Tools for Trustees — The Workshop

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


Serving on the public library board of trustees means holding sacred the public trust. The community is depending on the board to ensure that the library is accessible to everyone, offers free and appropriate basic library services, plans for the future, and is fiscally responsible and accountable. The motivation for board service should be the desire to contribute to the development and continuation of an excellent program of public library service.

Trustees have five major areas of responsibility:
· Finance
· Policy
· Planning
· Personnel
· Advocacy

Because the governing board of the library system has final authority and responsibility for all public library operations, it is imperative that trustees become as knowledgeable as possible about relevant laws and regulations as well as best practices. A well-informed board of trustees that consistently applies library policy in good faith can significantly lessen liability in the case of a lawsuit or other challenge. It is also wise to have adequate insurance coverage for directors and officers or errors and omissions.

A sample job description for a governing trustee may be found in Appendix G. Although the trustee’s job will vary slightly depending on the local situation, all public library trustees in Georgia are responsible for the following five important areas of library governance.


Perhaps the most important responsibility of public library trustees is securing adequate funds for library service. This requires that the trustees understand and present the library’s case for funding each year to those who contribute support. Because trustees represent the beneficiaries of library service, it is the job of the board, not the library director, to present the library’s budget request to the funding agencies.

Library board members must exercise fiscal oversight as guardians of the public trust. The library director manages financial affairs, but the board should expect regular reporting, including an annual audit, and should review financial reports carefully.

Planning the Budget

In most library systems, the director prepares a budget for board approval. There may be a Finance Committee of the board that works closely with the director to plan the annual budget and determine the budget request to each funding agency. Information about the previous year’s budget, the expenditures to date for the current fiscal year, and plans and goals for the upcoming year will help in developing a sound financial plan.

For state reporting purposes, public libraries in Georgia operate on a July 1 to June 30 fiscal year, as does the state government, but the library should present the request to each funding authority based on the fiscal year used by that agency.

Monitoring the Budget

Board members should regularly review current-year financial statements. If expenditures are significantly out of line with budget plans, it may indicate that a budget revision is needed. The board should also examine total assets and liabilities (shown on a balance sheet) to be sure the library is operating on a sound financial base and that all funds are accounted for. Appendix H includes a sample financial statement with a balance sheet.

Annual Audit

An annual review of the library’s financial books by a qualified independent auditor is required by the state. All financial activity for the system, including that of affiliated libraries, must be included in the audit. The audit report should be made available to all governing board members annually and must be filed with Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS).

Presenting the Library’s Needs

It is the job of trustees, not the library director, to present the fiscal needs of the library to the funding authorities each year. While the library director is usually present, it is most effective if a library board member makes the appeal on behalf of the community. Trustees should work with the director to marshal the arguments to support any funding increases requested and be able to defend the library’s budget request. Staying in touch with funding officials year-round, and not just at budget time, is an important foundation for success.


Governing board members are responsible for the library’s policies. Written policies are important communication tools for informing the community about library services and for guiding the director and staff. Policies provide such information as how library facilities may be used, what items are appropriate for library collections, and how the library serves people who are unable to get to a library facility. Policies should also cover internal administrative and governance functions, such as disposition of surplus property, personnel, and financial investment.

The library director and staff members usually draft library policies for board approval. There may also be a Policy Review Committee of the board that assists in this process. At the time of adoption, it is imperative that board members fully understand the policies and their implications.

Appendix I includes a list of suggested policies for a public library. A rotating schedule of policy review will help ensure that policies are up-to-date and remain relevant, even as conditions change.

Intellectual Freedom

There will likely be a statement concerning intellectual freedom included in the library’s collection development or materials selection policy. Trustees should thoroughly understand this issue and be sure there is a procedure in place for reconsideration of materials in the library’s collection, as well as a mechanism by which community members may request the addition of items to the collection. Generally, trustees become involved when there is an appeal of the decision of a library official. When there is a need for trustees to act, it is essential to follow written procedures and policies carefully in order to minimize board liability.

