Board Self-Evaluations and Assessment

Board Self-Evaluations and Assessment

The final calendar year of the current board term is underway, and it’s an ideal time to undertake a board self-evaluation and assessment. One of the most common questions to follow this suggestion is: “What? Why does the Library Board need to conduct a self-evaluation and assessment?” Think of a self-evaluation like a performance review for the board; the self-evaluation and assessment process allows the Board to objectively examine how it is supporting and enabling the library in achieving its mandate. As we move closer to the appointment of boards for a new four-year term following the Fall municipal elections, the self-evaluation and assessment process also adds value in the development of any Board Legacy documents.

“I recommend that Boards have annual, or term work plans and check their progress and performance periodically against the plans.  A good way to deconstruct assessment is to see if the Board is doing what it said it will do (or supposed to do) by examining if it’s providing oversight, foresight, and insight.  And then, the examination and evaluation process begins from there in earnest.” – S. S. Ahmad, OLBA President

It is important to have regular check-ups for your governance practices. The self-evaluation and assessment process is a good indicator of your health as a board and organization. To do this, you need to have different strategies in place for improving your performance and for ongoing assessment. A properly constructed evaluation tool identifies what you should know, helps measure how well you know it, and, more importantly, how to apply it.​

Additional value-added elements to an ongoing practice of board self-evaluation and assessment include:

  • making it easier to plan for the next board term or planning for succession of the board
  • providing start-up support for new board members
  • identifying gaps in skill and experience levels
  • ensuring board alignment with the library’s strategic plan and action plans

Now for the details and specifics of key procedural elements…


It is most common to do an evaluation and assessment once or twice during the board term. For some Boards, the first assessment experience feels awkward and somewhat daunting. However, if the process and outcomes are accepted, the Board can learn and improve its performance based on the assessment. Embarking on a second assessment proves that the Board has learned the importance of monitoring its own effectiveness. Assessment is about the future and ensuring that the Board’s contribution to the organization maintains ongoing excellence.


In addition to evaluating the whole Board, it is equally important for members to conduct a self-assessment of their individual performance. The purpose here is for individuals to be honest with themselves about how active, prepared, and effective they have been in fulfilling their responsibilities as a member of the Library Board. Individual assessment also provides a valuable opportunity to identify gaps in knowledge or a need for additional training.  ​

Also consider including the Library’s CEO in board evaluation activities. They are a key player on your governance team and can provide an important perspective within the process.


  1. Develop a policy – you can’t govern without policy and so having a policy for this process provides structure and continuity.
  2. Demonstrate accountability – assessment shows that you believe in the values of transparency, accountability, learning, and development; and establishes credibility with those who fund and support the library.
  3. Reflect on priorities – identify the issues that have occupied most of the board’s time and ask yourself if those were a good use of time/energy. Key areas to consider include:
    • Organizational mission and values
    • Strategic planning
    • Policies
    • Financials
    • Relationships with the CEO, Council, and Community
  1. Be specific – make use of open-ended questions to gather more specific, detailed results and understanding.
  2. Follow-Up – discuss the assessment results together and address issues that get uncovered. Information gleaned from evaluations can be used in developing or revising recruitment, orientation, and training policies, procedures, and strategic plans. ​

“I very much support the process of board self-evaluation. Throughout the year [my] Board does self-evaluations through questionnaires about the CEO, Performance of Individual Board Members, Conduct of the Board, and Feedback to the Chair…Regular check-ins on different areas of Board activities/interactions is critical to avoid entrenchment of behaviours or conduct that is not helpful to the Board. Also, Board self-evaluations can highlight areas that may have gotten overlooked or missed throughout the year and give a Board the chance to review and reflect as they plan for the year ahead.” – Ben Hendricks, past president OLBA

The commitment to conducting a board self-evaluation and assessment is a means by which the Board can hold itself accountable for the performance of the organization and the state of its governance. It is a commitment to having candid, maybe even difficult, conversations about the extent to which the Board is measuring up to its own policies, codes of conduct, standards, and expectations. A board assessment is connected to the success of the organization and how the Board is contributing to effective governance of the library.

Pro Tip – aim to establish a realistic and meaningful process that works for YOUR board structure and library.

