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Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State (2023 Edition)

Content from the latest edition of the Trustee Handbook.


Education Department Regulations (8 NYCRR) §90.2(a)(8) requires the Board to "maintain a facility which meets community needs." While various formulas exist for determining the appropriate size of a library, the final determination of adequacy rests in the hands of the trustees. Square footage is only one factor in deciding whether a library meets the community's expectations. Location, internal arrangement, accessibility for all patrons, environmental quality, lighting, and intangibles such as ambiance all contribute to the overall adequacy of a library building. Boards should also consider the utility and importance of outdoor spaces like parking lots, which assure access, and community gardens, performance spaces, reading areas, and children's learning centers as innovative ways to use available library resources to enhance and expand services.

According to the guidelines developed by the New York State Library and the Public Library System Directors Organization (PULISDO):

“Various publications provide helpful "rules of thumb" or "standards" for the number of seats, shelving, or meeting room facilities needed by communities of varying sizes. … Building experts would first ask the Library Director and Board, "What are the goals and service plans of the Library?" General services planning precedes facilities planning because it defines the users, services, and programs of the library. Once these plans are defined, the board, director and others can better decide on space needs, layout, and technical specifications...” 

For more information visit the State Library’s “Helpful Information for Meeting Minimum Public Library Standards” website.

Proper maintenance of the existing library is essential if the Board is to fulfill its responsibilities to the community. Preventative maintenance for major systems, such as the heating/ventilation/air conditioning system (HVAC), can extend their life and prevent catastrophic, unexpected, and costly failures.  

The library should be a safe and accessible place for everyone in the community to work and visit. This requires more than just a ramp and ADA-compliant bathrooms. Every aspect of the library’s service program should be evaluated to determine if it is accessible to persons with disabilities. (Please refer to the previous chapter on Access to Library Services.) 

The facility is a major part of the customer experience at the library and should be evaluated as part of the library’s commitment to quality customer service. 

Safety and security are paramount in any public facility. Libraries are no exception. Every effort must be made to create a safe and secure environment for the staff and public. Holding regular fire, “Code Adam,” active shooter and other emergency drills is not just a best practice; it is essential for the maintenance of a safe facility. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employers have an emergency action plan so be sure to visit the resources list at the end of this chapter to ensure your library’s emergency action plan complies with federal regulations.
In fulfilling the Board's charge to maintain a facility that meets the library’s and community’s needs, Boards need to create sustainable, resilient, and regenerative library facilities designed to respond to future community needs. 

Operational procedures for library facilities should reflect a commitment to environmental stewardship by conserving energy and water; producing healthy indoor air quality for patrons and staff; and respecting the source and amount of natural resources being used to construct or furnish the facility.  

Library facilities are increasingly seen as a place of refuge in the face of climate change-driven impacts on our communities. Our facilities not only house traditional library services but are also called upon as cooling and warming centers, sanctuaries from air pollution caused by wildfires, and “first restorer” hubs that help the community during extended power outages and in the aftermath of major, destructive weather events.

The concept of libraries as “first restorers,” requires strong work in the area of not only disaster preparedness but a library’s contribution to the resilience of their community. First restorers help community members pick up the pieces after a disruptive event. This can include the use of library facilities as a pick-up point for needed supplies like water, food and ice; library staff trained to help community members connect with the State and Federal Emergency Management Agencies’ resources; and providing connections to electricity and the Internet to stay connected with family, work, and access the resources they need in the aftermath of a disaster. 

The future of library facility planning will need to prioritize sustainable and resilient design, ensuring the library facility will stand up to the test of increasingly severe weather including storms, heat waves, and the potential for extended power outages given the current and predicted impact of climate change on our communities. The implementation of whole building generators, increasing the number of electrical outlets, emergency communication equipment, and alternative and renewable energy sources can all contribute to the resilience of the library facility and increase the likelihood that your library can be what your community needs in challenging times.  

Libraries interested in a systematic way to operate their facility in a more sustainable way may be interested in the Sustainable Library Certification Program, created by the Sustainable Libraries Initiative

Sometimes the library can only meet community needs by adding to, or reconstructing, existing space or building an entirely new facility. A major capital project requires a complex and extensive planning process that may require the Board to seek the services of a consultant or library system staff. This should start by procuring an “existing conditions report,” to ensure a board understands the strengths and weaknesses of the current facility. Construction plans should always be developed in the context of the library's mission and long-range plan of service. The Board should review service needs, explore alternatives, estimate costs, and set priorities, all before deciding on a specific building plan to pursue. Community involvement in the planning process is crucial to its success.

Major library construction projects should pursue the maximum achievable levels of sustainable design. In the earliest possible phase of project planning, Boards should prioritize creating healthy, energy-efficient facilities that respect the use of natural resources so that the professionals you hire integrate this thinking into design work. Waiting until later phases of planning can result in unintended cost increases that are avoidable if prioritized early on. Seeking certification for your project through proven programs such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program is one of the most visible, responsible ways to show the community that the Board is committed to good stewardship. Similar certification programs include valuable resources such as Green Globes and the Living Building Challenge.

Trustees must understand that the planning and implementation process for library construction will require a major effort on the part of the Board, the Library Director and the staff, including many meetings, reports, and reviews. Travel to inspect other library buildings and consultation with library system staff should be part of this process. Most construction projects require plans to be submitted to the SED Division of Facilities Planning or to a local municipality for review and permitting, which is a time-consuming process. Planning will take many months and delays should be expected. 

Nonetheless, despite all the hard work, a building program may not meet with the approval of the community and necessary funding may not be readily available.  In such cases, the Board must stay focused on the need to provide quality library service to the community and appropriate facilities for the library. Active planning for the future must continue with more input from the community to develop a plan that will ultimately inspire the investment of taxpayers and donors to underwrite the library your community deserves.

A board should plan for the range of challenges that accompany a significant renovation or reconstruction project. For example, the library may have to move to temporary facilities, which would require relocating staff and materials. If the library remains open for business during construction, trustees should be sensitive to the added stress this will place on the Library Director, staff and the library’s patrons. Temporary service policies or exceptions to existing policies may be required. Excellent communication and an unusual degree of flexibility will be essential.

At the end of the day, library facilities are the hub of not only library service delivery, but often, a neighborhood hub that community members rely on for social connections and a sense of community. Boards are encouraged to create library facilities that communities can be proud of and that make a lasting, positive impression on younger generations that we hope are inspired to embrace a lifetime love of reading and learning.

Related Policies and Documents:

  • Accessibility / ADA Statement
  • Community Survey
  • Disaster Preparedness Plan
  • Emergency Action Plan
  • Facility Plan
  • Incident Action Plan
  • Incident Report
  • Inclement Weather/Closing
  • Long-Range/Strategic Plan
  • Meeting Space
  • Sustainability 
  • Technology Plan
  • Workplace Safety/Violence Prevention