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AE 12: Managing the Staff

This Administrative Essential covers:

  • Staff selection
  • Staff training
  • Supervision and discipline
  • Evaluation
  • Personnel records
  • Continuing education for library staff
  • Volunteers

The most important determinant of library service quality is the training, experience, attitude, and motivation of the library staff. Developing and maintaining a high-quality library staff requires careful decision-making and cooperation by both the library board and the library director.

Staff selection

The library board selects and appoints the library director, but the director "shall appoint such other assistants and employees as the library board deems necessary." Once the library board has approved job descriptions and positions to be filled, the library director must recruit and select qualified people to fill vacancies. The following steps are provided as a suggested course of action.

  1. The director should contact the library system, which has experienced staff who can assist with the hiring process. The library's municipality may have personnel resources that can assist and support the library in the hiring process, although the library should not turn over to the municipality its legislated duty to hire staff, supervise employees, and set compensation. The municipality also may be able to help post advertisements, review job descriptions, and receive applications, but the library director and board should review applications, screen candidates, conduct interviews, contact references, and make the appointment.
  2. Before posting a vacancy to be filled, the director should review hiring and promotion guidelines in the library's personnel policy, as well as any collective bargaining contract that may apply to library staff. Depending on the size of the library and the level of the position, the director may wish to appoint a search and screening committee to assist in the process.
  3. The board must approve a position description that reflects the necessary qualifications and duties of the job. A competitive salary range and fringe benefit package must be established if you hope to attract qualified applicants.
  4. To avoid any appearance of discrimination, advertise the job in the local newspaper. Also post the job description broadly enough to attract qualified candidates for the job. These might include email list services in your library system, the Wisconsin Library Association's library jobs board, the DPI Library Classifieds job board, and the American Library Association's Joblist on the Internet.. An abbreviated job description can be posted, with a link to a full job description and application materials on the library's web site.
  5. The director or the search committee should then screen the list of applicants, first winnowing out those who do not meet the minimum qualifications. Then the candidates should be ranked and a manageable number selected to consider for interview. Some hiring committees elect to check references before inviting candidates for interview; others incorporate reference checks with final evaluation of candidates.
  6. Determine how the interviews will be conducted. The interviews should be conducted between the candidate and a panel representing the library to bring broader perspective to the selection process. To avoid any question of impropriety and to provide defense against legal claims by disgruntled candidates, the director should never conduct interviews alone.The panel should consist of the director and another library staff or a board member, or with either the full or a subset of the hiring committee. A uniform list of questions should be developed for use in the interviews and for contacting references. Be sure to have these questions reviewed by someone knowledgeable about employment and discrimination law.
  7. The candidates should be informed of probationary process, performance evaluation and salary adjustment procedures, benefits, and all other terms of employment. These should be reviewed when negotiating with the candidate selected for the job.
  8. In addition to contacting listed references, the director or screening committee may wish to contact current or past colleagues of the top candidate or candidates to get a more complete picture of the qualifications of the applicant. Be sure to first obtain written permission from the candidate to contact employers.
  9. Once the director or committee has made a hiring decision, contact the selected applicant to offer the job. If accepted, confirm the appointment and starting date in writing, along with any other terms of employment. Then promptly notify applicants not selected.
  10. A six-month or one-year probationary period is a common personnel practice; specific periods may be designated in the library personnel policy or bargaining contract. The new employee and director or supervisor should mutually determine short- and long-term goals for this period. They should then meet at regular intervals to evaluate performance regularly throughout this period.
  11. Assuming successful completion of probation, the supervision and evaluation responsibilities continue. Reviews of the employee's performance and attainment of goals and objectives should be carried out annually.

Staff training

Effective training and orientation of new employees is essential to their incorporation into library operations. Besides introducing the employee to other staff and the facility, the supervisor should be sure the employee knows how to access employee benefits and resources. The personnel policy should be reviewed so that the employee understands procedures.

Depending on the job duties and responsibilities, as well as the employee's level of experience, orientation might stretch out over several weeks. For others with broad experience specific to the job, a simple review of library policies and procedures and exposure to the tools and resources may be sufficient. Be sure that any training of new staff includes clear explanation of policy related to the confidentiality of public library records, s. 43.30.

