TRUSTEE TOOLKIT | GOVERNANCE
The tenets, laws and rules that govern and guide the library board’s proceedings and conduct of business.
The library board’s authority comes from the board acting as a whole; individual members have no power. The board must function well as a team. Every effective team abides by principles and rules put in place to guide its conduct of business. These include bylaws; rules and best practices for recruiting new trustees and conducting effective meetings; knowledge of and adherence to applicable local, state and federal laws, including sunshine laws; and library values and ethical guidelines as expressed by the American Library Association.
Most boards have adopted bylaws that provide the framework for their proceedings. At a minimum they should include:
- The library board officers to be elected, methods of election, length of their terms and the powers and responsibilities of each officer
- When meetings are held, and how meetings are conducted
- Definition of a quorum and attendance requirements
- The standing committees to be appointed, method of appointment, and what they do
- Provision for amending bylaws
- Provision for term limits
- Provision for calling special meetings
- Provision for removing a board member with reasonable cause and appointing new members
- Provision for reviewing bylaws at least every three years
Bylaws are fundamental to effective library board operations and boards should be careful when amending existing bylaws or developing new ones.
Recruiting new trustees
There are two main types of library boards: governing and advisory.
Each trustee brings certain strengths, skills, talents, and experience to the table. The board should work to recruit members who represent a broad spectrum of community interests, occupations, and geographic areas, to help ensure the library will serve the total community.
Candidates for library trustee positions should be given a written statement of the duties and responsibilities of membership on the library board, and these statements should also be made available to those who elect/appoint trustees. The board and the library director can also develop a wish list for trustee competencies for use by appointing officials.
A well-balanced board
- Rapport with the whole community
- Occupational diversity
- Political acumen and influence
- Business/financial experience
- Legal knowledge
- Varied personal backgrounds
Effective meetings start with an agenda and related packet of background materials, distributed to the board well before the meeting. Agenda development works best as a collaboration between the board president and the library director. Agenda items are often designated as either “discussion” items” (those requiring discussion from the board) or “consent” items (those items that are routine, procedural, informational, non-controversial) with specific times set for each item, to move the meeting along.
The board’s bylaws may specify the order of business on the agenda. Agendas must include an item for public comment to comply with the Brown Act (California’s open meetings law). The agenda should include information about how public comment is conducted, so that the board can better manage this part of the meeting and so that members of the public can be prepared. This information may be included in Spanish and/or other languages, to accommodate community needs.
Standard agenda items include welcome and introductions and approval of minutes; a director’s report, friends/foundation reports; budget review and/or planning; library policy discussion, and items for board education.
Putting together and distributing the agenda packet usually rests with the library director and staff, and normally includes the agenda as the first item, the minutes of the previous meeting, and any written reports, statistics, or other background material for the other items on the agenda.
Sunshine laws and other state and federal mandates
California has specific open meeting and records laws which apply to local boards and commissions, including library trustees. These include the Brown Act (open meetings law, Government Code §54950-54963) and the California Public Records Act (Government Code §6250-6276.48).
For the Brown Act, the general rule is that legislative bodies of local agencies (including elected or appointed boards and commissions) must hold their meetings open to the public and may exclude them only if they identify a specific statutory exemption and meet other procedural requirements. The law also specifies how and when public notice of meetings must be given, and what procedures must be followed regarding meetings by teleconference, etc.
Under the California Public Records Act, the public has a right to obtain copies of the minutes of open meetings, and to inspect any writing or document distributed to members during a meeting. The board is not required to make audio or video recordings of its meetings, but if it does, those recordings must also be made available to the public. The public is not entitled to the minutes or recordings of closed sessions.
Library trustees are required by state law to avoid any economic conflicts of interest and to submit statements of economic interest to the California Fair Political Practices Commission on a yearly basis. There are other ethics laws that trustees should follow. The Fair Political Practices Commission offers free online ethics training for local officials which can help ensure that your board complies with legal requirements. The California State Association of Counties offers free and low-cost training and resources on state ethics and sunshine laws.
Governing board trustees should receive sexual harassment training as mandated by law for California supervisors (two hours every two years) and the board should have a sexual harassment prevention policy. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing offers free sexual harassment training that satisfies the state’s legal requirements.
Library boards must also avoid taking actions that violate rights guaranteed by the federal constitution or federal law. Many federal laws affect public libraries. In particular the board should seek legal advice before taking actions that may involve federal discrimination laws, employment laws, and intellectual freedom rights guaranteed by the First and Fourth Amendments. The board should be generally aware of these laws and exercise caution.
Depending on the type of board (governing or advisory) and its legal and implied powers, a given board may have lesser or greater exposure to liability. California Government Code §814-827 covers the liability of public agencies and officials. In California the doctrine of sovereign immunity applies except as otherwise provided by statute, meaning that public library boards and trustees are generally not subject to liability related to the performance of their official duties. But trustee and/or board liability is still possible for intentional or careless injuries or damages, illegal use of public funds or authority, ethics and conflict-of-interest law violations, California Public Records and Brown Act infractions, and failure to comply with federal discrimination, employment, and intellectual freedom laws.
Trustees can greatly reduce the possibility of liability as follows:
- Learn about the various laws that may apply to library board actions and library operations. Complete any required training.
- Vote against any proposed board action that you believe is illegal or improper.
- Vote to table an issue if you believe insufficient information has been provided on which to form an opinion.
- Act and speak for the library only when authorized to do so by the full board.
- Avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest.
- Consult legal counsel with concerns about any action (or failure to take an action).
- If you suspect conflict of interest on the board, submit a written protest to the board president.
The board should make certain that it is protected by liability insurance (boards are usually covered by the library’s insurance).
Library values and ethics
Library boards should endorse and adhere to the national library values regarding intellectual freedom, diversity and inclusion, and confidentiality and privacy expressed by the American Library Association (ALA). These are summarized in the Library Bill of Rights. ALA has also issued official interpretations of these rights that guide the application of these principles to specific library practices in areas such as access to digital resources, services for minors and LBGTQIA communities, economic barriers to information access, and lifelong learning. Additional values statements issued by ALA regarding intellectual freedom include the Freedom to Read and the Freedom to View.
Finally, library boards should embrace the guidelines and best practices for trustee professional and ethical conduct established by United for Libraries. Boards should formally adopt these principles into an ethics policy and include them in an oath of office for new trustees.
What is the general rule for open meetings in California?
Have you taken any training on California ethics laws? On sexual harassment?
What tools can you use to learn about how your board should work?
Why is it important to prepare for board meetings?
What should be considered when recruiting new trustees?
What is the Library Bill of Rights? Why is it important?
Name at least three best practices for trustee professional conduct. How does your board deal with unprofessional conduct?
Resources for this section
- EFFECTIVE MEETINGS
- SUNSHINE/ETHICS LAWS
- FEDERAL LAWS
- TRUSTEE PROFESSIONAL ETHICS & BEST PRACTICES
- RECRUITING NEW TRUSTEES
Sample board bylaws from California libraries:
- Butte County Library Advisory Board
- Butte County Public Law Library
- Contra Costa County Public Law Library
- Escondido Public Library
- Glendora Public Library
- Napa County Library Commission
- National City Public Library
- OC Public Libraries
- Palm Springs Public Library
- Paso Robles Public Library
- Sonoma County Library Commission
- South Pasadena Public Library
- Woodland Public Library
- Bylaws template (Indiana)
- Effective meetings for library trustees (United for Libraries)
- Sample California library agenda
- Effective library board meetings (COSLA)
- Parliamentary procedure resources:
- Basics of parliamentary procedure (United for Libraries)
- Parliamentary procedure (good general overview by Britannica)
- Parliamentary basics (National Association of Parliamentarians)
- Parliamentary procedure at a glance (ALA)
- Robert’s Rules of Order online
- Robert’s Rules for dummies cheat sheet (dummies.com)
- Robert’s Rules of Order official website (full information and summary charts)
- Rosenberg’s Rules of Order (simplified parliamentary rules by Judge Dave Rosenberg [Yolo County, CA])
- Rosenberg’s Rules of Order at a glance (South Robertson Neighborhoods Council, City of Los Angeles)
- Sample agenda (Georgia Public Libraries)
- California meetings laws (Digital Media Law Project)
- The Ralph M. Brown Act and an analysis of its main provisions (Best Best and Krieger law firm)
- The People’s Business: A Guide to the California Public Records Act (League of California Cities)
- Understanding the Basics of Public Service Ethics Laws (California Association of Counties)
- AB 1234 Local Ethics Training (California Fair Political Practices Commission–free)
- Statement of Economic Interests Form and Instructions (CA Fair Political Practices Commission)
- Understanding public service ethics laws (Institute for Local Government, UC Berkeley)
- Ethics laws for public servants: key things to know (California Association of Counties)
Federal laws of particular relevance to libraries:
- Americans with Disabilities Act and the ADA best practices toolkit for state and local governments
- Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and ALA’s CIPA guide for libraries
- US Copyright Law (Title 17), Stanford’s Copyright and Fair Use page, and ALA’s copyright page
- Equal opportunity and affirmative action laws, including:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) [protects against discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, etc.]
- The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) [equal pay for men and women]
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) [protects people over 40 from age discrimination]
- Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) [protects qualified people with a disability from discrimination in the private sector and in state and local governments]
- Sections 102 and 103 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 [permits jury trials for intentional discrimination
- The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) [prohibits employment discrimination based on genetic information]
- Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and associated tools for employers from the Wage and Hour Division
- USA Freedom Act [replacement for part of the controversial Patriot Act, most of the provisions of which have now expired].
- Guide to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) (Federal Communications Commission)
- No-cost outreach and education programs (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)
- Library Bill of Rights (American Library Association [ALA])
- Library Bill of Rights Interpretations (ALA)
- Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (ALA)
- Public Library Trustee Ethics Statement (official statement from United for Libraries)
- Trustees: recruiting new board members (Massachusetts Libraries)
- Building a better board of trustees (American Libraries magazine, Oct. 15, 2015)
- Board basics (New Jersey Library Trustee Association)
- Effective board recruitment for trustees and friends (Wyoming State Library)
- Board organization (Washington State Library)
- Leadership Roles for Library Trustees (Urban Libraries Council)
- Board Recruitment (BoardSource)
- Developing a Board Recruitment Process (WildApricot)
- Finding the right board members for your nonprofit (Council of Nonprofits)
- Sample board profile worksheet to identify gaps and desired board characteristics (Kentucky)
- Public library trustee position description (Lodi Public Library)
- Library trustee duties (Burlingame Public Library)
- Board member position description (Benicia Public Library)
- Sample trustee job description (Maine Library Trustee Handbook)
- Finding new board members (Utah Library Trustee Center)