My three year term on the CILIP West Midlands committee has come to an end (two years as Marketing Officer, one year as Chair), and I only have a few months left chairing the ALA NMRT Online Discussion Forum committee, so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on my experiences and dispel some myths about chairing committees I’ve come across during my time as chair.


Only men over 50 can join committees

Only businessmen over 50 can join committees

Myth 1: You have to have X years of experience within the profession to chair a committee

Until I joined a committee I had assumed that everyone on the committee, and particularly the chair, secretary and treasurer, must have worked in the profession for a long time in order to know things inside out. What I have since realised is that though there is definitely value in having people on the committee who do have this extensive knowledge and experience, it’s not essential for each individual member to have that. In fact, those new to the profession have just as much to contribute as they are likely to have fresh ideas and suggestions for new ways of doing things – and they can take on roles such as chair, secretary and treasurer to possibly challenge the way things are done and make some changes. And that’s most definitely a good thing.

Myth 2: You have to know the committee and wider organisation inside out to chair a committee

Again, not necessarily true. All you need is a willingness to learn – coming to a committee afresh is of course likely to mean more time invested at the beginning to understand how things work. Experiences here may well differ depending on the organisation and committee, but there is often guidance for new committee members. In ALA New Members Round Table (NMRT) for example, there is a handbook wiki which contains all the information each committee needs. It includes details on the remit of the committee, key responsibilities and milestones for the year, reporting mechanisms, and who to go to for help. In addition, each committee is overseen by a member of the NMRT board so you always have people to turn to if you need further help.

Both CILIP and ALA are complex organisations and I’m willing to bet that the majority of committee members and chairs only know about a very small section of the organisation. A willingness to learn is again all that is needed here, and both organisations have council members who are incredibly helpful if you have any questions. They’ll also welcome new ideas so if it seems strange that something is done a certain way, ask the question and see if it can be improved.

This was the top image search for committee - not like any I've ever been on

This was the top result for a stock image search for committee – it’s not like any I’ve ever been on!

Myth 3: You have to be in a management role (or have held one previously) to chair a committee

Chairing a committee is a form of managing people, so any experience in this area helps, but it’s not essential – everyone has to start somewhere! I’m told it’s a very different experience to line management and I can definitely see that would be the case. It’s not a daily demand (for most committees anyway!), and committee members are usually volunteers so it’s a different type of situation, which of course has its pros and cons. Chairing a committee could be a useful way to get experience managing people if you don’t get the opportunity to do so in your job but would like to in future. As long as you’re willing to chair meetings and provide support for managing the work of your committee members, that’s all you really need.

Myth 4: You have to hold and attend a lot of face-to-face meetings to chair a committee

The number of meetings will vary depending on the remit and responsibilities of the committee, but sometimes these can be held virtually and for some committees no meetings are necessary at all. For most CILIP committees there seems to be a general acceptance that committees should meet face to face at least 4 times per year, however according to the current branch rules it is recommended that the committee meets as many times as is deemed necessary (which could of course be only once for the Annual General Meeting). Some committees never meet in person (this is the case for the NMRT committee I chair), whilst others meet regularly but rely mainly on virtual rather than physical meetings. Of course it’s still important for the chair to be comfortable to chair the meeting(s) and conversations however they occur, but I wanted to highlight the fact that his doesn’t necessarily mean numerous physical meetings. If you can’t commit to that, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t chair a committee.

Myth 5: You have to dedicate your life to a committee to act as chair

Well I didn’t, though I confess there were busy periods where a lot of my time was taken up with committee work (though I was on three committees, two of which I chaired). It doesn’t have to be a massive commitment though. You’re there to help steer and direct the committee, not do all the work. This was initially a difficult lesson to learn for me, but essential both for my well-being and for the sustainability of the committees. Clearly, you need to care about the core values of the committee to enable it to succeed, but if you can only give a limited amount of time, that’s absolutely fine – just choose a committee that suits. I would estimate that chairing CILIP West Midlands took on average around 1-2hrs of my time per week, whereas chairing the NMRT Online Discussion Forum Committee takes around 1-2hrs of my time per month. Committees vary hugely in this and depend on the type of committee – those with a specific purpose often have key periods of time that are particularly busy (e.g. conference organising committees) so you’ll need to take that into consideration.


