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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Public Library Administration and Governance

For a complete list of trustee FAQ topics and questions, visit the Wisconsin Library Trustee Frequently Asked Questions page.

For many, many more resources for the Wisconsin public library community, visit the DLT Public Library Development Team Home Page.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions for additional questions.

Shannon Schultz
Public Library Administration Consultant

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Sales tax due for public library photocopies

While sales to public libraries are exempt from the sales tax, sales by public libraries generally are not exempt. Most public library sales, including sales of photocopies and computer printout charges, are subject to the Wisconsin sales tax and any county and stadium sales taxes. Other library sales, such as sales of withdrawn books, used equipment, and used furniture also are subject to the sales tax. Public libraries also should charge sales tax for rentals of bestselling books and videos. Wisconsin Administrative Code section Tax 11.05 details the sales tax rules for state and local government agencies. Public libraries fall under the same general rules that apply to other state and local government agencies.

Library fines, including charges for materials that are not returned and charges for a duplicate library card, are specifically exempt from the sales tax. Also exempt are photocopy and records search charges that result from an official public records request.

To simplify the collection of sales taxes, libraries (and other organizations) do not need to add sales tax onto their taxable sales and charges-they can consider sales tax as part of the price charged. However, if you do this, you must notify customers by a sign and/or on receipts provided to the customer that "prices include sales tax." If your prices include sales tax, taxes due are calculated not on total receipts, but on the receipts before taxes. (For example, if total receipts are $1,000 including taxes, and the applicable sales tax rate is 5 percent, taxes are due not on the full $1,000, but instead on $1000 divided by 1.05, or $952.38.)

While public library boards have exclusive control of all funds collected, donated, or appropriated for the library fund-library boards have the legal authority to retain physical control only of gifts, donations, bequests, and endowments- all other funds must be under the physical control of the municipality. When libraries submit funds from sales, fines, fees, etc. to their municipality, they should carefully indicate the funds that are taxable and the funds that are nontaxable.

Any organization making sales subject to the sales tax must have a seller's permit from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR). Such organizations also need to file regular returns with the DOR and submit taxes due. If a municipality, or any of its subunits (including the library), makes taxable sales, the municipality must handle the necessary filing and tax submission under its seller's permit.

Friends of the Library groups often conduct book sales and other sales as fundraisers. These sales may be exempt from the sales tax if they meet certain tests. Sales by nonprofit organizations on less than 20 days per year or having total taxable receipts of less than $25,000 per year are exempt "occasional sales" if the sales event does not involve an admission charge and paid entertainment, and the organization does not have and is not required to have a seller's permit for other purposes. A municipality also may qualify for the "occasional sales" exemption if it meets the same tests. If a library contracts with a private vendor who owns and has control over the photocopy machines in the library; the vendor, rather than the library, is responsible for collecting sales tax. The same would be true for pay phones owned and controlled by a private vendor.

Some organizations believe that if they call payments "donations" they can avoid the obligation to collect sales tax. To qualify as a donation, a payment must be totally voluntary, with no restrictions placed on people who do not make a payment. For example, if a library requests a $.10 donation per computer printout, the library cannot place any restriction on computer printouts made by people who do not make the donation. The DOR looks at the facts surrounding requests for donations to determine whether they are truly voluntary donations, or rather sales subject to the sales tax.

Adapted from "Sales tax due for public library photocopies." Channel 35, no. 6 (2000).

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Scheduling of board meetings

While the statutes do not explicitly state how frequently library boards must meet, a library board should meet monthly for a number of reasons, one of which is to approve library bills. Wis. Stat. § 43.58(2) states:

The library board shall audit and approve all vouchers for the expenditures of the public library and forward the vouchers or schedules covering the same, setting forth the names of claimants, the amounts of each claim and the purpose for which expended, to the appropriate municipal or county financial officer or, in the case of a school district, the school district clerk, with a statement thereon, signed by the library board secretary or other designee of the library board, that the expenditure has been incurred and that the library board has audited and approved the bill. The municipal, county or school district governing body shall then pay the bill as others are paid.

Library boards would have difficulty paying their bills on a timely basis unless they meet at least monthly.

Another reason boards should meet at least monthly is so that they have adequate time to consider library issues, review policies, and address library service needs of the community. By having regular monthly meetings scheduled, the director, the library staff and the public have a clear understanding of when issues may be brought to the board for consideration.

Each meeting must be legally noticed, even if the board holds meetings at scheduled intervals (such as the third Wednesday of each month at 7:00 p.m.). The library board president or designee (such as the library director or secretary) must give notice of each meeting to the public, any members of the news media who have submitted a written request for notice, and the designated official newspaper or, if none exists, to a news medium likely to give notice in the area. Wis. Stat. § 19.84(1). Notice may be given by email or fax, if that is acceptable to the recipient.

