Tools for Trustees — The Workshop

A three-hour workshop for your board(s) of trustees, based on the Tools for Trustees manual.

VI. BECOMING A BETTER TRUSTEE

Part of the responsibility of a library board member is to seek opportunities to learn more about the job. There are many ways to accomplish this task, both formal and informal. The director, board chair, and/or Board Development Committee can help trustees find opportunities for continuing education and growth.

Orientation

One component of library board orientation is this manual. Board members should read it and keep it handy so that they can refer to it often when questions arise. The library director might provide additional materials to help new trustees get organized.

Often the board and director will jointly develop an orientation program for new trustees. This important face-to-face session serves to prepare recently appointed board members for their duties and helps them understand how the library operates and is governed. Appendix X provides a sample checklist of board orientation materials and topics.

The Board Development Committee can be instrumental in planning the orientation.
Participation of both the board chair and the library director is essential, to emphasize their respective roles. While the director is the resource person for the board, the board chair provides leadership and guidance to board members, helping them stay on course.

Self-assessment

Boards should evaluate their own performance each year, much as they do that of the library director. This process can be relatively simple but should be chosen based on the particular needs and characteristics of the board.

Appendix U contains a sample of both individual and group self-assessment instruments. Regardless of the method of self-assessment selected by the board, it is important to use the results to determine needs and plan for continuing education and training.

Continuing Education

There are many sources of continuing education for library trustees, including books and materials, workshops, conferences, and networking. Many of these sources are listed in the Resources section, and the library director will likely be able to provide other leads.

Associations and Networking

Many library trustees find that joining organizations is a way to make helpful connections with others and stay informed about current library issues and concerns. The Association for Library Trustees and Advocates (ALTA), a division of ALA, is the major national group for library board members. The Georgia Library Association (GLA) also has a Trustees, Friends, and Advocates Division. Friends of Georgia Libraries (FOGL) is another way to stay connected to Friends and trustees throughout the state and to find out what current state legislative issues may affect your library system.

Association membership also provides a link to information about continuing education, including conferences and workshops. The value of these opportunities lies not just in the content covered by presenters, but in the informal networking that occurs between and among Friends, trustees, and advocates from different libraries and different parts of the state or country. The Resources section provides information about these and other relevant associations and sources of continuing education.

State and National Advocacy

Trustees can also become involved in library advocacy beyond the local community. Because almost all libraries in Georgia receive state funding, it is important that library board members stay in touch with state representatives and senators as well as local political leaders.

The Georgia Library Association sponsors an annual Library Day at the state Capitol, and many trustees find this a good opportunity to learn more about state issues and connect with state officials.

However, just as with local officials, it is important to communicate with state legislators more than once a year. Well-timed letters, phone calls, and e-mails from trustees to state legislators really do make a difference!

There is also an annual Library Day at the nation’s Capitol, sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA). This provides an opportunity for library trustees to travel to Washington with others from Georgia to meet with national officials.

Participation in ALA’s Library Day broadens the board member’s understanding of the federal role in supporting public library service.

Learning on the Job

Regular communication with the library director, fellow board members, and trustees from other libraries can help ground the library board member in her or his responsibilities. When issues arise, the trustee should feel free to ask for background information or a thorough explanation; in fact, it is his or her duty to do so. Chances are, there are other board members who have the same questions.

High attendance levels at meetings, orientation sessions, and other training events will help ensure knowledgeable trustees and a better library system. But attendance is only one part of the equation; there must also be attention!

Trustees who visit the library frequently and observe library operations, including those “behind the scenes,” have a better understanding of how policy and budget decisions will affect day-to-day business. Volunteering at the library is a great way to learn more about what library staff members do and the challenges they face on a daily basis.

Communication, attendance, attention, and presence — these goals alone, adopted by each board member, would go a long way toward the achievement of excellence in public library governance.