So, that doesn’t sound so bad really does it? I’ve really enjoyed my time on both committees (and the CILIP Career Development Group West Midlands division committee which I was part of from 2009 to 2012). I can’t quite believe how much I’ve learnt in that time – about the organisations, about other people, and about myself. There have been highs, there have been lows, there have been lots of discussions and emails, and some fun and silliness thrown in too. Overall, it’s been a great experience and one I’d encourage people to participate in to help develop their skills and support their professional organisations (being involved in making it happen is one of the best ways to make sure the organisation is meeting your needs).

For both ALA and CILIP most chair roles are one year terms, with general committee terms for CILIP lasting three years. I recommend finding committees that interest you and seeing if you can get involved. Unless there are confidentiality issues, most meetings will be open so you can go along and see what the committee does – or just reach out to the current chair to get information. If you’re an ALA member, many of the divisions and round tables have volunteer forms for getting involved in committees (such as the NMRT volunteer form which I believe is still currently accepting applications). If you do become a committee chair, you might be interested in my earlier blog post on tips for chairing meetings.

It’s that time of year again – time to reflect on the activities of the previous 12 months (see 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 posts). Here are some of my highlights from 2012:

2012 highlights in pictures

2012 highlights in pictures

Top: My Emerging Leaders project group with ALA NMRT President (Janel Kinlaw, far left) and Past President (Linda Crook, far right)
Bottom left: CILIP Chartership certificate
Bottom centre: CILIP West Midlands Chair medal
Bottom right: Productivity and time management article

Professionally, one of the main things this year has been CILIP Chartership. I started the process early in the year, submitted my portfolio in August, and discovered I had been successful in October. I found it a really useful process for focusing my energy on developing skills and knowledge in areas I felt were important. It was particularly valuable in helping me prioritise tasks and projects, and having to do this has taught me a lot about time management and working towards goals. Throughout the Chartership process, I focused on research skills, formal communication, networking, presenting, event organisation, project management, delegating and leadership. Two of the other big things this year has involved are linked to leadership; ALA Emerging Leaders and chairing committees.

Being part of the American Library Association Emerging Leaders program was a truly incredible experience and I still can’t quite believe that I got to do it. I really enjoyed the project I was assigned to, I loved the enthusiasm and energy from all the Emerging Leaders and especially during our training days at ALA Midwinter and ALA Annual, and I made some truly fantastic friends. It also led to me getting more involved in ALA work, particularly in NMRT (New Members Round Table) where I now chair the Online Discussion Forum committee.

I’ve also been chair of CILIP West Midlands this year. It’s been an interesting challenge and one that has taught me a lot. During the three years I have been on the CILIP West Midlands committee I’ve been involved in trying new things and have been really proud of what we have achieved (e.g. held the first election hustings, continued to support event amplification for those who cannot attend events, organised informal social to complement formal training events). My term comes to an end at the end of the year (i.e. in a few hours!) and I feel ready to pass the baton on; there are a number of new committee members who I’m sure will bring some fresh ideas to the mix as well as some long standing committee members who know the ins and outs which help the committee function effectively.

This year I also developed a training workshop, and followed it up with an article for CILIP Update, on time management and productivity. It’s an area I’ve been interested in for a while and I’ve really enjoyed being able to put what I’ve learnt into developing something to help others. I’m looking forward to continuing this with my CILIP Update column next year.