The Attorney General has advised posting public notice of the meeting at three different locations within the jurisdiction that the governmental body observes (such as the main municipal building, the library, and the community center). This may be done in lieu of posting a paid notice in a news medium in the jurisdiction the library serves. The notice must give the "time, date, place and subject matter of the meeting, including that intended for consideration at any contemplated closed session, in such form as is reasonably likely to apprise members of the public and the news media thereof." Wis. Stat. § 19.84(2).

The Attorney General published a useful document, Wisconsin Open Meetings Law: a Compliance Guide, available here:

Adapted from "Best Practices for Public Libraries — Scheduling of board meetings." Channel 40, no. 5 (2005).

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Sharing information with local and regional organizations contributes to an effective library operation.

Good communication flows two ways, informing others about the library's services, programs and financial needs, as well as allowing the library to learn about the needs of the community, collaborative opportunities, and competing interests. However, the board and director must achieve a level of communication that will strengthen the library's position and promote its services without adversely affecting the day-to-day operation and administration of the library.

While it is necessary to protect and ensure the library's administrative autonomy, the library cannot be operated in isolation from the rest of municipal government. Attending meetings of the municipal board or council with some regularity not only keeps local government aware of the library and its services, but also helps keep the library apprised of upcoming projects that may impact the library, compete for funding, or require additional resources or a service response from the library.

Occasionally the librarian or a board member should report to the municipality about new services and programs or regional news and system services. While this can be done under a general agenda item such as "Reports of Committees and Departments," it may be more advantageous to request that the report come earlier on the agenda, under appearances, to bring more focus to the report. And once a year the library should present a more formal annual report on the library's activities. Such periodic appearances will help keep the library in a positive light with the local board or council, instead of appearing only during the annual budget process to request funding.

Since the library receives funding from the county, occasional reports to the county board meeting by the director or a board member can also be effective to assure a positive relationship and help to promote services. When meetings of local government are televised on the local cable channel, there is an added benefit of promoting the library and its services to a larger audience, some of whom may not be regular users of the library. In addition, the report may spark interest with reporters attending the meeting who may then provide additional coverage.

The village, city, or county administrator may also hold regular meetings of department heads, and the library board should make it possible for the director to attend. Such meetings can promote congenial relationships that may benefit the library through better assistance with maintenance and repairs or more effective emergency response. The librarian can learn of planned public works projects that might limit access to the library, regional events that may affect library use or impact parking, or new services and programs that the library should know about. The director may also find opportunities to collaborate on projects with the recreation department, senior services, or public safety. Finally, the municipality may offer or have access to safety, management, or human resources workshops and training appropriate to the library. Often these can qualify for continuing education credit for certification purposes, so the librarian may want to obtain prior approval from the system continuing education validator.

Finally, the library director should be able to maintain appropriate levels of interaction with the other librarians in the county, system, state and, when possible, nationally. Although more and more communication is being conducted online and through email, face-to-face meetings are still common for library system meetings, and meetings to plan county library service plans or budgets. The library board should, whenever possible, accommodate the director's attendance with staffing coverage and reimbursement of travel expenses. Active attendance at meetings for members of a shared integrated library system (ILS) allows the library an opportunity to participate in decisions and become aware of new features and training opportunities. Furthermore, membership and participation in professional associations, such as the Wisconsin Library Association, allows the library director to establish and maintain professional ties with colleagues throughout the state. The benefits of participation and attendance at annual conferences can be well worth the cost of membership since the conferences are eligible for continuing education credit toward the director's certification requirements, and the value of learning through networking is immeasurable.

While meetings and committees outside the library can be effective and productive, the operation of the library and its service to the public is paramount. The library board and the director must work together to establish an agreed-upon level of participation and interaction that is appropriate for the library. For, while there are many opportunities for the librarian to communicate with outside organizations and agencies, it is the work at the library, providing information services to the community, that serves as the basis for all such communication.

Adapted from "Best Practices for Public Libraries — Communication is Key, Part 2." Channel 41, no. 5 (2006).

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Some of our board members don't participate much in the meetings. How can we find people who are more involved?

While appointments to a public library board are ultimately the legal responsibility of the municipality or municipalities involved, the library board can facilitate the process by recruiting capable candidates to be considered by the municipal officer.

An effective library board should include citizens who are actively interested in the library, involved in the community, and willing to devote time to the library's planning and development. Since some library board appointments expire each year, the library trustees should develop an ongoing process to identify strong candidates to submit to the appointing officer (the mayor, village president, town or tribal chairperson, or the county executive or administrator) for consideration each year. By recruiting and recommending good candidates, the library board can help ensure effective library planning and leadership.

