Basic Responsibilities

The library board is legally responsible for overseeing the efficient and effective operation of the public library. Board members, operating as a team, hire the library's administrator, plan the library's services, and approve the library's policies. They decide how much the library will request for its budget, and they have, according to Idaho Code, exclusive control of the expenditure of library funds.

Being a library board member, then, is not just an honor. It is a responsibility. Good library board members do not just attend board meetings. They also take the time to study the role of the library trustee. They are aware of the laws that govern public agencies in general and the public library in particular. They learn what is going on in the library community by participating in state-wide library organizations and attending continuing education opportunities. They have read and understood the bylaws of their board and the policies of their library. They talk to members of the community about the library and they bring this input with them to board meetings.

Effective Trustees

The issues and decisions involved in the administration of the modern public library are varied and complex. Trusteeship is not an honorary position. It is a working relationship with the community, library director, and fellow trustees.

Trustees must devote a great deal of time and express a high level of interest to fulfill their duties. Commitment is the primary qualification for those who serve on the board.

Effective boards consist of informed, dedicated citizens who represent a cross-section of the community. There is a direct correlation between the quality of library service a community offers and the knowledge, capability, and enthusiasm of its board members.

Being a trustee is the most important volunteer position in the library.  This is the one volunteer position in the library that is not supervised by the library director or his/her designee.  The library board — as a group, not as individuals — supervise the library director.  Because it is not possible to supervise one's supervisor, it is important that each library trustee respect boundaries by not volunteering for other jobs within the library until after his/her term has ended.

Effective trustees are citizens who have:

  • Readiness to devote time and effort to learning about the library in addition to the duties, responsibilities, and authority of trusteeship
  • Recognition of the importance of the library as a center of information, culture, recreation, lifelong learning, and economic development in the community
  • Willingness to become knowledgeable in areas of librarianship that include standards, trends, and new developments
  • Rapport with the community, including a concerned awareness of diverse social and economic conditions, needs, and interests of all segments of the public
  • Position of leadership in the community, government, business, education, finance, law, or related fields
  • Initiative and ability to plan creatively, to establish policies for effective operation of the library, and to withstand pressures and prejudices when providing impartial service to the patrons
  • Skill in group collaboration and decision-making, an open mind, intellectual curiosity, respect for the opinions of others, and the ability to work cooperatively with others
  • Sound judgment, a sense of fiscal responsibility, legal understanding, and political awareness
  • Verbal and written communication skills, the ability to relate to the public, and the availability to represent the library at public functions and meetings
  • Willingness to participate with local, state, and national library leaders and trustees to improve library service on all levels.

A Trustee Knows:

  • Type and organization of your library board
  • Laws under which the library is organized
  • Duties and responsibilities of a member of the board
  • Library services and resources available
  • Local government – structure, people, and operations
  • Information needs and interests of the community
  • How to work effectively in a group
  • That all powers are always vested in the library board and none at all in the individual board member
  • The individual has no power to act for the library in any way, unless authorized by the board itself.
  • That is always the board as a unit that holds the responsibility and the powers
  • The Idaho Commission for Libraries and how to contact the library's area field consultant
  • National library trends, standards, and developments
  • The professional jargon– don’t hesitate to ask.

A Trustee Attends:

  • Every board meeting and assigned committee meeting
  • Idaho Library Association, Pacific Northwest Library Association, Association for Rural & Small Libraries, and/or American Library Association meetings and/or conferences whenever possible
  • Other area and local meetings and workshops
  • Online training opportunities to enhance boardmanship skills.

A Trustee Plans:

  • Future growth and priorities of the library
  • Policies of the library
  • Bylaws of the library board
  • Active community awareness programs
  • Orientation for new board members

A Trustee Supports:

  • Your library director and library
  • Your local governing body
  • The community and citizens you represent
  • Local, state, and federal legislation affecting libraries.

A Trustee Acts:

  • To articulate your library’s needs
  • To seek funding
  • To promote your library whenever called upon by the librarian, city council, or private citizens
  • To develop good personal relations with local, state, and federal representatives of government
  • To make yourself, your board, and your library visible in the community
  • To ensure the best interests of the library and the community it serves.

A Trustee Remembers:

  • To keep confidential information confidential and does not give out information regarding future board actions or plans
  • Not to voice his or her opposition or criticism, either publicly or privately, after a policy or rule is adopted by a majority vote of the board
  • To carry his or her full share of responsibility as a board member, assuring that a few members do not have to do all the work or take all the blame or praise
  • That all five trustees — including the chair — are equals
  • That individual trustees do not make assignments for the library's director or staff, but must make these decisions as a group, in an open meeting
  • The library board does not involve itself in the internal operations of the library.
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