Additional Resources:

Blog Series: What can you do as a Library Board to improve the relationship between your municipal council and the public library? (Post #4 of 4)

In a series of guest blogs library board members Andrew Hallikas and Caroline Goulding will be exploring the question What can you do as a Library Board to improve the relationship between your municipal council and the public library? In this post we will be focusing on how some core responsibilities and philosophies that can help create and maintain your Library Board’s relationship with Municipal Council.

Be fiscally prudent.

Funding is always a problem area for municipalities, just as it is for Libraries. The Municipality provides the major part of the Library’s funding, and the Municipality is very aware of their obligation to provide taxpayers an accounting of where and how tax dollars are spent.  Library Boards need to be very hands on with their budget and to understand it well. Utilize the Municipal Treasurer in your budget discussions. Review your budget carefully at every Board meeting. Do a budget presentation to Council prior to their budget discussions. It is important that the Municipality understand that taxpayer dollars allocated to the Library are spent well and that the Library Board is fiscally responsible and good stewards of taxpayer money. It is essential that the Library Board adhere to their budget and keep budget increases to a bare minimum.

There will be occasions where budget increases are unavoidable, particularly in the cost of electricity, union wages, utilities, insurance etc. These are uncontrollable for the most part and will be increases that the municipality faces as well.

The Library itself will generate some income, be as efficient and creative as possible in the income that you generate. The Fort Frances Public Library reached out to surrounding townships that cannot afford to have a public library and have contracted to provide library services to them for a set annual amount. They have also reached out to area First Nations, Community College Satellite Campuses and the Local Law Library to provide contracted Library services. An active Friends of the Library group can also raise a significant amount of money for the Library.

Be Proactive and Cultivate a Positive relationship with Council

Every Library Board will have at least one or two members who are elected councillors assigned to it. These Board members can be invaluable allies when it comes to dealing with the Mayor and Municipal Council as a whole. They will have a much better understanding of the operation, programming and services of the Library than Council as a whole. They can be extremely helpful in educating Council, especially at budget time. As well when the Library does presentations to council, these Board members/Councillors can assist by asking prepared questions of the presenters as Council members. This can amplify or emphasize the message that the Library would like to get out to not only council but the public. Media usually pay attention to questions asked by councillors. As well Councillors can comment on any presentation to further illustrate or amplify an important point. Ensure that these valuable potential allies are educated about the Library and made to feel that they are not only welcome but invaluable Library Board Members. They should understand that while they are at Library Board meetings, they are Board Members first and Councillors second.

Succession Planning is Important

The make-up of your Library Board is extremely important. Ideally you want a mix of dedicated Library supporters with complimentary skills. Often you get whoever council appoints and sometimes there are not enough qualified applicants to completely fill all Board positions. Be aware of when Board members’ terms expire or if Board members are considering not letting their names stand for another term. Have on-going conversations about suitable replacement candidates based on requirements that fill a need for your board. Encourage these candidates to apply to be on the Library Board. Do not just leave these council appointments to chance. Work constantly to fill your Board with qualified members. You want strong community representation on your Board. Libraries can hold an open house to encourage those interested in serving on a Library Board to come out and meet and talk with existing Board members about the duties and time commitment of Library Board service.

Libraries are generally loved by the Public, use this

Libraries tend to have a much higher approval rating than Municipal Councils. You want to cultivate this. Keep your patrons informed. Be very visible on social media. Use the Media wisely in getting your message out. The Fort Frances Public Library has an excellent relationship with local media and consequently gets strong positive coverage on most issues. We constantly inform the media regarding our events and for the most part they are well covered.  You can also leverage the Libraries position as a trusted community organization in helping the municipality get their own messaging out.

Remember: Creating and maintaining this relationship is one of the most important issues that almost all Ontario Libraries face. We hope you are able to utilize some of the strategies that we have outlined. We would love to hear about how your Library Board has worked to build its relationship with Council, let’s start the discussion!