Identifying good candidates

As the library board periodically reviews its mission and roles in the community, the trustees can also assess strengths and weaknesses in the current board composition, and then identify desirable qualities for new members. Consider the makeup of the board to ensure that it represents the composition of the community. Being just a regular library user is not necessarily the most effective criteria for library board membership. Board members must understand and be willing to support the library's mission and goals and communicate the library's activities and needs to the municipal governing body. Since trustees prescribe library services for the community, they should be able to keep a finger on the pulse of the community, keep their ear open for trends and changes in library services, and be able to see opportunities that arise. The board should include members who have a sense of the "big picture" of community services, as well as of local and regional planning, whether in schools, housing, or economic development. After all, the library should be a strong and integral cog in smooth running municipal services.

Getting the word out

It may be difficult to identify people who are willing to volunteer for an appointment and commit the necessary time and energy to the library board. By actively promoting the need for new members, the library board should be better able to recruit and identify viable candidates to recommend for appointment.

In addition to flyers in the library and other municipal locations, consider including information in newsletters and on the library or municipal web site. Find out if your city, town, or village has an application form it uses to recruit and screen candidates for committee appointments. If not, offer to help develop one. A good application form will solicit information about the candidate's qualifications, interests, and involvement in other community organizations. Library board members can communicate their own commitment to the library and its services and encourage suitable candidates to apply.

It helps to provide candidates with a summary of library trustee duties and responsibilities, as well as a schedule of regular board meetings. Trustee Essentials can be useful toward this end, particularly TE-1, "The Trustee Job Description" ( and TE-18, "Library Board Appointments and Composition" (

Identifying, recruiting, and recommending good board members can help to maintain the library board as an effective conduit between the community, the library, and the municipality. The recruitment process can help to establish or strengthen the board's rapport with the municipal governing body, even when the recommendations are not accepted. And trustees who go off the board when their terms expire can feel a greater sense of accomplishment and continuity knowing that the ongoing work will be in capable hands.

Adapted from Trustee Corner. Channel 42, no. 6 (2007).

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Two of our board members had a heated argument at the last meeting and one walked out. But when the minutes were submitted for review at the next meeting, there was no mention of the incident. When I objected, the president said that the subject of the disagreement wasn't on the agenda, therefore could not be in the minutes. Is that true?

No. The president may be confusing different provisions and guidelines of the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law. The open meetings law requires in Wis. Stats. 19.88 (3) that "…the motions and roll call votes of each meeting of a governmental body shall be recorded, preserved, and open to public inspection…." However, the law does not preclude the record of the public meeting from summarizing some of the general discussion to preserve a more complete record of the meeting. It is up to each library board to establish the level of detail that its meeting minutes will preserve. So, in your case, the meeting minutes did not have to mention the argument or its subject, but certainly could have. Also, if any action was taken at the meeting subsequent to the board member's departure, that member's absence should be noted in the minutes.

The other issue that may have come into play with your question is the requirement that the notice of a public meeting apprise the public of the business that will come before the board. The Department of Justice's Wisconsin Open Meetings Law: A Compliance Guide states that the board president, as the "chief presiding officer…is responsible for providing notice, and when he or she is aware of matters which may come before the body, those matters must be included in the meeting notice."

The Compliance Guide also states that the Attorney General has advised that when a subject that was not specifically noticed comes up at a meeting, "…the governmental body should refrain from engaging in any information gathering or discussion or from taking any action that would deprive the public of information about the conduct of governmental business." If a topic or issue arises that was not listed on the agenda, it is generally best that the discussion be deferred to a subsequent meeting when the subject can be properly noticed.

Adapted from Trustee Corner. Channel 44, no. 2-3 (2009).

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Use of petty cash funds explained

Many public libraries use a petty cash fund for the payment of relatively small expenditures such as postage, deliveries, or urgently needed supplies. Payment by check is not always possible or practical, so petty cash funds are established on an imprest basis to handle these small purchases. The Governmental Accounting, Auditing and Financial Reporting (GAAFR) definition of "imprest account" states in part that this is "an account into which a fixed amount of money is placed for minor disbursements…."

As a public agency, the library's internal control over the petty cash fund is important and should be conducted openly. The petty cash should be placed in the custody of a specific employee who is authorized to disburse the fund in accordance with stipulated restrictions as to maximum amount and purpose. The following recommendations should be considered regarding petty cash funds.

  • The petty cash fund should be established by library board action. The board should approve a policy to authorize the maximum amount of the petty cash fund, the types of allowable disbursements, the method and frequency of replenishment, and the authorized custodian.
  • On a periodic/monthly basis, the petty cash fund should be balanced and replenished by check to the original established amount.
  • All cash received or collected by the library should be recorded as a receipt and deposited appropriately. It is not acceptable to replenish petty cash with miscellaneous library receipts such as fines or copy fees.
  • Petty cash funds should not be used to cash personal checks.
  • Payment receipts must support petty cash expenditures. For example, these could include postage receipts, cash register receipts, or other documentation to explain the item purchased.

