more than few minutes of discussion. Naturally, everyone had an opinion.

Are you venturing into buff vs. cream territory? Check yourself on a few things.

What is the cost of the issue in question? Are we talking about a decision involving thousands of dollars on a technology overhaul, or are we talking about weeding a two dollar paperback? Budget your obsession time accordingly.

What is the worst that could happen? I am often working with newbies (and veteran library staff) that are paralyzed by possibly making the “wrong” decision. Generally speaking, there are very few life and death decisions that library employees have to make.  Use your best judgment and make your decision, and then own it.

Have you gathered all the relevant information? You are information professional so make yourself your patron.

I know everyone out there that has ever worked anywhere has seen this in action in other people. I would be willing to bet that everyone reading this has been in some meeting where people debated lunch options more than any particular library issue.  Unfortunately, this will probably happen for the rest of your working life. You can manage your own decisions and productivity by reminding yourself of the buff vs. cream scenario from time to time.