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, pg 22, 2018 ed.:

Public libraries are required by the Regulations of Commissioner of Education of New York State (Education Department Regulations [8 NYCRR] § 90.2) to operate under written bylaws. Bylaws 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).

Bylaws may not conflict with federal or state law and regulations; nor the library’s charter. Such law and regulation is the highest authority governing the library's affairs.

A board will probably find it appropriate to tailor its bylaws to local needs and situations. The bylaws should be reviewed periodically and amended when necessary to maintain flexibility and relevance. Nonetheless, bylaws must conform to the library’s charter of incorporation and, if applicable, enabling legislation. All bylaws should must be updated every five years and posted on the library’s website.  They should include the following provisions:
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Board Meetings:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees, pg 27, 2018 ed.:

Library board meetings are conducted under the rules set forth in the library’s bylaws, which must comply with the library’s charter, state and federal law and regulation. In order for all trustees to be properly prepared for the meeting, a packet should be mailed or e-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, the schedule of bills to be paid, proposed personnel actions and committee reports. Background information on the issues before the board should be distributed as well as 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.
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Laws and Regulations:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees, pg 7, 2018 ed.:

As New York State Education Corporations 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 their public library system and seek the advice 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.
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Policies:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees, pg 38, 2018 ed.:

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.  In addition, clearly reasoned and written, up-to-date policies provide the Library with critical legal protection.

Policies are the rules and the principles that guide the operation and the use of the library. They are required by Education Department Regulations (8 NYCRR) § 90.2 as part of the public library minimum standards and must be reviewed every five years and posted on the library’s website. 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. 
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Planning & Evaluation:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees, pg 59, 2018 ed.:

very public and association library in New York is required to have a written long-range plan of service and to make it easily accessible by the public; including on the library website. (Education Department Regulations (8 NYCRR) § 90.2) 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 inform decisions about budgeting, personnel, capital improvements, library services and community involvement.
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Budgets & Finance:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees, pg 50, 2018 ed. :

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.
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Intellectual Freedom, Censorship & Privacy:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees, pg 77, 2018 ed:

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.
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Facilities:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees, pg 65, 2018 ed.:

Education Department Regulations (8 NYCRR) § 90.2(a)(8) requires 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 all patrons, environmental quality, and intangibles such as ambiance all contribute to the overall adequacy of a library building. 
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Personnel:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees, pg 43, 2018 ed.:

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.
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Public Relations & Advocacy:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees, pg 71, 2018 ed.:

As the citizen control over the public library, the board of trustees has a responsibility for telling the library's story to the taxpayers, donors and funding bodies that support it. Even the best programs and services are of limited value if people don't know about them. It is important to keep in mind that residents are more likely to support programs they understand, value and use. As leaders in the community, trustees must be prepared to discuss the importance of the library at every opportunity.
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Advocacy 101 -

Orientation of New Trustees:

From the Handbook for Library Trustees, pg 19, 2018 ed.:

A successful trustee begins with a thorough understanding of libraries and the laws that govern them. A formal orientation with the library director and the Board President is the best way to learn about your organization. This should include a discussion of the library’s mission and goals, its role in the community and a review of the critical issues facing the organization. A good orientation will provide trustees with the information they need to carry out their responsibilities effectively and will generate a spirit of ongoing curiosity about the library and its role in the community.
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