My favourite cocktails of 2012

My favourite cocktails of 2012

2012 has been an interesting year and has resulted in a lot of personal reflection and development. I feel like I’m finding my place and learning what it is that makes me happy. Most importantly, I’m achieving a balance that suits me. I’ve completed the qualifications I set myself the challenge of gaining when I entered the profession in 2005, so now I can focus on other things – some covering other related professional interests, others covering different areas of my life. I’m really looking forward to 2013, I’ve been assured by both family and friends that it’s going to be a good year – I hope they’re right! Cheers everyone, here’s to 2013 🙂

I’ve been keen to read some of the leadership books I’ve read reviews of but not found time to read. A few months ago, some people involved in ALA activities who wanted to do the same decided to set up a library leadership book club. we all voted on the books we wanted to read and the most popular one was How to make meetings work: the new interaction method. We had around a month to read it and then set a date to discuss it via Google Hangout. Read the rest of this entry »

Meeting Table by mnadi, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  mnadi 

I didn’t actually think I’d be writing a blog post about this yet – chairing meetings was on my list of things I’d be doing later this year (in my role as chair of CILIP West Midlands) but there was confusion over the date of the committee changeover. Seeing as the current chair couldn’t attend the committee meeting earlier this week at the last minute, the rest of the committee decided I should chair the meeting (which left the Vice Chair very confused as the current Chair had asked him to stand in). Unfortunately I got lost on my way to the meeting room and arrived a couple of minutes late so receiving the news I was chairing the meeting after that made for a flustered start! We also had no agenda so the meeting was a little haphazard to say the least.

I’ve attended numerous meetings so tried to stick to some sort of structure similar to what I knew we usually do although I did miss out some crucial elements like welcoming our new committee members and checking the previous meeting’s minutes for accuracy.

I have also been doing some reading about successful chairing of meetings as I’m keen to change the structure of the agenda (at present I don’t feel it is an effective use of our time) and am interested in different approaches and best practice. This may well be the subject for another blog post if I manage to get something better put in place. I’ve been reading some of Facilitating Meetings and Chairing Discussions and Meetings That Give Results: How to Plan and Chair Productive Meetings.

Here are some things I learnt from my reading and my first experience of chairing a meeting.

Before the meeting (sadly on this occasion I didn’t have the luxury of this, but next time I hope to!)

  • Plan an agenda and circulate it beforehand so everyone knows what will be discussed at the meeting (if appropriate, invite attendees to request items to be added to the agenda by a specified date – probably at least a week before the meeting).
  • Ensure the secretary has all the relevant information including the agenda, previous meeting minutes, and any documentation you need to discuss at the meeting well in advance so that they can pass the relevant documents to attendees or print for distribution at the meeting.
  • Ensure each attendee has any relevant documentation including the agenda in advance of the meeting (preferably by email so that they can choose whether they wish to print or not).
  • Make sure you arrive at the meeting in plenty of time to ensure the room is set up correctly, you have all the materials you need, and you can welcome people as they arrive.

During the meeting

  • Remember to welcome everyone to the meeting and aim to start on time.
  • Facilitate the discussion rather than dominating it – ensure everyone gets their chance to express their views (if appropriate).
  • Keep an eye on time throughout so that you don’t overrun (you may need to ask people to keep their points brief).
  • Ensure the minute taker is following throughout  – check with them at key points, or write down any actions yourself so that you can check afterwards that all were recorded. This is particularly important if the minute taker is new to the group and may not know attendees (and therefore who is responsible for what) or if they are unfamiliar with meeting content.
  • Stick to the agenda as much as possible – sometimes discussion will creep but try to keep it on topic and put discussions on hold until later if they are on the agenda but are mentioned earlier on (unless it makes sense to move them).

After the meeting

  • Thank everyone for attending.
  • Follow up on any actions you have – there’s nothing worse than reviewing the actions at the next meeting and the chair repeatedly having to say, “Oh, yes, I haven’t done that yet”.
  • Assist the minute taker with minutes if needed.
  • Set a date for the next meeting and start the process all over again!

I still have a lot to learn when it comes to chairing meetings. Being thrown in at the deep end was probably a good thing though as it made me realise which areas I really need to improve on. For the next meeting I’m hoping to set an agenda based on current activities rather than the standard set agenda that we have used in the past for everyone to report back (sometimes not everyone has anything to report and others have a lot of items to report back on). I’d also like to set approximate times for each item, even if that’s only for my own time management. I don’t want to be too rigid so that people have chance to discuss each item but I do think it’s important to ensure adequate time to discuss everything that needs to be discussed – in the past we have overrun and not covered elements we wanted to discuss.

