Public library trustees are typically busy people who are actively engaged in a variety of community organizations.  Many trustees are still working full-time and those who are retired often find that they are as busy with volunteer and civic activities as they were when they were working.  This section has been designed with busy trustees in mind.   Here you will find a variety of tools to help you and your fellow trustees carry out your responsibilities effectively and efficiently.  Each tool is short and can read, viewed, or completed in less than 10 minutes.  You can find links to more in-depth information in the For Your Information: New York Library Trustee Resources section of NYLTO. There are five 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.

Section 1

Excellent Libraries Need Excellent Trustees:  Trustee Duties and Responsibilities

“You are the guardian of the most important public entity in the community. You are responsible to the community for the governance, financial viability, and sustainability of the public library’s services and programs, along with selection and evaluation of a qualified library director”.  – Jim Conner, Public Library Trustee and Trainer [from Trustee 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 in the Information Age.” – Bernard A. Margolis, State Librarian and Assistant Commissioner for Libraries [from the Handbook for Trustees of New York State]

As these two quotations make clear, you and your fellow trustees play a significant role in the successful delivery of library services in your community. The resources in this section will help you to more clearly understand the duties and responsibilities of library trustees in New York State.

  • Trustee Responsibilities: Jim Conner is an experienced library trustee who has worked with trustees in hundreds of public libraries across the country. His has distilled his advice into a five-minute video presentation that is “must-see” viewing for every public library trustee. The video has been posted on YouTube and will begin playing when you click on the link. Be sure the audio on your computer is turned on.
  • Statement on the Governance Role of a Trustee or Board Member: New York public libraries are a part of the University of the State of New York (USNY) along with schools, colleges, universities, museums, public broadcasting and other educational and cultural institutions incorporated by the Board of Regents or the New York State Legislature. This document is published by the Board of Regents “to assist trustees/board members in exercising their responsibilities.”
  • Oath of Office Requirements: Library trustees are public officers. Each public officer is “required to file his or her oath of office within 30 days of commencing the term of office for which he or she is chosen, in the case of an elective office, or in the case of an appointive office, within thirty days after notice of his or her appointment or within 30 days after the commencement of such term.”
  • Ethics and Conflicts of Interest: Public library trustees are held to the same standard of conduct as other public officials. Library board bylaws should include both an officially adopted code of ethics and specific by-laws governing potential conflicts of interest.
    • Ethics Statement for Public Library Trustees: This code of ethics has been adopted by the American Library Association and the Public Library Association.
    • Ethics and Conflicts of Interest: This section of the Handbook for Library Trustees of New York Trustees, 2010 edition includes specific information about conflicts of information including links to the appropriate New York State statutes.

Section 2

Starting Right: Tools for New Trustees Congratulations on becoming a library trustee – and thank you for agreeing to support your local public library! The director of your library and the chairperson of the library board have given – or will soon be giving – you an orientation to the library services and programs and the board by-laws and operations. This section includes resources that will supplement your formal orientation.

The Best – and Worst – Board Behaviors: The titles of the two documents are self-explanatory. If you follow the suggestions in the How to Be an Effective Board Member checklist, you will quickly become an integral part of the board.

Intellectual Freedom: “Free access to information is the cornerstone of the American public library and trustees must ensure that their libraries have policies and procedures that prevent any form of censorship. Every person has the right to read, or not to read, any book; to view or listen to any media. The responsibility for children’s reading and viewing falls to the parents, not the library.” [from Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State]


New York Laws: There are links to all New York laws relating to public libraries in the  For Your Information: New York Public Library Trustee Resources section.  These two laws, however, are so key that they have been included here as well.

Section 3

Meeting Basics:  Make Your Meetings Productive Most of the work you do as a trustee occurs during library board meetings. If your meetings are well-planned and board members fully participate in the board’s decision-making processes, your library board is probably quite effective. However, if your meetings are not well-planned or if some board members behave in ways that impede the board’s decision-making processes, your library is probably less effective than it could or should be. Use these tools to assess the effectiveness of your library board and to identify your role on your board and the roles of your colleagues.

  • Board Meeting Checklist: This checklist will help you and your fellow board members to assess the effectiveness of your board meetings.
  • Board Member Roles: A board is only as strong as its members. Board members normally play one of three roles: builders, maintainers, or blockers. Every board needs builders and maintainers, and unfortunately, some boards have at least one blocker. This one-page handout will help you to identify your role.
  • How to Deal with Problem Behaviors in Meetings: This helpful handout describes ways to deal with typical problem behaviors in meetings.
  • Robert’s Rules of Order: Many library board by-laws explicitly state that the board’s meetings will be conducted using Robert’s Rules of Order, which is the most widely used parliamentary authority in the United States. This link will take you to a web site that includes an introduction to the rules, a “quick chart of motions,” and guidelines for using the rules.

Section 4

You Are Not Alone: Public Libraries in New York State There are hundreds of public libraries in New York state that serve communities similar to your community.  The trustees in these libraries are facing the same challenges that you and your colleagues are facing. However, you might want to use the following resources to identify other libraries similar to your library. You could check out their web sites to see the programs and services they offer. You might also decide to call and talk to the board chair.

Section 5

What In the World Does that Mean? Library Acronyms Every profession has its own jargon and acronyms, and the library profession is no exception. Trustees are often confused by the terms and abbreviations that are included in board reports, library magazines, and library conference programs. You can use the two glossaries in this section to translate the “libraryese” into English. And remember, if you are talking to someone who uses terms you don’t understand ask for an explanation. Most people aren’t even aware that they are using terms that are library-specific until they are reminded.

Public Library Glossary:  This glossary presents words and acronyms commonly used in public libraries in New York State. It was prepared by the Division of Library Development of the New York State Library.