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5. Learning

The importance of creating a culture of learning for the library board.

For the library board to fully accomplish its mission and responsibilities, it must have broad knowledge of, and commitment to, to the library’s mission, goals, plans and programs and the public needs and aspirations they should address. Trustees must work to create a culture of learning for the board, to develop deeper awareness of their public library and the library world. The public library is a complex organization functioning in a complicated world. Public libraries are continually adapting and changing, and the board must do also, by learning about public libraries and about their own library and community and being open to change and to new ideas.

New member orientation

A first step in creating a culture of learning is to ensure that new trustees have the information they need to be successful from the start, through an effective orientation process. This orientation should ideally take place before the new trustee’s first meeting and should include a packet of information with the following:

  • Library mission, vision, strategic plan, budget, latest annual report if available
  • Board bylaws
  • Trustee job description
  • Board meeting schedule and important dates
  • Review of educational resources (including this guide)
Continuous learning

Trustees should seek out educational opportunities through their library director, and also from connection with state and national organizations such as the California Library Association, the California State Library, and United for Libraries.  Having the opportunity to network with others regionally and nationally will help trustees understand the context in which the library operates and their own roles and responsibilities.

There are many free resources available on public trusteeship and board development, as well as public library operation and management (see the Resource Guide). Trustees should also ask their library director to let them know about articles or books that may be important to their understanding of the library and its social/political context. Organizations concerned with non-profit administration and management, such as BoardSource and the National Council on Nonprofits, offer helpful information and resources.

The board and individual trustees should consider joining United for Libraries. While some of the resources that United for Libraries offers are free, many valuable learning tools are for members only. These include Short Takes for Trustees, designed for boards to use for training during meetings, and a national online trustee discussion forum, which many find an invaluable resource for learning about best practices, connecting with other trustees on specific questions and issues, and for discovering new resources and learning opportunities for library trustees.

Events such as webinars, workshops, and conferences provide excellent opportunities for continuing education, both from the subject matter and from the opportunity to meet and share experiences and ideas with other trustees. Trustees should consider attending the California Library Association’s annual meeting and work to include conference programming on trusteeship. At the national level, United for Libraries offers a program track for trustees at the annual ALA Conference.

The board should adopt a continuing education policy that underlines the board’s recognition of the importance of continuing education for board members and establishes requirements for training attendance.

Board self-evaluation

To know where to focus its continuing education efforts, the library board should make the time to evaluate its own performance on a yearly basis. This is an opportunity to celebrate what is going well and to look at how things could go better. Not only should the board evaluate its performance as a whole, but trustees should also evaluate themselves individually, against the duties and responsibilities covered in this guide well as against the board’s bylaws, policies, and procedures. Is the board helping to move the library forward? Are board operations efficient? Is there additional education or support that will help trustees to feel confident and comfortable in their roles?

Resources for this section

  • Sources for videos and online courses (note: videos developed by other states may include some content related to their own state laws and practices that do not apply for California):
    • Trustee Academy (United for Libraries; comprehensive training; fee-based)
    • Short Takes for Trustees (United for Libraries; a series of 10-minute videos that can be shown during board meetings to stimulate discussion about the board’s role in library governance)
    • Trustee Trouble (series of short videos on various topics related to library trusteeship)
    • Getting on board (YouTube video trustee learning series by the State Library of Pennsylvania)
    • Trustee training videos (Central Kansas Library System–mostly short videos to use during board meetings, from various sources)
    • Library trustee webinars (HATS — New York State Library; short videos [10-15 minutes]

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