What Every Trustee Should Know

The following is text of the PowerPoint presentation from a Webinar sponsored by the New York State Division of Library Development, June 11, 2013. Presented by: Jerry Nichols, Director, Palmer Institute for Public Library Organization and Management; Long Island University; LIU Post.


Bernard Margolis, Assistant Commissioner for Libraries and New York State Librarian. Bernard A. Margolis has served as New York State Librarian and Assistant Commissioner for Libraries since January 2009. Mr. Margolis administers the New York State Research Library and the Division of Library Development. In partnership with the state's 73 public and school library systems, the State Library delivers library services to 19.5 million people served by New York's 7,000 academic, public, school and special libraries.

Program Presenter

Jerry Nichols, Director of the Palmer Institute for Public Library Organization and Management. Mr. Nichols is the editor of the Handbook for Library Trustees of New York Stateexternal link opens in a new window and is recipient of the New York Library Association’s Outstanding Service to Libraries Award and the Distinguished Service Award from the Library Trustees Association of New York Stateexternal link opens in a new window. As Past Chair of the New York State Regents Advisory Council on Libraries he was instrumental in the development, publication and adoption of Creating the Future: a 2020 Vision Plan for Library Service in New York Stateexternal link opens in a new window.

Primary Resources

There are two important resources that we will use in this session.

Today's Session

  • Your Role as a Trustee
  • Your Legal and Fiduciary Responsibilities
  • Elements of Effective Board Meetings
  • Working with your Fellow Trustees and Director

Where are you Going?

Getting Oriented

  • Visiting Your Library
  • Understanding Your Director
  • Honoring History
  • Reviewing Critical Documents
  • Taking the Oath
  • Communicating Legally and Effectively

Your Role as a Trustee/Legal and Fiduciary Responsibilities

The Duty of Care

A trustee or board member must act in good faith and exercise the degree of diligence, care and skill that an ordinary prudent individual would use under similar circumstances in a like position. [Statement on the Governance Role of a Trustee or Board Member external link opens in a new window]

  • Learn about your Library and the library world.
  • Attend all Board meetings and be ready.
  • Ask questions!

The Duty of Loyalty/Conflicts of Interest

Trustees owe allegiance to the institution and must act in good faith with the best interest of the organization in mind. The conduct of a trustee must further the institution’s goals and not the member’s personal or business interests…A trustee should avoid even the appearance of impropriety… [Statement on the Governance Role of a Trustee or Board Member external link opens in a new window]

  • Make sure the Library Board has an up to date Conflict of Interest Policy.
  • Avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. 
  • Put the Library first!

The Duty of Obedience

A trustee has a responsibility to insure that the institution’s resources are dedicated to the fulfillment of its mission. The member also has a duty to ensure that the institution complies with all applicable laws and does not engage in any unauthorized activities. [Statement on the Governance Role of a Trustee or Board Member external link opens in a new window]

  • Know and understand the Library’s mission.
  • Be aware of important law and regulations.
  • Be certain that your Library’s resources are solely dedicated to Library purposes.

Fiduciary Accountability

...ensure that financial resources are being used efficiently and effectively toward meeting the institution’s goals; and hire a CEO to manage the operation of the institution and evaluate his/her overall performance.[Statement on the Governance Role of a Trustee or Board Member external link opens in a new window]

  • Select a qualified Library Director and let them manage.
  • Secure sufficient financial resources.
  • Monitor expenditures and get an annual independent audit.

Access is an Attitude!

The public library must be a valuable resource to everyone in the community.

Effective Board Meetings

Respect the Institution; the Public and your Time!

Comply with the Law

  • Open Meetings
    • Meeting Notices
    • Content of Minutes
    • Executive Sessions
    • Rights of Public at Meetings
    • Quorum/Voting

Conduct Financial Review

  • Evaluate Financial Reports
  • Approve Expenditures
  • Maintain Reserve Funds
  • Have Investment Policies

Oversee Personnel Actions

  • Selection vs. Appointment
  • Compliance with Civil Service Regulations
  • Termination

Working with your Fellow Trustees and the Director

  • Show Up!
  • Respect each others’ time.
  • Work as a Collective Authority.
  • Understand Responsibility vs. Delegation.
  • Promote Positive Corporate Culture.

Lastly, please remember…it’s about the Library, not about you.

Always keep in mind that your primary job is to provide the highest quality library service possible for your community, not the cheapest.

Additional Resources

Last Updated: May 9, 2019 -- sm; for questions or comments, contact us