Andrew Hallikas is the Deputy Mayor and a three term Municipal Councillor for the Town of Fort Frances. He is a Board Member of the Fort Frances Public Library Board and the Past Chair. This is his fourth term as a member of the Fort Frances Library Board. He also serves on the Board of OLS-North. He is been an avid reader and a strong patron and supporter of Libraries since he got his first Library card at the age of eight. As a Teacher and politically active union member, he advocated for both School Libraries and Municipal Libraries over his professional career.

Caroline Goulding is a member of the Dryden Public Library Board and the former CEO of the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre. She is the 2021 Ontario Library Board Association President and also serves as a board or council member of the Ontario Library Association, Federation of Ontario Public Libraries, and the Ontario Public Library Monitoring, Guidelines, and Accreditation Council. She is the Executive Director of Patricia Area Community Endeavours, a Community Futures Development Corporation.

The Estimates Process

I have been thinking about the use of the word ‘budget’ in the public library world. That is, not the use of the word budget as it refers to the document used to track expected revenues and expenses each year, but the use of the word budget in relation to the financial support of the library by its appointing Council.

Each year, representatives from the local public library, perhaps the board chair and the library CEO, must go to their local council to ask for funding support for the next year.  To prepare for this request, the library board prepares a financial plan for the coming year, often prepared in the format of a budget. Section24 of the Public Libraries Act is the provincial legislation that describes the process by which a library can ask for this funding request.  Note that this section of the legislation is called ‘estimates’ and not ‘budgets’:

Estimates – 24 (1) A public library board, county library board or county library co-operative board shall submit to the appointing council, annually on or before the date and in the form specified by the council, estimates of all sums required during the year for the purposes of the board.

In other words, the library representatives present a document which specifies how much money will be needed from the municipality or county to carry out the library plans for the next year. This document would likely specify how much the library will get in the provincial grant and estimate other sources of funding, such as self-generated revenues. By using a budget format (which is perhaps the form specified by the council), the councillors can see the library’s plan for the year and can decide whether they wish to support this plan by providing those requested funds.  Another part of Section 24 of the Public Libraries Act describes the approval of estimates.

Approval of estimates – (2) The amount of the board’s estimates that is approved or amended and approved by the council shall be adopted by the board and shall be paid to the board out of the money appropriated for it. 

In this sub-section, it is noted that after the council sees the library’s plan for the next year, councillors can approve or amend the amount of money which will be provided to the library.  Once approved, that money is paid to the library board – sometimes in a lump sum and sometimes in monthly or quarterly payments.  By the end of the fiscal year, the library can expect to receive all the approved amounts of money, or at least have that amount of money applied against library expenses.

Keeping Section 24 of the Public Libraries Act in mind, I believe that there are two points to consider about the Estimates process:

  • In the Estimates process, the Council is not approving the library’s budget, rather the Council is deciding how much money they wish to provide to the library. The council’s decision is based a presentation of the estimates of all sums required during the year for the purposes of the board, that is what you plan to do, and how much money is needed to achieve this plan.
  • A Council can approve the requested amount; they can decide to give additional funds to the library; or they could decide not to give the full amount of the funding request. If the Council decides to reduce the amount to be provided to the library– they technically did not cut the library’s budget.  Rather, it is the work of the Library Board to take the amended amount of the board’s and determine what to do about library services in the coming year.  Of course, one option is to drop specific items from the budget to balance the revenue and expenses on the proposed library budget. A second option is to determine if it is possible to find other sources of revenue to keep that original proposed plan for the year in place, for example, grant, fundraising, increased self-generated revenue.

The Estimates process has been a part of the provincial library legislation since 1984, and, from time to time, it is important to go back and read what the legislation states.  By taking this step, you can call it the presentation of estimates required and not the approval of a library budget.

Blog Series: What can you do as a Library Board to improve the relationship between your municipal council and the public library? (Post #2 of 4)

In a series of guest blogs library board members Andrew Hallikas and Caroline Goulding will be exploring the question What can you do as a Library Board to improve the relationship between your municipal council and the public library? In this post we will be focusing on politics. Read Part One.

Be Proactive and Be Politically Active

The best possible situation is to have a Municipal council that supports and values its Public Library. To that end work to elect individuals who value Libraries.

