Outsider Evaluation of Shreve Memorial Library

Quicksand around our feetl
Watching our feet…

A small group has begun wading through documents of the library as part of a Public Records Review. One of the first glaring documents screamed to me, and anyone looking at “Board of Control” responsibilities, would find in a Board Packet Correspondence document section on Governance Practices Training for the board reason to scream. This document shows critical flaws in the system.*

Quicksand sign-Board MembersThe document covers the planned board workshop outcomes, expectations, and path by which the consultant hopes to accomplish stated goals of governance. This program of the Sandbar Group is similar to many other “in-service” programs run for non-profit boards. The problem seems to be that the Shreve Memorial Library Board of Control failed , as a whole, to internalize the substance of the program. This is so critical, I want to quote and give some analysis. Additionally, I believe you should send the basics of this email as a public letter to apply to almost EVERY Public entity and citizen who participates in governance. The one page I pulled is this (The single page is attached to this email):

The Shreve Memorial Library
(January 13, 2010)

The Shreve Memorial Library provides library services to Caddo Parish. Governed by a Board of Control appointed by the Mayor and City Council, and by Caddo Parish, the Board has focused on ensuring that the Library is acting appropriately in its service to the public.
Like many governing boards, the Board of Control employs a system of governance that maintains a blurred line between the role of board members and that of staff. Board members, who care deeply about serving the public, feel the appropriate duty to ensure that the Library is being run appropriately. Unfortunately, there is no formal system by which the Board methodically ensures the proper running of the library and there is no line separating issues that are appropriate for Board oversight from those that should be handled exclusively by the staff. In the absence of such an oversight system, many Board members feel a duty to examine everything possible, quizzing staff members, asking for a great deal of information and data.
crystal Ball oversightThere are several consequences for this lack of oversight system. First, there is often a tug-of-war between staff members who are doing their job, and Board members who are investigating or even fishing for possible wrongdoing. Staff feels mistrusted and attacked. Second, there are so many decisions that happen on a daily basis that the conscientious Board members are inundated with information that they have to read and process. If a person brings up a problem to a Board member, the Board member feels compelled to address it personally because there is no mechanism for these problems to be handled in any other way. Third, a lack of systematic oversight means that there are many issues that may go “under the radar,” meaning that no one is complaining about them, but that doesn’t mean that they are not of concern to the Board. The ad hoc nature of oversight leaves huge gaps where inappropriate actions can occur. Fourth, because there is so much time dealing with all of these smaller issues, the Board does not have time to address larger strategic concerns such as “Is the library actually producing the services needed by the public?” Given this style of governing, the Library may be acting totally appropriately (because of a hyper-vigilant Board), but it may be focused on the wrong things. This would ultimately be a failing of the Board which has not provided the proper strategic guidance.
The Library Board wishes to provide better and more rigorous oversight of the library while also providing more thoughtful and forward-thinking strategic leadership. In many ways, the Board sees that its new Executive Director has “kicked it up a notch” and it wishes to do the same with governance.

Mayor's score todayThe document goes next to explain the process of the in-service and how board members should be accountable and respond to issues from the public as well as staff of the institution. Here is the area where I feel the board currently deserves a score of “F” for Failure. Perhaps the board, as well as the public would benefit from a refresher course here!

In short, it is the failures of basic board responsibility that are the basis for many complaints. Board members who have picked improper fights or causes don’t need to be on the board. They are a hinderance to the proper order of a public library. The root of the failures, from financial mismanagement to governance, from micromanagement to failures of judgement can probably go back to overall leadership flaws. There may be some excellent people trying very hard to manage the SML system, but we see no public confidence because the many, many glaring inconsistencies. It is quite disheartening to continue reading this document, worse yet other documents that demonstrate the failures, as we go through the SML outsiders evaluation.

*NOTE: I have shared this one complete document for ANYONE who wants access at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/gf7i3qz37j5k09k/wbt9dovhHj It is a 20+MB file containing 370 pages.

Marion K. Marks