This answer was adapted with permission from the Iowa Public Library Director's Handbook, 2001, State Library of Iowa. For more information on the proper handling of public library funds, see Trustee Essential #8: Managing the Library's Money, at

Adapted from Trustee Corner. Channel 37, no. 6 (2002).

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We are hiring a new library director. Do we need to require them to have valid Wisconsin library certification to qualify?

While library boards should be aware of the certification requirements for library directors, they may be unnecessarily restricting their pool of eligible candidates by listing current certification as a requirement. The board will have many more applicants to consider if they instead require candidates to be eligible for certification at the appropriate grade, rather than to possess the certification as a condition of candidacy.

Wisconsin statutes and administrative rules require that all public library directors be certified by the Division for Libraries and Technology (DLT) according to rules adopted by the DPI. Trustees should also be aware that having a properly certified director is one of the statutory membership requirements for belonging to a library system.

Candidates for library director positions need to have the necessary education and training to qualify for certification. The certification is a formal confirmation that the necessary training and education requirements have been achieved.

While it may be tempting for someone who meets the eligibility requirements to obtain formal certification prior to employment as a library director, there are a number of reasons why it is neither necessary nor desirable unless required.

  1. The courses and requirements are not designed for and may not be appropriate for employees who are not directors.
  2. The application for certification requires a $60 fee.
  3. Once certification is obtained, it must be maintained through a total of at least 100 tracked and approved contact hours of continuing education for formal renewal each five years.
  4. Staff in libraries may not be afforded sufficient time or resources to maintain the certification.
  5. It is not necessary to be certified to take the library courses required for certification or to participate in continuing education activities.

Consequently, it is advisable for candidates to wait until they are hired as a library director to obtain the required certification.

Can the library board hire a director who has not met all the requirements for certification?

Yes. In certain circumstances it is possible to hire a candidate who has not yet met all the requirements for regular certification. For instance, an applicant for a Grade 1 certification (for a library serving a municipal population of 6000 or more) who has a bachelor's degree but has not fully completed a master's degree in library science can provide the division with a schedule outlining how the requirement will be met. Upon approval of the division, a temporary, non-renewable Grade 1 certificate will be issued, valid for up to one year. To qualify for a temporary certificate, a new director must apply within three months of his or her start date.

An applicant for a grade II or III certificate who has the required college coursework, but who has not completed the required three semester credits of coursework in the following areas:

  • Basic public library administration
  • Advanced public library administration
  • Organization and management of collections
  • Public and community services

can provide the division with a schedule for completing the coursework and receive a temporary certificate valid for up to one year, and renewable not more than three times.

Library boards who hire a director under such circumstances should consider the costs and time required for the candidate to fulfill the requirements for certification. While it is ultimately the director's responsibility to obtain certification, we encourage library boards to budget sufficient funds to reimburse the expense and to accommodate adequate continuing education to maintain the required certification.

Our community population is rapidly growing and will soon exceed the level of our current certification. Will our director be required to be certified at that higher level, or will we need to find a director who meets the requirements?

No. When a community's population goes over 6,000 or 3,000 the existing director can apply for provisional certification. DLT may grant provisional certification at the appropriate (higher) grade level to a person who is employed as the administrator of a library affected by a population increase. This higher grade of certification stays with the person provided he or she continues to work at the same library and complies with the continuing education requirements for recertification. However, if that person goes to a different library, the provisional certification does not apply. Similarly, when the library hires a new director, the candidate must possess the qualifications for the level of certification required by the current population.

It should be noted that just as a library board can go beyond the minimum requirement for grade level (for example, a library might require eligibility for grade 1 certificate when the population requires only a grade 2), library directors can obtain certification at a higher level than is required for their current position.

Further information on Wisconsin Public Library Certification can be found at: Additional questions can be addressed to your library system staff or to Terrie Howe, Public Librarian Certification and Continuing Education Consultant, (608)266-2413,

Adapted from Trustee Corner. Channel 41, no. 1 (2005).

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We have never evaluated the performance of our library director. How do we go about conducting a performance evaluation?

Evaluating the library director is often one of the more difficult tasks faced by a public library board of trustees, but it doesn't need to be. It is only difficult when a board is unsure of the process to follow or the criteria to be used to evaluate the job performance of its director.

There are several good reasons for carrying out an annual review of your library director, one of the most important of which is that the review process can be an opportunity for the board and the director to discuss and agree on the projects that should be accomplished in the next year. A review process that looks not only at the past, but also to the future, can significantly improve the effectiveness of library leadership (both the director and the board).