Many libraries, as part of their collection development policies, adopt the “Library Bill of Rights” of the American Library Association (ALA). Also included frequently are the “Freedom to Read Statement” of the ALA and the Association of American Publishers and the “Freedom to View Statement” of the American Film and Video Association. Appendix J includes copies of these documents.


Management expert Peter Drucker said, “The only way to predict the future is to create it.” Planning is the tool for moving the library in a direction that is relevant, effective, and efficient in meeting the needs of the community served by the library.

Libraries have changed dramatically in recent years, and the pace of change continues to accelerate. Plans for library service today typically have a three- to five-year horizon, rather than the 10- to 20-year horizon used in the past. Regardless of the time frame, planning is essential for competently steering libraries into the future.

Trustees are a vital link between the library’s program and the needs of the community. The planning process must begin with a thorough understanding of those community needs. Then planners should consider questions such as:
· How can the library best serve our particular constituency?
· What is the gap between that vision and the current reality?
· What are the steps that will move the library toward the desired future?

The Public Library Association (PLA), a division of ALA, has tools to help. Reviewing The New Planning for Results: A Streamlined Approach (included in Resource List), is an excellent place to start. This manual describes 13 service responses, or ways a library can address community needs (also summarized in Appendix K). Identifying a focus for library services is an important outcome of a planning process, and it helps the library staff allocate precious resources effectively. Public libraries have traditionally tried to be all things to all people, and this attempt can result in mediocrity. The New Planning for Results process helps the library narrow its focus and perform with excellence, identifying and providing the most important services for its clientele.

In the planning process, it is good to remember that libraries are dynamic institutions that continue to evolve to meet the needs of their communities. Libraries often find innovative ways to deliver services that patrons want, sometimes beyond the library walls and hours of operation. Home delivery, books by mail, and 24/7 reference services via Internet chat are just a few of the alternative service delivery methods libraries might use in response to customer needs.

Planning teams are often composed of staff, trustees, library users, those who do not use the library, and other community members. Trustees should work with the director to determine the approach that is best for their particular circumstances. The library’s written plan should include a mission statement, goals, and objectives and should be reviewed at least annually.


When the community is ready to support library construction in the form of a new building, addition, or renovation, additional planning is needed. Because facilities are simply one means of delivering services, choosing service priorities is the first place to begin.

Trustees are likely to be involved in determining when a building is needed, envisioning what kinds of spaces are required to deliver the library’s program of service, and securing the necessary community and financial support. The governing board may enter into contracts with the building consultant, architect, construction contractor, and interior designer. They may also approve archi-tectural plans, bid documents, and change orders.

The construction consultant at Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS) can serve as a resource to the director and trustees in the construction process. State funds could also be available for library construction projects. Additional requirements may apply to library construction when state funds are used. Appendix L includes current guidelines for state construction grant projects.

Georgia Public Library Standards

In 2005, the public library directors developed and agreed on minimum standards for public libraries in Georgia. A copy of the standards may be found in Appendix F. Measuring your library against these standards can provide useful information about the library’s performance for trustees and funding authorities. The standards may also inspire goals for improvement.

It is important to note that simply meeting all the minimum standards does not guarantee excellence. The most important gauge of your library’s performance has to do with how well the library meets the specific needs of the local community, and this can only be determined through dialogue with local residents. The standards merely help the director and trustees determine whether the essential ingredients for success are present.


The library director is usually the governing board’s only employee. A critically important responsibility of the board is recruiting and selecting a qualified librarian to lead the library system. While the board must also ensure that there is a legal and fair personnel policy in place for all employees, the authority for hiring and retention of other staff in the library system is generally delegated to the director. Trustees must exercise great care in their personal relationships with other staff members, never undermining the director’s authority in personnel matters.

Just as the library maintains a personnel policy for its employees, the board should have written policies in place for its relationship with the director. At a minimum, these policies should include statements about selection and evaluation of the director and a succession plan.

