Tools for Trustees

For New Trustees

Duties and Responsibilities for Trustees

“Trustee/board members owe allegiance to the institution and must act in good faith with the best interest of the institution in mind. The conduct of a trustee/board member must, at all times, further the institution’s goals…”

-Statement on the Governance Role of a Trustee or Board Member, NYS Board of Regents

The Library Board:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees:

Public libraries are required by the Regulations of Commissioner of Education of New York State (CR 90.2) to operate under written by-laws. By-laws are “the set of rules adopted by an organization defining its structure and governing its functions.” (Sturgis, The Standard Handbook of Parliamentary Procedure; third edition, new and revised, p. 257) By-laws may not conflict with federal or state law and regulations; such law and regulation is the highest authority governing the library’s affairs.

A board will probably find the need to tailor its by-laws to local needs and situations. The by-laws should be reviewed periodically and amended when necessary to maintain flexibility and relevance. All by-laws should include the following provisions:  continue reading

Board Meetings:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees:

Meetings are conducted under the rules set forth in the by-laws. In order for all trustees to be properly prepared for the meeting, a packet should be mailed to them no less than one week before the meeting date. The packet should include the meeting agenda, minutes of the previous meeting, financial reports, the library director’s report, and any other documents that pertain to the business of the meeting. All trustees are expected to come prepared to participate fully in meeting discussions and actions and to be familiar with the activities of the committees to which they are assigned. Using the talents and skills of every board member creates a more cooperative, congenial, and productive board.

Regular attendance at board meetings is essential. The Board President should be notified in advance if attendance is not possible. A trustee who misses meetings frequently may not completely understand the issues at hand and valuable meeting time can be lost bringing that trustee back up to speed.  continue reading

Laws and Regulations:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees:

As corporations in the public arena, libraries are subject to a wide range of federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations. While trustees cannot be expected to understand all the details of every pertinent law, they should be familiar enough with the major legal issues to be assured that their library is always in compliance. Boards are strongly advised to solicit the assistance of legal counsel well versed in education and municipal law. It is important however, for every trustee to understand the legal foundation of their library and the extent and limitations of the Board of Trustees’ authority. continue reading


From the Handbook for Library Trustees:

Policymaking is perhaps the most difficult part of a trustee’s job, requiring an open mind, a thoughtful study of the issues involved and a deep understanding of the library’s mission and of the community it serves.

Policies are the rules and the principles that guide the operation and the use of the library. They are required by Commissioner’s Regulation 90.2 as part of the public library minimum standards. The library board is responsible for creating such policies, reviewing and revising them, and ultimately enforcing them with the assistance of the library staff. Policies must be clearly written and understandable. continue reading

Planning & Evaluation:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees:

Every public library in New York is required to have a written long-range plan of service. There are many excellent publications on planning. Some, such as the Public Library Association’s Planning for Results series are specifically library oriented. The conscious decision to engage in planning is far more important than the planning tool used. Though planning may be required, it is simply a smart way to pull together all the decisions about budgeting, personnel, capital improvements, library services and community involvement. It makes the trustees’ job easier! continue reading

Funding, Budgeting & Fiscal Oversight:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees:

Public library boards are legally responsible for the library’s finances and financial management. As custodians of public funds, trustees must be accountable in their management of the library’s money.

The Budget Process: Every public library, regardless of size, must prepare and adopt a written annual budget. In larger libraries, budget preparation is primarily the responsibility of library management. The board of trustees defines the library’s mission, and the director translates that mission into programs with specific costs that form the basis for a draft budget. The best budgets are developed in relationship to the library’s long range and strategic planning process. continue reading

Funding, Budgets & Fiscal Oversight:

Intellectual Freedom, Censorship & Privacy:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees:

Public libraries play a unique role in the support and preservation of democracy by providing open, non-judgmental institutions where individuals can pursue their own interests. To the extent that their budgets permit, libraries attempt to collect materials and information that represent varying points of view on controversial topics. But as the repositories of our culture, both the good and the bad, libraries sometimes contain information or ideas that are controversial or threatening to some people. continue reading


From the Handbook for Library Trustees:

Commissioner’s Regulations require the board to “maintain a facility which meets community needs.” While various formulas exist for determining the appropriate size of a library, the final determination of adequacy rests in the hands of the trustees. Square footage is only one factor in deciding whether a library meets the community’s expectations. Location, internal arrangement, accessibility for the disabled, environmental quality, and intangibles such as ambiance all contribute to the overall adequacy of a library building.

Proper maintenance of the existing library is essential if the board is to fulfill its responsibilities to the community. continue reading


From the Handbook for Library Trustees:

The management and operation of a library are accomplished through a partnership among trustees, the library director, staff and volunteers.

As the library’s governing body (and the entity with ultimate accountability for the institution), the board of trustees has the responsibility to hire a competent, professional and responsible library director and then to review and evaluate that person’s performance regularly. Having hired a director, the board has an obligation to support the director wholeheartedly within the context of the employment relationship. continue reading

Speak Up for Your Library:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees:

As the citizen control over the public library, the board of trustees has a responsibility for telling the library’s story to the taxpayers who support it. Even the best programs and services are of limited value if people don’t know about them. Conversely, people are more likely to support programs they understand, value and use.

There are numerous ways to reach the public. continue reading

Advocacy 101 -

Continuing Education:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees:

Trustees must learn and grow during their tenure on the board, developing an ever-deepening awareness of the affairs of their own library and an appreciation and understanding of other libraries and library organizations and how they relate. The public library is a multifaceted organization functioning in a complex world.

The first step in the learning process is the orientation of a new trustee. However, education cannot cease once a person has reached the board table. continue reading