Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State

Thank you for visiting the Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State! We’d like to let you know about some changes to this important resource.

The Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State is now available as a NYS Library LibGuide. The Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State LibGuide features all the content from the current Handbook with the additions of improved accessibility, redesigned navigation to support user tasks, and a streamlined interface.

Please take some time to check out the Trustee Handbook LibGuide. You can let us know what you think about this change by sending a message to nysldigital@nysed.gov.

Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State
2018 Edition

Jerry Nichols, Palmer School of Library and Information Science
LIU Post, Brookville, New York

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, Mid-Hudson Library System
Poughkeepsie, NY

with the assistance of the

Public Library System Directors Organization of New York
Library Trustees Association of New York State
New York State Library
New York Library Association

© 2018. Portions of this publication may be reproduced for noncommercial purposes provided attribution of source is included.


cover, print version of Trustees Handbook

The most up-to-date and accessible version of the Handbook is available on this site. Hard copies are available through your public library system. If you would like to print a copy, the Handbook is also available as a .PDF file pdf file [2.6 Meg]. This .PDF file may not be fully accessible through all browsers and applications.


Acknowledgments | Welcome | Preface | Introduction


Looking for an Index? Simply use the “CTRL F” function on your computer keyboard to find what you are looking for.

For print copies of the 2018 edition of the Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State please contact your regional public library system.

Individual copies are also available for sale from the Suffolk Cooperative Library System. The cost of the Handbook is $5.00 per copy including shipping. Please send your orders to:

Suffolk Cooperative Library System
627 N. Sunrise Service Rd.
Bellport, New York 11713
Attn: Attn: Roger Reyes
(631) 286-1600


cover, print version of Trustees Handbook


This latest revision of the Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State is a testament to the integrity, professionalism and commitment of the New York Library Community.

A network of library professionals, directors, trustees and association leaders, along with our colleagues at the New York State Library, continuously strive to provide the best possible library service to the people of New York and inspire us to ensure there is clear, accurate and concise support for the 6,000 New Yorkers who serve their communities as library trustees each year.

We thank our collaborators from all corners of the state for sharing their knowledge and experience, and for relentlessly challenging us to improve this Handbook so that every library trustee may have the support they need to help New York’s public libraries thrive.

To our online readers: This timely, interactive and robust version of the Handbook would not be possible without the expertise and hard work of Webmaster Andrew Mace at the New York State Library Division of Library Development.

Library Trustees of New York State Welcome

Dear Library Trustee,

Sometimes, just starting something can be the most difficult step. When it comes to writing this letter, the first step comes naturally . . . Thank You! Thank you for answering the call to become a library trustee.  Thank you for your service, time, ambition, dedication and commitment to excellence. Thank you for all of your efforts to make New York State libraries models for our nation. Your hard work and efforts do not go unnoticed and are greatly appreciated.

Libraries are ever evolving, and they are used more than ever. They are information portals, educational institutions, modern day community centers, and a keystone in our democracy. How will you help your library not only survive, but thrive? Can you envision what your library will look like 20 years from now?

As you know, in partnership with your director, you have an extremely important role to play in the success and long-term growth of your library -- and the realization of that can be daunting. The fact that you are reading this letter and this handbook shows that you have found an excellent starting point and have taken your first step in the right direction.

This handbook provides you with a solid foundation from which you can continue to grow and learn. Becoming well versed with its information will make your job as a library steward much easier. Whether you are a brand-new trustee or have served on a board for 20 years, the updated edition of this handbook is an essential read.

When you do need additional information – you are never alone. In fact, as a trustee in the library community you could not be in better hands. For answers, guidance, tools and resources, you can reach out to your library director, your library system, the Division of Library Development (DLD), and library organizations including the Library Trustees Association of New York State (LTA).

LTA was chartered by the New York State Board of Regents in 1949 and is the state organization for library trustees. LTA is the voice of library trustees in New York State, and its mission is to connect trustees through advocacy, education and recognition.

LTA provides vast amounts of information and resources for new and experienced trustees alike. We keep trustees informed through our newsletters, emails, and our frequently updated website, while also providing many tools to help trustees succeed. LTA’s library policy database contains over 3500 real library policies which have been shared by your peers.  The database is continually updated, and it can be searched by multiple criteria.

We help keep trustees informed about innovative library programs, continuing education opportunities, and library legislation. LTA educates trustees through our annual Institute, regional presentations, and webinars; and we help build trustee leadership skills so that trustees can help inspire and energize their colleagues to be more effective in their roles. We recognize and reward trustees who are actively engaged in their own continuing education and who stand out as making a difference in the development of their library.

By sharing the successes and struggles of trustees, LTA helps connect trustees from different parts of the state and provides an opportunity for trustees to learn from their peers. LTA continues to grow and expand services and becomes more effective as more trustees connect with one another.

Likewise, LTA is more effective when, as an organization, it connects with the rest of the library community. LTA prides itself on working in close partnership with your library systems, the Division of Library Development (DLD), NYLA (the leading organization for library professionals), the Empire State Library Network (ESLN), school library systems, and other library organizations -- and we encourage individual trustees to do the same.

With collaboration and partnership, we will work together to help each other reach our goals. When LTA works in tandem with other organizations there is greater strength, and trustees and the library community as a whole will speak with a more united and resonating voice.