This process starts during the campaign period leading up to the Municipal Election and even before. Ensure that Library Issues become campaign issues. Mobilize Library Board Members, your Friends of the Library Group, and Library patrons to ensure that Library issues are raised in public meetings and by the media. Attend meet the candidate nights and ask questions of potential candidates regarding their view of Public Libraries. Be organized in this; plan and create a list of pertinent questions, then have several different Library supporters ask the questions. The media will pick up on this and Library issues become amplified. Support Candidates who are sympathetic to library issues.

We should insert a note of caution here. Be careful in how you support candidates. It is important that the Library not run afoul of election laws and Municipal by-laws around elections. Board members can as individuals involve themselves in elections, but be careful not to act in the name of your Library.

Encourage library users and supporters to run for council and support them when they do.  Although be careful that you do not run “one issue” candidates.

Municipal Councillors, like all politicians respond to publicity and public pressure. Well timed and well written letters to the Editor can be highly effective in keeping Library issues in the minds of the public and politicians. This is something that the Library Board Chair can and should do, as can library patrons or members of Friends of the Library. Keep your community constantly informed of library issues. Social media works well for this.

Be organized, consistent and politically aware. Only the Library CEO or Board Chair should speak for the Library unless another Board Member is specifically delegated to be spokesperson on a particular matter. All Board members when out in the community should speak with one voice and should have ready “elevator” speeches made up on a topic. Generally, the Board Chair speaks on political issues and the Library CEO speaks on Library issues, although the line on this can become blurred at times. Councillors will often say all sorts of things to the media, do not let negative or inaccurate comments about the Library go unchallenged.

Cultivate good relationships with local media

Local Media are essential to Public Libraries for a variety of reasons. The media like most of the general public tend to view Libraries favourably. Libraries provide many and varied newsworthy stories. Always ensure that all local media, newspaper or radio, is invited to all significant Library events. Feed them. Get to know local media personalities and reporters. Send them personal invitations to attend events and particularly events where Municipal Councillors are invited. Send out regular press releases.

Our Library keeps press clippings and posts them on a bulletin board. Patrons enjoy reading them. Politicians are always aware of press coverage and will notice if your Library is getting a lot of positive media coverage.

Blog Series: What can you do as a Library Board to improve the relationship between your municipal council and the public library? (Post #1 of 4)

In a series of guest blogs, Fort Frances Public Library board member Andrew Hallikas and Ontario Library Boards’ Association President Caroline Goulding will be exploring the question: What can you do as a Library Board to improve the relationship between your municipal council and the public library? Posts will be published every two weeks. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Blog (to the right of the screen) for notifications.

In this post we will be focusing on how to build a foundation for a great relationship. It is vitally important for public library boards to build solid, trusting relationships with their municipal council. Creating and maintaining this relationship is one of the most important issues that almost all Ontario Libraries face!

Some may argue that other problems such as finances, drug addiction, safety are more pressing. However, it is the Municipal Council that provides most of the funding for Libraries, appoints Board Members, and provides support. We would argue that the ability of Libraries to deal with all these other issues begins with this.

Andrew first became aware of the divide between some Municipal Councils and their Library Boards when he was elected to his first term of Council and appointed to the local Library Board.  He found that very few of his fellow councillors visited the library or were aware of the extensive community demographic that used the local Library.  Despite the creative and varied programming and services, that the Fort Frances Public Library offered, very few councillors saw the value it provided the community.

One counsellor proudly informed Andrew that Libraries were an anachronism and had outlived their usefulness.

Another Councillor during a budget meeting where cuts to the Library budget were proposed, asked the question, “What’s so special about the Library?”. In response the library posted the quote prominently and asked patrons to answer it. Patrons responded overwhelmingly with their answers, many of which were written about in local and social media and the Library got excellent positive coverage.

This friction between a Municipal Council and their public library is not unique to Fort Frances. In many communities there exists a divide between Municipal Councillors and the Library.

We are here to tell you that that does not have to be the case.

These posts are based on our general observations and are meant to help start a discussion.

