When we conducted our survey of LITA chairs and membership about what makes a good chair for a committee or interest group, there were three themes that jumped out: organization, preparation, and flexibility. Here’s a summary of the most important things you need to be thinking about as a new chair.
Get and Stay Organized
- Use time between conferences wisely in order to be productive and accomplish the committee’s charge.
- Communicate regularly: Provide regular check-ins to update everyone on recent activity.
- If meetings are required, solicit agenda items from committee members, and reach a consensus on a date and time.
- Doodle is a free tool for scheduling meetings with multiple people across multiple timezones, as is WhenIsGood.
- Use technologies that are reliable and easily accessible for members, such as Zoom meetings, conference calls, Skype, or Google Hangouts.
- During the meeting, stick to the agenda but encourage participation and discussion, and know when to table an issue for future discussion.
- Delegate work to members. Remember, they have volunteered because they want to participate in the group’s work. We don’t expect you to do all of the work yourself.
- Give clear deadlines.
Prepare for becoming chair
- Ask yourself why you are seeking to chair. Make sure this is a committee or group that you are personally invested in and care about.
- Understand the expected time commitment, especially if you are starting a new position or other significant changes in your work or personal life. This will vary by committee, but assume that it will be significant.
- Contact the previous chair and ask for documents relating to procedures and the committee’s work. Ask what worked and what didn’t, and why.
- Read, or at least skim, the Bylaws and Manual, especially the sections on committees and interest groups. Not everything in the Bylaws or Manual is correct or up to date, so make sure to double check normal practice with someone else.
- Talk to other committee and IG chairs during your term (committee chairs have access to the LITA Leaders group in Connect). These are your colleagues who are facing many of the same issues as you are. Attend the Committee and IG Joint Chairs Meeting at ALA Annual Conference on Saturday morning.
- Identify and introduce yourself to your Board liaison and staff liaison.
- Utilize lazy consensus: move forward even if you don’t have 100% response.
- Have a plan B for whatever the situation might be, and especially for meetings and projects.
- While it is important to set clear deadlines, understand when it is appropriate to give extensions. Remember, we are all volunteers and have day jobs and lives.
- Understand that technology fails. For example, if you’re in the middle of an online meeting and there are connectivity or other technical difficulties, try to solve them and stick to the agenda.
- If necessary, try to reconnect with everyone using a different medium.
- This requires knowing in advance your committee members’ phone numbers, Skype handles, Google handles, etc. You can get their email addresses and phone numbers by logging in to the LITA website and viewing your roster.
- Acknowledge when it’s hopeless and reschedule for a different time.
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