Adria Ripka, President;
and the Library Trustees Association’s Board of Directors

More information about LTAexternal link opens in a new window


Libraries provide the “currency” for today’s information economy. In cities and towns, rural, suburban and urban, throughout New York, libraries are equipping people with the tools necessary for life success. With skilled and knowledgeable library staff, a wide array of online resources, traditional print collections, exciting program offerings, and inviting and welcoming public spaces, libraries are experiencing unprecedented increases in public use.

New York’s 756 public libraries are community gateways to the world’s information resources. Whether in pursuit of an entertaining escape from today’s complexities or a timely solution to a difficult business question or help with a school research project, New Yorkers use their local libraries to advance and enhance their personal, educational, and work lives. As essential community resources for lifelong learning, public libraries are indispensable parts of this state’s economic, cultural, educational and social infrastructure.

Library trustees play a special, keenly important role in shepherding the dedicated and prudent use of library resources. Always striving to provide the best service which benefits and supports the entire community, trustees must make policy, personnel and fiscal decisions crucial to a positive direction for the library. While delegating the day-to-day activities to competent staff, the library trustees must always be mindful of how their decisions impact the lives of people and the future of their community. As public officers, library trustees carry an essential and vital set of fiduciary and legal responsibilities.

Library trustees are responsible to the library and to the public it serves. Trustees must fulfill the duties commonly referred to as “care, loyalty, and obedience” and must be tireless advocates for improving library services. Forward-looking, informed trustees are needed to guide their libraries.  Reinforcing the traditional services of libraries and welcoming the new, expanded opportunities of broadband Internet access, makerspaces and other technologies, trustees must position their libraries as essential and vital resources for individual and community success.

This new edition of the Handbook for Library Trustees in New York State provides advice, guidance and practical information to help trustees succeed in their important stewardship and governance roles.  As the New York State Library’s Coordinator of Statewide Library Services and Director of the Division of Library Development, I am pleased to congratulate and to thank the public library systems and the Library Trustees Association of New York State (LTA) for the publication (in print and online) of this new edition. I encourage every trustee to refer frequently to this useful tool as you undertake the exciting challenges and responsibilities of delivering high-quality public services to your communities.

Carol A. Desch
Coordinator of Statewide Library Services and
  Director of the Division of Library Development
New York State Library
Office of Cultural Education
New York State Education Department


Welcome to the 2018 revision of the Handbook.  Most notable in this revision is our attempt to provide clarity on the questions surrounding the Library Treasurer and Library District Clerk positions; as well as further commentary on procurement policies and the “claims audit” procedure.  In addition, you will find new information about the position of the Library Director as an “Officer of the Corporation” and the suggestion that the Library Director take the Oath of Office, just as public library trustees do.  You will also find additional clarification on quorums and voting for association library boards. In addition to some minor edits, links are cited to several brand-new webinars that will help you do your job as a trustee. The State Library routinely adds new on-demand webinars that you can watch at your convenience so be sure to check their web site for new additions to their menu of options. As always, we invite your continued questions and comments!

The purpose of this Handbook is to assist both the new and experienced public library trustee in New York State to better understand their job and to present the basic information they need to provide quality library service to their community. It offers advice on the philosophy of governing a library and on the practical aspects of responsible trusteeship. The information provided is based on the laws and regulations governing public libraries in our state and on the proven “best practices” in the field.  As always, you should consult your attorney, accountant, insurance and other professional advisors regarding specific matters within their area of expertise.

This is but an introduction to the many aspects of trusteeship and should be considered simply as one of the many resources necessary to do the job well. Be advised that it should not be considered as final authority on any legal or financial aspects of library administration.  Library Boards should consult with their attorney or financial advisor on any legal or fiscal issue before them.  Commentary on library law is based on actual law or established opinion by State agencies.

The printed version of the Handbook is intended to be kept in a binder or folder along with other important documents such as the Library’s Bylaws, Policy Manual, and Long-Range Plan, so that updated information can be added as needed.

This online version includes live web links and is searchable using the (CTRL F) function on your keyboard. It is an important companion to this Handbook.

All trustees should be aware that the New York State Library provides information on a range of topics on their website. The New York State Library Division of Library Development website deals specifically with public library issues.  This site includes links to a number of informative webinars specifically designed for the public library trustee.

The Library Trustees Association of New York State (LTA) and the Mid-Hudson Library System both provide excellent and continually evolving resources for trustee education. Your regional public library system's website will also provide you with critical information that will help you do your job. 

The effective trustee must be well versed in good governance practices that will enable them to meet the challenges presented by a rapidly changing political, social and cultural environment. Public libraries in our state are faced with an increasingly complex regulatory environment, contradictory laws and regulations, new technologies and emerging competitors for the library's customers. At the same time they have never been more vital to the well-being of our society. It is indeed an exciting time to be a library trustee.

Many individuals and organizations across New York State share the goal of improving and extending library service; but individual trustees, acting as part of a library board of trustees in partnership with the Library Director, ultimately bear the responsibility for achieving that goal. This manual is intended to provide an introduction to the practical and philosophical information that trustees will need to augment the common sense and good judgment they exercise in the course of their service.

Back to Contents | Chapter 1: The Library Network in New York State

Last Updated: February 1, 2023