Know your Municipal Council

In Northern Ontario, municipal councils can have a pretty homogeneous demographic of primarily older, conservative white males. Most councils are fiscally prudent, and they pay particular attention to roads, sewers, and water.  They will describe community services such as museums, libraries, day care, and festivals as “soft services”. If this is a description of your municipal council, you need to work towards making your council more diverse and representative of the community. We need to educate and change the mind set of councillors who think that Libraries are less worthy of attention and funding because they are “soft services”. Councillors need to believe that libraries are essential community services.

Regardless of the composition of your Municipal Council, all Councils have the same financial restraints that Libraries have, and they will appreciate fiscal prudence. They will also appreciate anything that casts their community in a positive light or provides favourable publicity.

As Library supporters you see the value that your local Library offers its community, but what does your local Council value? What do individual Councillors value? It is very easy to think of Councillors as being hard hearted and unfeeling when they do not support the same causes that you do.

It is important to remember that your local Councillors will have projects that they are passionate about. Is there a way that your Library could support these goals? The Library mandate is wonderfully broad and if you can demonstrate to even just one Councillor that the Library can play a role outside the bookshelves, that the Library is a value added service not a  “soft service”, you can start to change how Council as a whole sees the Library over time.

It is important for the local Library Board to know and build relationships and trust with individual Councillors. It is easy to rely on formal presentations to try and maintain a relationship, but you cannot develop a strong relationship inside the Council Chambers. While making formal presentations is important to accountability, the informal connection Board members develop with Councillors are important for relationship building.

Board members should meet with Councillors, sometimes over coffee and talk not about the Library’s budget ask, or building projects, but about the community and what the Library is doing and can to do help.

As Board members you cannot simply tell your CEO in a meeting that “We need to have a better relationship with our Municipality.” It is not something that can be delegated.  Library staff can develop and improve relationships with Municipal Staff, but the relationship with Council needs to be developed by the Board, out in the community you both serve.

Get Your Municipal Councillors into the Library

You need to get Municipal Councillors into your Library to see firsthand all the innovative and creative things that go on there, for people of all ages. One of the first things that a newly appointed Library Board should do is to hold an open house for the newly elected Mayor and Council. This is an important opportunity for the Library Board and CEO to meet and mingle with the Mayor and Council and to show off the Library, its staff, its programing, and its services. Have a short program focusing on one or two things that you want your municipal council to know. It is important to get council members into the library frequently. Serve refreshments so that Councillors and Library Board members can mingle informally. During the rest of the evening, take the opportunity to speak one on one with individual members of council. Have an elevator speech ready to be presented by experienced Library Board members and the Library CEO. Be organized so that there are several different elevator speeches. This should be the first of many invitations that Mayor and Council receive to visit your Library. Invite them every time you host a significant event at the Library. Ensure that the media is present at all Library events.

Wherever possible inform and educate your municipal council, see above

Most libraries do an outstanding job providing services and programming. Many councillors are not aware of how creative, versatile, and efficient their libraries are in using public tax dollars to benefit the community.  While it is important to get Municipal Politicians into the Library, it is equally important for the Library to go to the politicians and do presentations to council.

The Board Chair and the Library CEO should be appearing regularly before council. Many Library boards will do a presentation at budget time. We would recommend at least quarterly presentations on a variety of topics. Imagine what you would think of a relative who only visited once a year to ask for money. Your Council delegations need to happen regularly and focus on topics beyond just the budget. For example, appearing before council to remind them of all the wonderful things that the Library continued to do during COVID-19 when the Library was physically closed to patrons, but continued to have a large virtual presence. Talk to your Council about the positive impact that the Library has on the community.

Sometimes mistrust can develop between a Municipal Council and the Library. The autonomy provided to a Public Library Board by the Public Library Act can be double edged sword. It allows the Board to act in the Library’s best interest, but it also means that the Library is quite different to many of the other Boards a Councillor may participate in and to municipal departments. The education piece around ensuring a Council understands that the Library is not a municipal department is important, but to build trust the Board needs to be accountable to all its stakeholders including Municipal Council. Make sure your local Council is kept up to date on the Library’s performance and goals. These updates can include:

  • Keep council informed of all the innovative and creative things that you are doing.
  • Do a formal presentation to council when your annual report is prepared.
  • Present your Strategic plan to Council.
  • Report newsworthy achievements and feel good stories. For example, when the Library receives awards, is accredited, etc.