Below is a basic outline of the steps you can take to conduct an evaluation of your director. (A more thorough discussion of this process is in Trustee Essential #6: Evaluating the Director (

  1. Ask your director to update his or her job description. Review, modify (if necessary), and approve the updated job description. (Your library system staff also can help you with this process.)
  2. Use the updated job description as the basis for a performance evaluation form. (For an example, see the Sample Performance Appraisal Form attached to Trustee Essential #6.)
  3. Ask your director to complete a self-assessment using the director performance evaluation form. Also ask your director to provide the board with his/her suggested goals and objectives for the next 12 months and a written progress report on his/her prior year annual goals and objectives. The board, or personnel committee, should fill out a second set of forms.
  4. Personnel committee and/or entire board meets in legally posted closed session to develop and approve a written evaluation of the director. Part of this meeting should include the director to discuss and agree on goals and objectives for the next 12 months, as well as to discuss performance issues. If the personnel committee conducts the review, the final written evaluation also should be reviewed, discussed, and approved by the full board.
  5. The director should sign the review indicating that he or she has been given the opportunity to read and discuss the evaluation.
  6. A copy of the evaluation should be placed in the director's personnel file. A well-executed performance review is the culmination of formal and informal communication carried out throughout the year regarding the activities of the director. Problems are best brought to the attention of the director as they occur, rather than stored up for the annual review. Success, accomplishment, and simple hard work or dedication should be acknowledged as it is observed, as well as at the annual review.

Adapted from Trustee Corner. Channel 38, no. 4 (2003).

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We spend too much time during our library board meetings on routine reports and other routine items, leaving little time for discussion of important policy, budget, and planning issues. How can we streamline our meetings?

Two possibilities are to use a "consent agenda" and to ask for written reports instead of verbal reports whenever appropriate.

Use of a consent agenda (also called a "unanimous consent agenda" or a "consent calendar") allows the board to approve a group of items quickly. Unless a board member requests removal of an item from the consent agenda package, the entire package is approved without any additional discussion. This saves time for more substantive or controversial items that require further explanation or debate. The Sturgis Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure explains the consent agenda as "a portion of the printed agenda listing matters that are expected to be noncontroversial and on which there are likely to be no questions."

How it works

When the library director and/or board president prepare the agenda, items that probably do not require further explanation and which are anticipated to be non-controversial can be placed in the consent agenda portion of the printed agenda. This might include such items as approval of the agenda, approval of the previous meeting minutes, and the acceptance of written reports.

At the meeting, when the consent agenda is taken up, the board president announces the items on the consent agenda, asks if any item should be removed, then declares the consent agenda adopted unless there is any objection. If any board member asks that an item be removed, the president will place the item on the regular agenda for possible discussion, amendment, and disposition. The minutes of the board meeting will report matters approved as part of the consent agenda as "approved by unanimous consent." Information- only items received as part of the consent agenda can be reported as accepted.

It is strongly recommended that written information on the items to be included in the consent agenda be distributed to board members well ahead of the meeting. This allows thorough examination of the items without using up valuable meeting minutes. If a board member has a question, he or she can contact the board president or the library director to clarify a concern. If additional information is needed or if discussion of the item is deemed appropriate, any board member may request that an item on the consent agenda be removed and discussed separately. To keep the process intact and efficient, this should be the only comment needed concerning the contents of a consent agenda. To streamline the process even more, board members could be invited to contact the board president or library director prior to the meeting to request that an item be removed from the consent agenda.

Because the use of consent agendas may not be familiar to your board members, their use needs to be well explained to all board members to ensure that everyone understands both the rationale and the steps involved. If your board decides to use consent agendas, we recommend amending your board bylaws to authorize their use. An addition to your bylaws could be as follows.

"The agenda for board meetings may include a consent agenda. Any board member may request that an item on the consent agenda be removed from the consent agenda and placed elsewhere on the agenda for separate action. Items remaining in the consent agenda may be approved by unanimous consent."

Adapted from Trustee Corner. Channel 38, no. 1 (2002).

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We will soon have some new trustees appointed to our board. What can we do to help our new trustees prepare for their duties as a library board member?

To carry out their duties effectively, new trustees need information about your library's services, needs, and plans. They also need some understanding of the legal responsibilities of the library board and the relationship of the board to the municipality, and to the library director and other library staff. A good orientation will provide new trustees with the answers they need to undertake their duties confidently.

The orientation program should be planned step by step by the library board, with the assistance of the library director. Orientation should start as soon as possible after the new board member is appointed-before the first meeting, if possible. The DPI's Trustee Essentials publication includes a Sample Trustee Orientation Outline that can be adapted to your needs. The sample orientation outline is also available on the web Your library system staff may also be able to assist you in development of an orientation plan for new trustees.

Adapted from Trustee Corner. Channel 39, no. 3-4 (2004).