Hiring a Director

Finding the right executive to administer the library’s program of service is a combination of science and art. The entire process may take several months to complete. Larger libraries sometimes hire a recruiting firm to help. Boards commonly appoint a search committee, which may include representatives from the board, Friends of the Library, general community, funding authorities, staff, and other stakeholders.

The first step in hiring a director is identifying the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for the position. Georgia requires that the director be eligible for state certification at the G-5 level or higher, that is, hold at least a masters degree in library science from an institution accredited by the American Library Association. Management skills are essential. The director’s job description should be reviewed and updated as needed.

Steps in hiring the director:
· Appoint a Search Committee
· Assess your needs and update the job description
· Advertise
· Interview
· Select
· Celebrate!
· Orient and stay in communication

Trustees should also think about specific challenges the new director will have over the next few years and try to find expertise in those areas. For example, if the community has just passed a bond issue for a new library building, the board might want someone who is experienced in library construction.

Sometimes the board thinks the right candidate is already on the doorstep, but in all cases an open search is recommended. Many libraries advertise in national publications such as American Libraries or Library Hotline. The position announcement should be posted on the Georgia Public Library Service Web site at and on the individual library system’s Web site, if there is one.

Ideally, the board will have specific guidelines in place that detail the search process and hiring of the new director. Policies and procedures should be written to ensure a fair and legal process. The board should always check references. Many excellent articles and books on this topic are also available. The Resource List gives additional resources. GPLS staff can also assist boards before and during the hiring process.

Trustees will need to decide whether an employ-ment contract will be offered to the new director. An attorney should probably be consulted to help draw up a legal and fair employment contract.

The board’s job is not done when the new director arrives. Frequent communication during the first few months is a must, so that the director and the board develop shared expectations. Many boards plan a celebration at the library to welcome the new director and introduce her or him to the community.

Evaluating the Director

A performance evaluation of the director should be undertaken at least annually by the board. Appendix M provides two sample evaluation instruments, but there are many ways this task may be accomplished. Additional ideas can be found by consulting the works described in the Resource List or by talking to trustees in other library systems. A written report of the annual evaluation should be presented to the full governing board.

Whether it is done as part of the budget development or the evaluation process, the board should consider the director’s salary, in light of economic conditions, on an annual basis. Directors who are on the state pay scale generally receive a local supplement, and the amount of that supplement should be determined by the board and reviewed annually.

Regardless of the format, the evaluation process should be positive and constructive, with opportunity for both the board and the director to reflect on the previous year and plan for the upcoming one. Concerns should be addressed as soon as they arise during the year, so that there are no surprises at the evaluation conference. In fact, it is wise to establish a mechanism for regular and frequent communication between the board and director at the beginning of the evaluation period.
For example, the board chair might institute weekly telephone “check-ins” or monthly lunch appoint-ments with the director to stay in touch.

When the director is not performing according to the board’s expectations, disciplinary action could be warranted. Any such action should scrupulously follow established policy and, of course, be confidential. The purpose of discipline is always to help the employee get back on track.

If expectations are still not met, the board might consider terminating the director. Georgia is an “at will” state, meaning employees may be fired for any cause at any time. However, if termination is under consideration, it is important to consult an attorney, as there are many fine points of law to consider. This is especially true if there is an employment contract in effect.


Trustees are the library’s primary advocates and should seek every opportunity to promote library services and help people understand the importance of libraries in today’s information economy and environment. Advocacy simply means telling the library’s story and pointing out how the library helps individuals and the entire community. Advocacy can happen almost anywhere—in the grocery line, at a civic club meeting, at a party, or in a formal presentation to a funding agency.

In addition to advocacy in the local community, trustees should regularly communicate with decision makers and funding authorities. Public library trustees cannot ensure adequate funds for library service without concerted advocacy efforts at local, state, and national levels.

Advocacy cannot be delegated to the library director or staff members, as those individuals are seen as having vested interest in the growth and development of the library. Trustees, as citizen beneficiaries of library service, can be much more effective advocates; in fact, it is said that it takes 10 librarians to equal the impact of one trustee speaking out for libraries. Some tools are identified in the Resources section that can help trustees become better advocates.

