Tools for Trustees — The Workshop

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

IV. BOARD BASICS

This section addresses the nuts and bolts of the library board’s operations. Governing boards are required by law to meet at least quarterly, but they can meet more frequently if needed. All meetings of the library board must be held in accordance with the Georgia Open Meetings Law (Section 50-14, found in Appendix N). 

The board’s constitution and bylaws describe how the board operates. Usually these documents specify how many seats are on the board and how board members are appointed, define the length of board terms, and provide other important information about how the board conducts business.

Selection and Appointment

Most library trustees are selected for the library board because of their interest in the local community and the library. Often, the library board recommends individuals to the appointing authorities to fill board vacancies. All government agencies that regularly contribute to the library make appointments to the library board as specified in the board’s constitution.

Ideally, the library board will work with the appointing bodies to ensure adequate representa-tion of the library’s service area by identifying individuals for appointment who complement existing board members. The mix of skills, gender, educational level, age, race, socioeconomic status, geographic location of residence, and other such factors should result in a board that reflects the total client population as accurately as possible. Appendix V provides a sample board profile instrument to help assess the characteristics of the current members and identify needs.

Constitution and Bylaws

Each library board of trustees must have constitution and bylaws documents, and all trustees should be familiar with them. The board constitution describes the authority and purpose of the board, specifies how members are appointed, and sets the length of board and officer terms. 

The bylaws document details the duties of the director, the trustees in general, and board officers in particular.  Meeting and attendance requirements are also addressed in the bylaws. Appendix Q provides samples of these documents.

Officers

Board officers most often include a Chair, Vice Chair (which may be designated Chair-elect), and Secretary. The governing board and any other boards that handle funds also have a Treasurer. 

The board chair works closely with the library director to plan agendas, appoint committees, and keep the board on track.  Regular and open communication between the board chair and the director is essential.  When the board needs course correction (for example, when there is difficulty with an individual board member, the board is confusing its role with that of the director, or attendance at board meetings is a problem), it is the board chair’s responsibility to resolve the issue.

Meetings

All meetings of the library board or its committees must be open to the public and conform to the specifications of the Open Meetings Law (Appendix N), as discussed in Section III. According to Georgia law (Section 20-5-45), the library director or the director’s designee must be present at all meetings of the library board, including committee meetings and executive sessions.

Meeting notices should be posted in advance at the site where the meeting will be held as well as at the library’s headquarters office location. An agenda for the meeting must be publicly available no less than two days before the meeting. 

A sample meeting agenda may be found in Appendix R. The agenda and supporting background materials should be made available to board members prior to the meeting. It is important that trustees read all materials ahead of time so that the meeting time can be efficiently used for discussion and action.

In addition, each board meeting is a wonderful opportunity to provide a short training session.  Sometimes this is the responsibility of the Board Development Committee to plan and/or conduct.

A parliamentary authority should be specified in the board’s bylaws, and the board may appoint a parliamentarian. Appendix S includes an abbreviated guide to one style of parliamentary procedure.

A summary of actions taken at the meeting must be available for public inspection within three days following the meeting. Minutes of the meeting are open records, and a copy should be kept in the headquarters office of the library system.

Committees

Much of the important work of the library board takes place at the committee level. Generally, the board chair appoints board committees and is an ex officio member of all committees. Standing committees may include Finance (or Budget), Buildings and Grounds, Constitution and Bylaws, Personnel, and Policy Review. Ad hoc committees may be appointed for specific needs during the year. Job descriptions or committee charges should be available for standing board committees. An example of a committee description sheet and interest form may be found in Appendix T. 

One committee to consider is a Board Development Committee. This group helps the board assess its own performance, offers continuing education opportunities as needs arise, and strives for board effectiveness. It may also serve as the Nominating Committee for board officers and/or governing board appointments.

In order to help ensure a board that is representative of the community , the Board Development Committee may profile the board with regard to skills, socioeconomic status, geographic location of residence, and other characteristics and seek to fill vacancies with individuals who round out the composition of the board. Appendix U provides sample board self-assessment instruments, and Appendix V provides a sample board profile worksheet.