Supervision and discipline

Ideally, well trained employees should be able to carry out the well-defined functions of their positions without supervision. Day-to-day operations of the library can be attended to by the staff and the director can focus attention on long-range planning, deal with problems and special issues, and work with the board on policy review and mission of the library. But some level of regular supervision is necessary for the benefit of both the employee and the library. The director, as a supervisor, should be aware of the conduct and behavior of the staff in order to adjust and modify the job duties and tasks for efficient operations, or the behavior and performance of the staff to best accomplish the assigned duties, provide appropriate levels of service as defined by the board, and keep the library operating legally and in accordance with established policy.

The key to effective supervision is determining the appropriate amount to confirm appropriate and effective operations without being intrusive or controlling. Supervision can make the employees feel that management cares about them and their work. But too much supervision can become overbearing and can stifle creativity and personal initiative. Supervision should be a two-way communication that also allows the staff to have input on processes, and to make suggestions for better operation of the library and improved public service.

Good training, appropriate supervision, and targeted coaching will minimize the need for discipline. But despite your best efforts in directing the activities of your staff, you need to have discipline options available to you and these should be outlined in the personnel policy. Progressive discipline is designed to address ongoing refusal or failure to perform normal duties. Examples of issues that can be addressed through discipline are unsatisfactory performance, chronic absenteeism or tardiness, unprofessional conduct, insubordination, or violation of established procedures or policy. Using progressive discipline does not necessarily mean you cannot terminate an employee for a first offense. Some misconduct is of such a serious nature that continued employment is not warranted and may actually be a danger or liability to the library. But in most cases, unacceptable behavior results in a warning or sanction and repeated offenses result in escalating disciplinary action, only leading to termination if the employee does not respond to discipline. Options available under a progressive discipline policy include verbal reprimands, written warnings, and suspensions of varying lengths.

Supervision of staff should include documentation of observed and reported employee behavior issues, work deficiencies, as well as positive comments accomplishments. These will help you establish a balanced point of view to fairly praise or redirect activities. Managers may keep their own informal records to keep tabs on an employee's job performance. These may include notes of minor incidents or infractions to establish a patter of behavior and to reference when intervention is required. Verbal directives or reprimands should be noted for reference, if necessary, in a future written reprimand.

Documentation becomes formal in nature at the point of a written reprimand and the directives or memoranda should be filed in the employee's personnel file.


Formal evaluations of library employees should be conducted by their supervisors on a regular basis, and at least once per year. Traditionally, the process consists of two components. First, the supervisor should prepare a written evaluation, using an established format, of the employee's performance in conducting duties as described in the job description. The second component is an interview between the supervisor and employee to discuss the written evaluation and establish steps to modify performance for the coming year. The director or supervisor should also review job descriptions with the staff during performance evaluations. Changes should be submitted and approved by the library board.

Setting specific performance measures or project goals for the forthcoming year is a good way to establish an objective means to improve job performance. The supervisor and employee can determine the frequency to review progress during the year. Poor performance can be corrected through a formal process that focuses on the job and its tasks, not on the employee and personality.

Having regular written evaluations that focus on job performance makes discipline less confrontational as well. By having regular and formal feedback, the employee knows better what is expected, and the supervisor or director has opportunities to take corrective measures, initiate disciplinary processes, or adjust duties, schedules or processes to address incomplete, incorrect work or unacceptable behavior. Because the cost of hiring and training employees can be expensive, it is generally best to correct work patterns with existing staff than to terminate employees and hire anew. But if an employee needs to be fired when other measures have failed, the library should have adequate documentation to support the termination.

Recent criticism that traditional annual performance appraisals are not productive for either employees or management has led to alternative evaluation methods that rely more on goal setting, dialog, and coaching, and less on criticism and rankings. Many options can be found in human resource literature. Common among many is to establish expectations the director and employee have for the job, the specific work to be performed, and how performance will be measured. They establish a common understanding of how to assess progress toward those expectations and goals through regular communication and coaching, and how to incorporate different options or change goals as tasks or circumstances change. Progress is documented throughout the process and during a more formal annual appraisal the participants can incorporate annual and long range goals and chart a course of action for the subsequent year that is driven by the library's mission and budget.

