Personnel Committees: Form and Functions | Trustees Corner

It’s important for a library board to strike a balance when it comes to supporting the library’s director. While no director wishes to be micromanaged, they certainly want to be supported. When a director is challenged with personnel issues, they would ideally call upon human resources (HR) for practical solutions. But what about directors who oversee a library that isn’t large enough to justify such a position? In these cases, and even in some libraries with HR leadership, the director turns to a personnel committee for guidance, collaboration, and support.

Brian Mortimore head shotIt’s important for a library board to strike a balance when it comes to supporting the library’s director. While no director wishes to be micromanaged, they certainly want to be supported. When a director is challenged with personnel issues, they would ideally call upon human resources (HR) for practical solutions. But what about directors who oversee a library that isn’t large enough to justify such a position? In these cases, and even in some libraries with HR leadership, the director turns to a personnel committee for guidance, collaboration, and support.

A personnel committee is a subset of the board of trustees, often made up of individuals with managerial experience. Typically, they meet with the library director on a standing schedule (e.g., quarterly), as well as on an as-needed basis. Often consisting of two trustees from the board, these meetings would not constitute a quorum of the board, and thus not violate the Open Meetings Act by remaining private. A personnel committee can also provide a director with feedback and serve as a sounding board for various personnel issues. This can be especially valuable for a new director.

Each year, the director is responsible for establishing a budget. In the absence of a full leadership team, a personnel committee can be quite helpful when the time comes to consider new positions, or possible consolidation of duties among staff as a means to streamline efforts and manage costs. A library’s labor budget, along with corresponding benefits, is typically the largest item that will be presented to a board of trustees for consideration. For a director to present their budget to the personnel committee in advance of the full board serves as a beneficial first pass or ”dry run” of that critical presentation.

Establishing starting compensation rates for new hires, considering options for percentage increases related to promotions, and deciding how best to stretch labor dollars in a fair and equitable manner can be overwhelming for a director. A personnel committee can make the job easier. If it’s true that making compensation decisions is part art and part science, then why not have a few more artists and scientists in the room so that consensus can be reached and confident decisions made?

Most libraries have a big book of policies, typically larger than the old yellow pages, or perhaps they are found now in electronic form. That resource serves to guide the organization and is used by the director as a key tool in decision making. A personnel committee might make it a regular agenda item to review those documents, keep them, and consider adding to or deleting policies. Doing so gives the personnel committee a practical focus and can give the rest of the board confidence, knowing that the policy manual is current and up to date.

The Muskegon Area District Library’s HR manager Jeri Wonders noted, “Meeting with the personnel committee allows management to hear any possible concerns that may arise regarding management initiatives pertaining to staff from a board perspective. If there are concerns, they can be addressed prior to the board as a whole. This process ensures a more efficient use of the board’s time and better outcomes for our management initiatives.”

There’s no requirement that a library board have a personnel committee, but many find them helpful. If a board wishes to form such a subcommittee, they should record a statement of purpose that will give the committee direction, as well as establish a regular set of meetings with agendas. A sample might include the following:

Purpose: To meet regularly in support of the library director and the board of trustees, helping to advance and address regular and emerging matters related to the human resources of the library.

Agenda:

  • 1st Quarter: Policy Review
  • 2nd Quarter: Budget Planning
  • 3rd Quarter: General
  • 4th Quarter: Director Evaluation

Whether a board chooses to organize a personnel committee to take on these tasks or perform them directly is a matter of style preference. Regardless, each board member should know that they’re making a difference in their community for thousands of patrons and their efforts are reflected in every book that gets checked out, every program that is attended, and in the support they show in the guidance of their director.


Brian Mortimore is Director of Human Resources and Organizational Development for the Kent District Library in Grand Rapids, MI. In addition to assisting libraries on personnel matters, Brian collaborated with nearly 500 library workers throughout the United States and Canada to develop the library industry’s first employment assessment tool. (See BookmarkHR.com for more information.)

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