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We would like to establish and manage a gift fund for our library. Do we need to establish a library foundation (a separate non-profit 501(c)(3) organization) to solicit funds and administer the endowment fund?

No. Your library board should be able to accomplish your goals within the legal powers of a library board established under Chapter 43 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

If your concern is the deductibility of donations to a public library, donations to any government organization meet the IRS definition of a "charitable contribution" to a "qualified organization." No application to the IRS is needed. According to the IRS publication on Charitable Contributions (Publication #526): "To become qualified organizations, most organizations other than churches and governments, as described below, must apply to the IRS." The publication goes on to define as one type of "qualifying organization" any state or any of its subdivisions that perform substantial government functions. A public library established and operated according to Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 43 clearly meets that definition.

If your concern is the ability to retain custody of and manage gifts and donations separate from the municipality, this option is available to public library boards under Wisconsin Statutes section 43.58 (7).

Because Wisconsin public libraries can retain custody of gifts and donations, and are "qualified organizations" for the purpose of the deductibility of donations, it is not necessary or desirable for a library board to seek 501(c)(3) status for the public library itself.

A separate library foundation may have certain benefits, including greater political independence. Establishing a foundation normally requires the assistance of a lawyer. A lawyer and/or accountant may also be needed to comply with the IRS 501(c)(3) filing requirements for a nonprofit foundation.

Adapted from Trustee Corner. Channel 36, no. 5 (2001).

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What can our library board do to protect the confidentiality of public use of our library? We are especially concerned that library staff know the applicable laws and understand the importance of library patron confidentiality.

Libraries have a long tradition of concern for the confidentiality of individuals' use of library books and other resources. In addition, almost every state (including Wisconsin) has laws that protect library patron confidentiality. The two most important actions your board can take to protect library patron confidentiality are to

  • adopt a library policy on the protection of patron privacy, and
  • make sure all library staff receives training on compliance with patron privacy laws and with the library's policy on the protection of patron privacy.

Library policies can provide greater protections for patron privacy than the protections provided by state law. Wisconsin Statutes Section 43.30 provides protections for library patron records, while a library policy can provide protections against disclosure of any information about patron library use. Information about library use can include staff observations of patron use of library materials and resources.

A sample public library policy on the protection of patron privacy is available at This sample policy outlines the legal requirements for the protection of patron records and provides sample rules to be followed by library staff to protect patron privacy. The sample policy also includes guidelines for staff handling of subpoenas and search warrants, including those authorized under the USA PATRIOT Act.

The sample policy is not intended as a recommended policy, but is instead intended to be a starting point for development of a local library policy-ideally to be developed with the assistance of the municipal attorney (or library counsel). Working with your municipal attorney would be a good opportunity for him or her to become familiar with the state law that protects library records (Section 43.30).

Once you develop and approve a library policy on the protection of patron privacy, it is important that your library hold training sessions to ensure that library staff members understand how to comply with patron privacy laws and with the library's policy on the protection of patron privacy.

Adapted from Trustee Corner. Channel 38, no. 5 (2003).

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What can we do if we have a library board member who rarely attends library board meetings?

A good first step would be for the library board president to have a private talk with the trustee about the importance of meeting attendance. The president might also inquire if there are any particular reasons for the absences. If the trustee is no longer interested in serving, he or she could be asked to resign. If there are other reasons for the absences, perhaps they could be resolved in some way. For example, if the trustee has a regular conflict with the board meeting times, it may be possible to find a new regular meeting time that works for all board members.

You might also consider a board bylaw change to help address this issue. Some library board bylaws provide that if a trustee misses, say three (or four) consecutive meetings, the board president will send a letter to the trustee asking the trustee to resign. Sometimes the bylaws provide that a copy of the letter is also sent to the appointing authority.

For library boards in villages and cities, if a board member is "incapacitated or absent from any cause" the village board or city council may appoint someone to assume the board member's duties until he or she returns or until the disability is removed. This might be an option to pursue for a board member who will be temporarily unable to attend meetings, but this option is far from ideal. A short-term replacement library board member would probably not have a good understanding of the issues facing the library and would require orientation, just like any other new library board member. A sample trustee orientation outline is included in Trustee Essential #27 (

One way to encourage good board meeting attendance is to run good meetings. It is the board president's responsibility to keep board meetings on task and to involve all board members in board deliberations. Ideas for effective board meetings are included in Trustee Essential #4 (

Adapted from Trustee Corner. Channel 39, no. 1 (2003).

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What officers are we required to have on our library board?

At a minimum your library board must have a president. Wis. Stats. S.43.54 (2) requires that: "within 60 days after the beginning of terms, the members of the library board shall organize by election, from among their number, of a president and such officers as they deem necessary."

