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AE 4: Working with the Library Board

This Administrative Essential covers:

  • Administrative support for the library board
  • Leadership issues
  • Communication with the board
  • Director and board relationship
  • Recruitment of new board members
  • Continuing education for trustees
  • Orientation of new board members
  • Sample Trustee Orientation Checklist

Administrative support for the library board

It is your responsibility to provide administrative support for the library board. You will play an important role in preparing for and ensuring effective library board meetings (See AE 7: Effective Library Board Meetings). You will play a key role in the initial development of the library budget (See AE 13: Developing the Library Budget). You will provide support to the library board in the development and adoption of library policies (See AE 15: Policies and Procedures). As the library faces new issues that impact it, you will prepare background materials and present options and recommendations for dealing with those issues. You should make the library board aware of library laws and other laws that pertain to their actions so that the laws will not be violated.

Leadership issues

As library director you must be an effective leader if the library is to succeed and improve its service to the community. The library board also has a leadership role. At different times and in different situations you or the library board will play the primary leadership role. Your job description and library policy statements will often define the situations in which you are expected to lead. You play a leadership role by motivating and supporting library staff and volunteers, by being active in the community, by representing the interests of the library in state level forums on library issues, and by keeping the library board informed about opportunities for improving library services. The library board will often play the primary leadership role in dealings with local and/or county government. Both you and the library board lead by advocating for better financial support for the library and keeping the community informed of library developments. While you always need to be prepared to lead, your need to have a clear understanding of and respect for the board's statutory leadership authority and responsibility.

Communication with the board

As library director, it is your job to keep the library board informed of what is going on in the library, of what are the needs of the library, of what problems the library is and will be facing, and of what are the upcoming issues that will be impacting the library. At every library board meeting, you should report to the board on these matters. If a crisis arises relating to the library, it is important that you alert the library board chairperson and other board members as quickly as possible.

Director and board relationship

You will want to work to develop a positive relationship with your library board. A relationship in which there is mutual trust, respect, and support will greatly benefit the library. It is very important that you take time to get to know each board member and his or her style, perspective, and special concerns and interests.

As in any relationship, there will be times when you and the library board disagree on certain things. These disagreements should be handled in a non-personal way. Discussion should be focused on issues and not on personalities. You should make the case for your position as effectively as possible, but should not overstate or be inflexible in that position. In the end, it is the library board that will make the final decision about library policy issues and service priorities.

Although uncommon, there is the possibility of a severe disagreement between you and the library board. In some instances, you may feel strongly enough about an issue to want to comment publicly about it. If this occurs you may wish to seek advice from an outside party such as the system director, a DLT staff member, or under some circumstances an attorney.

Recruitment of new board members

It is in the best interest of the library to have board members who are dedicated, effective, who understand the value of the library, and who are committed to the mission of the library. You can play an important role in the recruitment of new board members with these qualities. This role includes identifying library users and members of library support groups who have exhibited strong support for the library and leadership qualities. These names of these individuals should be brought to the attention of the library board and then, with board endorsement, forwarded to the municipal executive for consideration.

Although the you and the library board should be proactive in identifying and recommending individuals to serve on the library board, the municipal or county governing body had the ultimate appointment authority and may not wish to accept those recommendations. That is their prerogative and should be accepted as such.

To ensure the appointment process proceeds effectively, you need to keep track of board member terms and always notify the municipality or county in advance of the end of a term.

Continuing education for trustees

Serving as a library board member is a complex and demanding position. Doing a good job as a library board member requires knowledge of a wide variety of issues. You will play an important role in the continuing education of the library's board members. Well educated and trained board members will make your job as library director much easier, and you should do everything you can to facilitate their continuing education. The education of library board members begins with an effective orientation (See below). Board meetings can be used as opportunities for educating board members on their responsibilities and on important local, state, and national library issues. The Trustee Essentials publication distributed by DLT is an excellent tool for educating board members. DLT also maintains a Web site that provides informational resources for trustees:

The public library system can assist in trustee continuing education and often provide workshops for trustees. You should promote the participation of your board members in the Wisconsin Library Trustees Association of the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) and in conferences of WLA and its divisions.

Orientation of new board members

All new library board members should receive an orientation. The orientation should take place, if possible, prior to the new board members first meeting. You, the library board chair, and possibly other library board members and staff will participate in this orientation. As library director you will need to assemble a variety of background and resource materials for the orientation session. These include among others the board's by-laws, previous board minutes, the Trustee Essentials publication, the library's most recent annual report, and the library's long range plan.

Sample Trustee Orientation Checklist

By-laws and format of library board meetings
Expectations for library board member participation
The library's long range and/or strategic plan
Review of current issues facing the library
The library's budget and financial situation
Overview of the Trustee Handbook
Library board powers and relationship with the municipality and/or county
Chapter 43
Open meeting requirement
Role of the library director
Public library system membership
The statewide library network
Policies on the selection and review of library materials
Other library policies
Friends of the Library

Sources of additional information

Trustee Essentials: A Handbook for Wisconsin Public Library Trustees:

Your library system staff:

The staff of the Division for Libraries and Technology:

Administrative Essential: A Handbook for Wisconsin Public Library Directors was prepared by the Division for Libraries and Technology. © Copyright 2008 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Duplication and distribution for not-for-profit purposes permitted with this copyright notice.