Legal Considerations

There are a number of laws that are particularly important for public libraries. Governing board members are responsible for making sure the library follows these laws and does not establish any policy in conflict with law. It is wise to have an independent attorney who is familiar with laws pertaining to libraries. A county or local government attorney may have a conflict of interest in governing board issues.

Library Law

The Georgia library law (Section 20-5-40 to 20-5-59) defines duties of the director and the board of trustees, reporting requirements, property ownership rights, contractual rights, financial requirements, and penalties for abuse of the law. Appendix C includes a copy of this statute.

Open Meetings

Library boards are subject to the Open Meetings Law (Georgia Code Section 50-14), which provides for meetings to be open to the public and specifies limited circumstances under which meetings can be closed. In most cases, notice of all board meetings must be provided to the legal organ of the county at least 24 hours in advance. An agenda for the meeting must be available for public inspection no less than two business days prior to the meeting. A summary of actions taken must be made available within three days following the meeting. Approved minutes of all meetings must be made public upon request.

Executive sessions (closed meetings) may be called during the open meetings, but only for limited reasons. Generally these include personnel issues, purchase of real estate, or potential litigation. No votes may be taken in a closed meeting. The board chair must sign an affidavit following the closed session. Appendix N includes the complete Open Meetings Law.

Open Records

All available library records must be open for inspection by any citizen of Georgia at a reasonable time and place, according to the Georgia Open Records Law (Section 50-18-70). The library has three days to respond to a request for records and may charge for reproduction. All formats of records are subject to this law, including e-mail, electronic documents, and other formats. A few categories of records are exempt, including some personnel information, confidential patron records, and medical records. Appendix N includes a copy of the Open Records Law.

Patron Confidentiality

Georgia law specifically addresses the confidentiality of patron records. Libraries may not share information from patron databases or circulation records showing what items individuals have checked out without an appropriate court order. Appendix N contains the state code section on patron confidentiality.

Federal Laws

Library trustees should be aware of a number of federal laws. These include the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), federal employment laws, and the USA PATRIOT Act, among others. Appendix O includes information about these important laws.

Board Liability

The system board is legally responsible for governance of the library system. This means that ultimately the board is liable in the case of a lawsuit against the library. A board can be sued even if the board, its members, and library staff have followed all laws and policies. But one of the best defenses is to be sure all library policies are legal and that they are followed. It is prudent to have library policies reviewed by an attorney if possible. Trustees should understand laws regulating libraries, the use of public funds, and open meetings.

Individuals on the library board derive their power from being part of the board as a whole, so are generally protected when acting in a capacity that is authorized by the entire board. However, a trustee can incur personal liability when he or she acts without board authorization. When the board is exercising due care and diligence in its duties, obeying the laws, not acting in excess of its authority, avoiding conflicts of interest, and following its policies, there is little cause for concern.

While there are limited legal protections for library trustees, it is important for the library system to have insurance for Errors and Omissions (E&O) or Directors and Officers (D&O). A good D&O policy will ensure that in the event of a settlement against the library, there is minimal financial impact on the library system and the individuals named. Other insurance that the library system should carry includes a general liability policy and bonding for those who handle money. Of course, the library must also have a workers’ compensation policy and either insurance or reserve funds to cover unemployment claims.

Ethical Considerations

The governing board should adopt a statement on board ethics. Some library boards have adopted the American Library Trustee Association (ALTA) version, reproduced in Appendix P.

Library trustees should take care to avoid conflicts of interest. Because these can take many forms, it is good board practice to discuss this issue periodically. The most innocent actions can sometimes give the appearance of favoritism or personal gain to trustees. It is far easier to prevent such an occurrence than to regain public trust once it is lost.

Other considerations for the board’s statement on ethics include respecting the confidentiality of library business and patron privacy; distinguishing between personal opinions and statements on behalf of the institution; keeping all library policies free of racism, sexism, and other bigotry; and resisting efforts by groups or individuals to censor library materials.