The only other library board officer specified by statute is a treasurer or "financial secretary", whose office is required if the library's donation or endowment funds are invested other than with the treasurer of the municipality or county in which the library is situated, or with a "public depository" as provided in s. 43.58 (7) (b). The treasurer or financial secretary must submit a report at least annually to the library board "showing in detail the amount, investment, income and disbursements form the trust funds in his or her charge". The report must also be appended to the library's official annual report submitted each year to the municipality and Division for Libraries and Technology. [s. 43.58 (7) (d)]

The bylaws adopted by the board to govern its activities may establish other officers such as a vice-president, secretary or treasurer. The bylaws should spell out the officers' powers and duties, and how they are elected. Sample text for library board bylaws is available at

Many library boards also appoint other officers, such as a vice president, who presides over meetings in the absence of the board president, and a secretary, whose duties may include posting notice and recording minutes of official meetings. Some libraries may designate a particular library employee to carry out the duties of the secretary. Other library boards may designate a secretary/treasurer who serves as recorder for meetings and is authorized to sign official vouchers for approved library expenditures.

More information on library board bylaws is available in Trustee Essential #3 at

Adapted from Trustee Corner. Channel 42, no. 2 (2006).

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Who makes the school district appointment to the library board? Does the board have to have a representative from the municipality? How many board members can live outside the municipal area?

Wisconsin Statute s. 43.54 dictates the formulation and appointment of municipal library boards in different size communities. The statute establishes that the mayor, village president, town chair, or tribal chair makes appointments to a municipal public library board, with the approval of the municipal governing body, for three-year terms.

School district representative:

The statute establishes that there must be a school district representative-either the superintendent or the superintendent's designee. The specific statute language governing school district and municipal governing body appointments is:

43.54(1)(c) The appointing authority shall appoint as one of the members a school district administrator, or the administrator's representative, to represent the public school district or districts in which the public library is located. Not more than one member of the municipal governing body shall at any one time be a member of the library board.

If the library's service area encompasses two or more school districts, the school district appointment can alternate between the districts.

Municipal body representative:

There is no requirement that there must be a representative from the municipal governing body, just the option that no more than one member may be from that governing body. However, an alderman, village or town board member appointed to the board from the governing body serves a three-year term as do all board members. If that member loses office during the library board term, the municipal officer must wait for a vacancy in order to make another appointment from the municipal body, unless that member voluntarily resigns. Each library board appointment must be formally renewed or replaced every three years.

Terms of office:

The term of the appointments commence in the same manner as other municipal appointments-in the past, library board terms were required to begin July 1, but that requirement was removed in 1997. Vacancies must be filled only for the unexpired term in the same manner as regular appointments are made, that is, the municipal officer appoints someone to fill the remaining portion of the term, with the approval of the municipal body. When that partial term is completed, the municipal officer may then re-appoint that person for a subsequent full term.

Non-resident appointments:

There is no requirement that residents or representatives outside the library's municipal area serve on the library board. The statute does permit that no more than two board members may reside outside the municipality [43.54(1)], but if the mayor or municipal board president does not wish to appoint representatives from outside the municipal boundaries, that is their choice. However, if the school superintendent's selection resides outside the municipality, the village must appoint that person, and the appointment would count as one of the two possible representatives from outside the municipality.

Number of board members:

The number of library board representatives is established in s.43.54. In two circumstances the municipality may adjust the number of library board members. Public library boards of villages, towns, tribal governments or tribal associations have five members, but two additional members may be appointed, bringing the total municipal appointment to seven. Wis. Stat. sec. 43.54(2). Cities of the 2nd or 3rd class have boards consisting of nine members, but may, by a two-thirds vote of their common council, reduce the number of appointive members to seven.

Appointments from counties:

If the library receives funds from a county that equals or exceeds one-sixth of the annual sum appropriated to the public library by the municipality the county may appoint an additional member to the library board (and if the appropriation equals or exceeds one-third of the local appropriation, then two additional members may be appointed, equals or exceeds one-half then three, etc.). Up to five additional board members may be appointed in this manner. The governing body of the municipality wherein the library resides does not need to approve the additional appointments, and it is entirely up to the county to exercise the option to make the appointments-the library is under no obligation to compel them to appoint the additional members. The appointments do not count in the limit of two non-resident appointments, and the appointments add to the number of board members for the library board.

Adapted from Trustee Corner. Channel 41, no. 2 (2005).

Why does our public library have to file an annual report with the Department of Public Instruction? What do we get for it?

Every Wisconsin public library is required to submit the Public Library Annual Report by March 1 of each year. The report collects financial, collection, staffing, programming, and other data useful to draw comparisons, detect trends, and conduct planning. Much of the data collected is then filed by the state in a federal data survey, and the compiled results allow comparisons to libraries throughout the county. The annual report data also provides information for state library system funding, and gathers required information for county reimbursements. Finally, the annual report requires the library board to certify that the library is in legal compliance with all statutory requirements for library system membership, so that the library can continue to take advantage of regional system services such as shared automation, resource sharing, continuing education, and delivery.