Are there any other useful tips for chairing meetings? All advice greatly appreciated!

I found last year’s resolutions useful in helping keep me on the right track last year, and am pleased to say I kept most of them – here’s a review:

  • Complete my MSc dissertation – finished in July
  • Attend more conferences – I attended lots of great conferences and events in 2011
  • Implement the Getting Things Done system at home and work – I seem to have this sorted for electronic information, though need to work on physical organisation of paperwork and notes
  • Participate in Library Day in the Life – I took part in both rounds of Library Day in the Life in 2011
  • Continue to blog – I posted 44 times on this blog in 2011, and also blogged for Evidence Base and for projects I’m involved in

As it was a useful exercise for helping me focus last year, so I’ve decided to set myself more resolutions/goals for this year. In common with Erin, these are general aims so cover all areas of my life.

  1. To work on CILIP Chartership (reflecting on achievements and updating wiki on at least a monthly basis)
  2. To improve physical organisation, particularly in home office – notes and paperwork etc.
  3. To achieve a more productive balance between different parts of my life ensuring I make time for professional, personal, and social activities
  4. To continue to blog about professional issues and ideas as well as reflection on activities
  5. To publish at least one paper (preferably peer-reviewed)

Bring it on!

I’m a creature of habit, so I’m continuing the tradition of posting an end of year blog post (see 2008, 2009, and 2010). It’s actually really useful for me to look back and see what I did each year. So, what has 2011 involved?

2011 mosaic

1. My ALA 2011 badge complete with ribbons!, 2. Louisiana State University, 3. Osney Building at University of Oxford, 4. CILIP signage Read the rest of this entry »

CILIP AGM 2011

CILIP AGM 2011

I recently attended my first CILIP AGM. I helped organise the CILIP West Midlands AGM earlier this year but this was a much more formal affair. I learnt a lot about CILIP and its governance, so thought I’d reflect on my experience and share my thoughts (well, actually it was my soon-to-be mentor for CILIP Chartership who prodded me to record my thoughts and gave me some starter questions whilst it’s still fresh in my mind).

Read the rest of this entry »

This week I’m participating in the Library Day in the Life project which charts the day-to-day activities of library workers at different points of the year. This is the fifth time I’ve participated; you can see my earlier posts from July 2009, January 2010, July 2010 and January 2011. I’m currently a full-time Researcher at Evidence Base, Birmingham City University, UK. Although my job title doesn’t include the word librarian and I don’t work in a library, I still consider myself very much a librarian – our research helps support the library and information communities.

I decided to do Library Day in the Life a little different this time round; partly because I’ve been busy, and partly as I’m not sure verbatim accounts are the most interesting thing to write or read. So instead I’ll be writing a summary of what I’ve been up to this week (using Nirvana, my to do list, to help me as I can check my logbook to see what tasks I’ve finished). My work life and professional interests often cross over so this list includes some pure work tasks, and other professional related tasks such as committee work and studying. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m organising CILIP West Midlands Members’ Day and AGM 2011 at the moment, and during the day I’d like to take the opportunity to get people’s opinions on what the focus should be for the branch over the next 12 months. As marketing officer on the committee, I’d particularly like to find out what people’s needs and expectations of the branch are. What support would people like from the branch? What sort of events would they like us to run? Where in the region would they like events/networking opportunities? How would they like to communicate with the branch? It would also be good to get views on the discussions about the future of branches and groups (read Emma Illingworth’s blog post for an excellent overview of the recent meeting about this), though that may be a bit ambitious!

Read the rest of this entry »

Man and woman toasting martini glasses, close up of hands

Continuing on the tradition from 2008 and 2009, it’s time for my end of year blog post. As a naturally reflective person, I find it very useful to reflect back on my achievements of the year and consider what to focus on next. It’s also useful to look at my previous end of year posts and look back at what I’ve done in the last few years.

So what did 2010 bring? Well, I certainly satisfied that itch I mentioned this time last year! Read the rest of this entry »