Personnel records

Wisconsin's public records law provides special rules for the handling of staff personnel records, and Wisconsin's open meetings law has special rules for library board proceedings involving collective bargaining and other personnel issues. See Administrative Essential #18: Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law (also Trustee Essential #14) and Administrative Essential #19: Wisconsin's Public Records Law (also Trustee Essential #15) for more information.

Continuing education for library staff

Library staff members, regardless of their level of employment, should have the opportunity to continue to expand their knowledge of library practice, communication skills, and library technology related to their job responsibilities through participation in workshops, conferences, and other continuing education activities. It is recommended that the library adequately budget for staff continuing education and professional activities, including paid work time for attendance, registration fees, and travel costs. Wisconsin library directors must participate in continuing education as required by Wisconsin librarian certification and recertification rules. (See Administrative Essentials #7: Library Director Certification.)


Many public libraries cannot survive without volunteers. But neither can libraries survive on volunteers alone. A library can effectively use volunteers to supplement and support the activities by regular library staff. But there are some duties that are best left to trained employees who are adequately compensated for their time and experience. Too much reliance on volunteers to complete traditional library services such as circulation and reference leaves the library vulnerable to sporadic levels of service, inadequate control of service quality, and possible liability for providing inaccurate or incomplete information.

The library should have a clear volunteer policy that establishes the types of work a volunteer may and may not perform. It should also outline the expectations the library makes of volunteers and what the volunteer can expect from service to the library. Be sure to clearly designate the requirement that all library staff, including volunteers, protect the privacy of public library records as required in s. 43.30. Consider a form for volunteers to sign acknowledging that they have read and acknowledge the terms of the policy, and that they acknowledge that, by volunteering their service, they have no expectation of special consideration for future employment opportunities in the library. Some libraries also have volunteers complete an application and go through a screening process.

Check with the library's insurance carrier or risk management coordinator to ensure there are no liability issues in having volunteers perform regular functions at the library. Be sure that the volunteer policy addresses special situations such as seasonal volunteers, temporary community service assignments, service group projects, and court-assigned community service. Be careful that none of the volunteers' duties conflict with regular duties of employees covered under a collective bargaining agreement. Finally, be sure no substantial compensation is given or credited to volunteers that would require that the library pay workers compensation insurance. For instance, allowing patrons to work off excess fines, waiving fines or fees for volunteers or giving them reduced rates for services may be considered a form of compensation and thereby require workers compensation insurance.

Sources of additional information

Christopher, Connie, Empowering Your Library: a Guide to Improving Service, Productivity, & Participation. Chicago: American Library Association, 2003. Contains chapters on motivation, creating shared vision and trust, the manager's role, interpersonal and team skills, and empowered library leadership.

Evans, G. Edward, Performance Management and Appraisal: a How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians, New York, Neal-Schuman, 2004. Concentrates on the performance appraisal process, background, different methods and attributes. Includes a CD-ROM with appraisal forms in Word and PDF formats.

Position Classifications for Public Libraries, Wisconsin Association of Public Libraries, Personnel and Professional Concerns Committee

Practical Help for New Supervisors, Third Edition, Chicago, American Library Association, 1997. Survey has chapters by various authors on such topics as Interviewing, orientation, performance appraisal, nonmonetary rewards, communication skills, conducting meetings, time management, diversity, and conflict resolution.

Salary and Fringe Benefit Survey, Wisconsin Association of Public Libraries, Personnel and Professional Concerns Committee

Staff Development: A Practical Guide, Third Edition, Chicago, American Library Association, 2001. Provides guidelines and methods to develop a staff development program, determining goals and competencies, developing trainers, and conducting programs.

Trotta, Marcia, Successful Staff Development: a How-To-Do-It Manual, New York, Neal Schuman, 1995. Covers development of formal training, ongoing training, and mentoring as methods for development.

Volunteers in Libraries, by Rashelle Karp. Chicago, American Library Association 1993. 0-8389-5756-0. (out of print).

Administrative Essential: A Handbook for Wisconsin Public Library Directors was prepared by the Division for Libraries and Technology. © Copyright 2008 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Duplication and distribution for not-for-profit purposes permitted with this copyright notice.