Tips and Tools to Help Library Directors Work Effectively with The Members of their Boards of Trustees

Successful public libraries have library directors and library trustees who have worked together to develop strong working relationships. These relationships are built on a clear understanding of the roles of the director and the board, open communication, mutual trust and respect, and the common bond of wanting to provide quality library services. A library board that has hired an excellent director knows that the library is being operated efficiently and effectively. A library director who works for a knowledgeable and engaged board knows that the library’s policy and funding decisions will support the library staff in their efforts to provide the community with the best possible services.  

The resources in this section have been selected to help you develop and maintain a strong and effective relationship with your board. Some of these resources are library-specific. Others address the relations between executives and boards of non-profits. They all contain information that you will find both relevant and useful.

There are four sections in this topic. You can scroll down to see each section or you can click on the links below to go directly to a specific section.
New Trustee Orientation
Director/Board Relations
Working with Trustees and Friends of the Library

Section 1

New Trustee Orientation

“A successful trustee begins with a thorough understanding of libraries and the laws that govern them. A formal orientation with the library director and the Board President is the best way to learn about [the] organization. This orientation should include a discussion of the library’s mission and goals, its role in the community and a review of the critical issues facing the organization. A good orientation will provide trustees with the information they need to carry out their responsibilities effectively and will generate a spirit of ongoing curiosity about the library and its role in the community.”[From the Handbook for Trustees of New York State]

New Trustee Orientation: This fact sheet provides answers to five basic questions:

  • WHO should provide the orientation?
  • WHY do new trustees need an orientation?
  • WHEN should the orientation be given?
  • HOW should the orientation be given?
  • WHAT should be included in the orientation?

Section 2

Director/Board Relations

“Good communication and cooperation between the board and library director and an appreciation of the interdependency of each other’s roles are prerequisites to a well-managed library.”  [From the Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State]

The five resources in this section were selected to provide a range of information. Some provide very specific checklists of activities that will help you to strengthen your bonds with your board chair. Others provide a broader discussion of the issues that affect the relationship between a director and a board chair. Only one of these articles is library-specific. The others focus on the nonprofit world. However, as you will see, the issues and best practices are the very similar.

Helping All Libraries Succeed (HATS) – Developed a series of short (10-15 minute presentations) online webinars focused on information trustees need to know, including Open Meeting Laws, Role of the Public Library Treasurer, Board Evaluation, Director Evaluation and Hiring a Director.

Working with Library Boards: Developing a Strong Board: Gina Millsap is a consultant and trainer who developed a series of trustee-related training programs for the Kansas State Library.  The content of this presentation is excellent – both detailed and practical.

Nonprofit CEO Board-Chair Relationships: This short article is sub-titled “The Special Relationship: Nurturing the CEO-Board Chair Bond.”  It includes “tips to assure the best possible partnership between the board chair and CEO.”

The Board Chair-Executive Director Relationship: Dynamics that Create Value for Nonprofit Organizations: This 10-page article  by Mary Hiland appeared in the Journal for Nonprofit Management.  This article describes and discusses five types of interpersonal dynamics that characterize board chair-executive relationships: facts-sharing, ideas-sharing, knowledge-sharing, feelings-sharing, and give-and-take.

Suggestions to Enhance Working Relationship Between Board Chair and Chief Executive: This short article starts from the premise that there are inherent struggles between the roles of the director and the board chair and suggests both formal and informal practices and procedure that can minimize conflict. The article also includes a short section called “If Worse Comes to Worse” that includes some very specific suggestions for resolving conflicts between directors and board chairs.

Building Trust Between Boards and Staff: “Trust is the fundamental quality of successful, productive and sustainable relationships. Without trust between the board and staff, an association’s ability to serve its members suffers. This leads to the logical question, how can the executive approach, in a systematic manner, the challenge of building trust to achieve performance?” This article includes three practical suggestions for building a trusting and collaborative relationship with your board.

Section 3

Working with Trustees and Friends of the Library

“It is not uncommon for the role of the Friends and the role of the public library Trustees to become confused. What authority and responsibilities do the Friends have? What is the role of the Trustees? Should an individual serve on both boards? If either of these groups is unsure of the limits of their respective authorities, conflicts can, and often do, arise. Tip Sheets #1 and #2 outline the roles of the Friends board and the role of the Trustees, specifically indicating where their work and communication should overlap or complement each other.” — American Library Association United for Libraries

ALA Tip Sheet #1: The Role of Library Trustees
ALA Tip Sheet #2: The Role of the Friends Board

Working Relationship with Friends of the Library: This is an article from the Idaho Commission for Libraries describing how to set up an effective relationship with Friends of Libraries.
Information on Trustee/Friend relationships from the Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State