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

Content from the latest edition of the Trustee Handbook.


Welcome to the 2023 revision of the Handbook. Most notable in this revision is our commitment to ensure updates to important laws and regulations, such as Open Meetings Law and the Trustee Education Requirement, are clear, as well as to highlight the important priorities of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and the new core value of sustainability through the lens of the role of library trustees. We have also taken care to clarify issues around financial planning, reserve funds, and fundraising and to ensure connections between this publication and the Public Library District Toolkit: Strategies to Assure your Library’s Legal and Financial Stability resource, available on the State Library’s website. In addition to some minor edits, links are cited to several brand-new webinars that will help you do your job as a trustee. As always, we invite your continued questions and comments!

The purpose of this Handbook is to assist both new and experienced public library trustees in New York State to better understand their job and to present the basic information they need to provide quality library service to their community. It offers advice on the philosophy of governing a library and on the practical aspects of responsible trusteeship.  The information provided is based on the laws and regulations governing public libraries in our state and on the proven “best practices” in the field.  As always, you should consult with your regional public library system, the library’s attorney, accountant, insurance agent and other professional advisors regarding specific matters within their area of expertise.

This is but an introduction to the many aspects of trusteeship and should be considered simply as one of the many resources necessary to do the job well. Be advised that it should not be considered as the final authority on any legal or financial aspects of library administration.  Library Boards should consult with their attorney or financial advisor on any legal or fiscal issue before them.  Commentary on library law is based on actual law or established opinion by State agencies.

All trustees should be aware that the New York State Library provides information on a range of topics on their website and their Division of Library Development website deals specifically with public library issues.

In addition to the State Library, the Library Trustees Association Section of the New York Library Association (LTAS) and the Mid-Hudson Library System both provide excellent and continually evolving resources for trustee education. 

Your regional public library system's website will also provide you with critical information that will help you do your job. Locate your System.   

For the past several years the Public Library System Directors Organization of New York State (PULISDO) has partnered with the authors of this handbook to produce the Trustee Handbook Book Club webinar series. This series tackles many of the questions from the field, building on the foundational information found in this handbook. We encourage you to check out the archive of recorded webinars from this series. 

The effective trustee must be well versed in good governance practices that will enable them to meet the challenges presented by a rapidly changing political, social and cultural environment. Public libraries in our state are faced with an increasingly complex regulatory environment, contradictory laws and regulations, and new complications related to censorship attempts and the impact of new technology. At the same time, they have never been more vital to the well-being of our society. It is indeed an exciting time to be a library trustee.
Many individuals and organizations across New York State share the goal of improving and extending library service; but individual trustees, acting as part of a library board of trustees in partnership with the Library Director, ultimately bear the responsibility for achieving that goal. This manual is intended to provide an introduction to the practical and philosophical information that trustees will need to augment the common sense and good judgment they exercise in the course of their service.