Wisconsin's public libraries have been required to file annual reports with their municipalities since public library legislation was first passed in 1871. Since 1895, when the Wisconsin Free Library Commission was established, libraries have been required to file annual reports to the state agency as well. And since public library systems were established in 1971, each library must submit a report to its system as well as the municipality and the state.

The purpose of the annual report and the resulting benefit to libraries was well stated in the fifth biennial report of the Free Library Commission of Wisconsin (Stout, James H., et al. Fifth biennial report of the Free Library Commission of Wisconsin 1903-1904, pp.14-15):

"The law requires that the board of directors of every library in the state shall make an annual report to the council, or proper board, and shall send one copy of this report to the Free Library Commission. By means of this report, and through special circulars of inquiry, the Commission collects statistics which it publishes, and which have proved of great practical value to the Commission and to the libraries of the state. In establishing a library, the new board is confronted with such questions as these: How much money is necessary to maintain a library in a town of our size? What part of the funds should be devoted to purchase of books? How much is usually paid the librarian? How many hours ought the library to be open? These and many more questions are definitely and specifically answered by the reports of libraries in places of the same size. Libraries and boards of trustees of the older and larger libraries may gain information from the same source regarding any branch of service undertaken for the first time, such as deposit stations, school duplicate libraries, and other methods of reaching and helping the public. Comparison of statistics of circulation, or of any activity, in different libraries creates a certain wholesome competition which tends to increase efficiency of service, and to extend privileges of the public."

The current law requires that the Division for Libraries and Technology "collect library statistics and conduct studies and surveys of library needs throughout the state and report and publish the findings." [Wis. Stats. § 43.05(4)] Chapter 43 also requires, as a duty of library boards, that:

"Within 60 days after the conclusion of the fiscal year of the municipality or county in which the public library is located, the library board shall make a report to the division and to its governing body. The report shall state the condition of the library board's trust and the various sums of money received for the use of the public library during the year, specifying separately the amounts received from appropriations, from the income of trust funds, from rentals, and other revenues of the public library and from other sources. The report shall state the condition of all funds in the library board's control and shall state in detail the disbursements on account of the public library during that fiscal year." [Wis. Stats. § 43.58(6)(a)]

The information collected on the public library annual report is largely unchanged from year to year, since collection of a consistent set of data over time is most useful for relative comparisons and standards. Directors and trustees of libraries can then chart performance of their library over a span of time, or can draw comparisons to other libraries in their region or to libraries of like size throughout the state. As library services and technology changes over time, some additional questions or data collection may be added to the annual survey, but libraries are never required to submit the new data on the first year a data element is included in the survey. Instead, they are requested to adjust their data collection over the course of the year so that the new data element can be reported in subsequent years. For instance, starting on the 2010 annual report, libraries were asked to report programs targeted to young adult audiences (defined nationally as youth from 12 to 18 years of age), in addition to children's and other programs.

The annual survey does periodically include one-time or special surveys of particular services or topics so that the Division can confirm trends, track the outcome of statewide initiatives, or determine areas for future development. Such supplements have collected information on library technology, services to special needs, and early childhood initiatives.

Library statistics for Wisconsin libraries from 1996 to date are available online at Library administrators can download Excel-formatted data files, and sort them to allow comparisons by population, expenditures, revenues, collection size, circulation, or any other statistic collected on the report. The resulting comparisons may be used for the library's budget or long-range planning.

Much of the data collected on the annual report in Wisconsin, such as library hours, square footage, circulation, revenues, expenditures, collection size, technology, and services, is also reported at the federal level, offering a means of comparing libraries nationally. The federal statistics are available at and this site also includes a link to an online utility to compare individual libraries with others throughout the country.

The library statistics also serve as the foundation for Wisconsin Public Library Standards,, particularly the quantitative standards that recommend the size of collections, staffing levels, hours of operation, and expenditures per capita for library materials.

Through some simple planning and routine recording of regular library activities, along with ongoing bookkeeping of library expenses, the annual report can be a straightforward annual process, and the results can be extremely valuable both to the individual library, and to its peers for comparisons, budgeting, and planning. With most libraries now on shared integrated library computer systems, the circulation and collection data can be easily extracted and compiled, and the resulting non-resident circulation figures allow libraries to collect reimbursement from counties where applicable. Finally, the library's data, when compiled with other libraries, permits state and national library agencies to get the "big picture," to demonstrate the value of libraries and leverage support for regional services and programs. So, while library boards have a statutory obligation to complete and submit the annual report, they also can benefit from the resulting information, just as their libraries benefit from participation in the regional library systems.

Adapted from Trustee Corner. Channel 44, no. 4 (2009).

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