Keep presentations short and focused (no more than ten minutes), always provide a brief and concise written report ahead of time. Let the media know when you will be doing a presentation. The media covers Council meetings and generally welcome matters that are not routine, so Delegations to Council usually get good Media coverage.

If your news is brief and might not need a full presentation, consider having the Board Chair send correspondence to Council on behalf of the Board. The key is to ensure that the lines of communication are open and regularly utilized.

Educate, Educate, Educate

It is essential that all Board Members are familiar with the Public Library Act, it is also essential that Council Members are familiar not only with the broad strokes of the act and but also the operation of their public library. Take every opportunity to educate your new Board and Municipal Council. Board professional development is much easier than educating your council. But informing your council about all things Library on a regular basis will pay dividends.

It is important that your Board and Municipal Council understands the distinction that the Library Board is governed by the Ontario Public Libraries Act. That they can hire and fire their CEO, that the Library CEO is not a Municipal employee, but a Library Board employee and the Library is not simply another department of the Municipality. That while the Municipality sets the amount of funding that the Library will receive from the Municipality. The Library Board sets its own budget and decides how that money will be spent.

Who Does What? Delegation of Authority and the Public Libraries Act

Public libraries in Ontario have followed the same provincial legislation since 1984, with a few minor changes.  Our role at the Ontario Library Service is to help library board members and staff members sort out the framework for library service within this legislation.  Section 3 (3) of the Public Libraries Act states that “A public library shall be under the management and control of a board” (although with a few exceptions).  We know that Section 15(2) of the Public Libraries Act makes it clear that a library “board shall appoint a chief executive officer who shall have general supervision over and direction of the operations of the public library and its staff, shall attend all board meetings and shall have the other powers and duties that the board assigns to him or her from time to time.”  It seems to be the parts in between where things get a little less clear.

The pandemic, which began with a lockdown in March 2020, illustrated to us that the lines of authority were not as clear as everyone thought.  The COVID-19 pandemic brought forward some weaknesses in the delegation of authority for Ontario public libraries.  Observations include:

  • A Library CEO did not have the authority to execute a Pandemic Response Plan and had to wait for the next meeting of the library board so that the library board could approve the Plan before re-opening the spaces.
  • While the framework for reopening was provided by the provincial government and the local health unit, some library boards felt that, to ensure compliance with province guidance, it was their responsibility to write the re-opening procedures.

From those observations, we started to wonder:

  • Is each party (the library board and the CEO) clear on the framework for “who does what”?
  • Did the library board delegate authority to the library CEO?
  • Is this delegation of authority clearly expressed in the written library policies?

Over the years, we have included some phrasing in the sample Trillium Public Library policies to reflect these lines of authority.  For example, that the “library board directs the Library CEO through decisions made at board meeting” or that the CEO will “take actions consistent with the board’s mission, vision, values and policies”.  However, given our most recent experience with the pandemic, we have strengthened these three Trillium Policy samples to better illustrate how a library could specify responsibility:

  • Statement of Authority (BL-01)
  • Purpose and Duties of the Board (GOV-01)
  • Board-CEO Partnership (GOV-08)

In the Board-CEO Partnership policy (GOV-08), we structured it so that the Library Board approves the policy and then, using the guidance provided in policy, the CEO writes the operational plans (e.g. technology, collection, emergency preparedness) and shares those with the library board for information.  In the case of the emergency, our samples show that the CEO can modify the procedures or plans – including the emergency preparedness plan – but would always keep the library board informed of the situation and may ask the library board for direction on specific matters relating to budget, property or service levels.

In the Trillium policy examples, we use a traditional framework where the Board approves all policies and the library’s strategic plan and delegates authority to the Library CEO for the creation of procedures or actions to implement the policies or strategic plan.  We recognize that there are library boards across Ontario using the Policy Governance (Carver) Model whereby the Library Board sets certain policies and then delegates authority to the Library CEO to carry out library operations but also to create and implement specific operational policies AND plans.

Either way, we want to highlight the crucial step of ensuring a clear framework for ‘who does what’.  Using these samples, a library could decide for itself how the lines of authority will be established for their local situation.

Additional Resources