This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, October 8, 1998

October 7, 1998 - New Philip S. Miller Library Manager

I recently hired a new manager for the Philip S. Miller Library -- Greg Mickells. He'll be starting the first week of November.

The position opened because I've promoted Holly Deni to Associate Director for Support Services. She'll be directing our computer operations, staff training effort, and the building of our collection. These operations have grown rapidly in our district, and I need some help coordinating them.

I picked Greg after he went though a (frankly) grueling day. Our library uses something called the "assessment center."

When you apply to be a library manager at the Douglas Public Library District, you run several gauntlets. Here's how it worked this time.

First was the resume, where candidates were screened for relevant experience. Second was the phone interview, where I narrowed the field from around a dozen to three or four.

The third gauntlet was a half-day when candidates had to participate (among other exercises) in a panel discussion with all of the other candidates. I gave them three questions our library is really grappling with.

This is called a "leaderless discussion group." I said, "here are the questions. Think about them for 5 minutes." Then I said, "Begin."

I'm looking for folks who demonstrate good communication skills. In this library district, managers need not only to be self-starters, but also to pay close attention to the people around them, patrons and staff. Many people talk a good game. This exercise forces them to SHOW their skills.

The rest of the morning was aimed at the other side of the "interview." It gave our candidates an opportunity to decide what they thought about us.

In the second half of the day, the candidates went away. I gathered together many of the staff of the branch, and several other folks from around the district -- about 16 in all. We talked through the observed behavior of each candidate, and thought about what that behavior revealed. It was a great set of choices.

I should stress that this is not quite a democracy. I pay very close attention to staff comments, and I usually learn a great deal. Those comments always influence me, and on occasion they persuade me to change my mind. But it's not a vote.

Why did I select Greg?

I liked the way he looked to staff to come up with good ideas. In my experience, that expectation is justified. I was also impressed with Greg's ready grasp of the importance of community outreach, particularly to local small businesses. You can expect to be hearing more from him in the future.

The trick to managing an organization that has to keep up with an ever-growing population of patrons and staff is to find good people. The assessment center has proved to be an important and successful tool toward that aim.

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