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Handbook for Library Trustees of New York

Orientation of New Trustees

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 your organization. This 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.

Responsibility for planning and conducting the new trustee orientation is shared among the Board President, other board members and the library director. The specifics will vary depending upon the style of the board and the size and type of library. Regardless, it is essential to have a formal orientation for all new trustees as soon as possible.

All new trustees should receive a tour of the library, an opportunity to meet the staff, and an orientation to the library's website and online resources. It is considered a best practice to provide every library trustee with a specific library e-mail account in order to clearly distinguish library related e-mail correspondence from personal e-mail. Remember, for libraries subject to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), e-mails related to library business may be subject to public scrutiny.

In the orientation process, the library director and Board President can provide information on:

  • Mission, goals, long-range plans and projects in progress;
  • How the library is organized and governed;
  • Responsibilities and expectations of trustees; including oaths of office, ethics, conflict of interest and nepotism policies.
  • Funding sources and how the budget is created and managed;
  • Ways the library serves the needs of the community and how it is linked to other organizations and resources;
  • Recent accomplishments and challenges;
  • Board relationships with the director, staff and volunteers;
  • Day-to-day operations.

Every trustee should receive a thorough orientation and packet of essential documents to keep in a notebook of library related materials. It is wise to become familiar with these items before you fully participate in board decisions. 

The following information is typically provided in print or on a trustee area of the library's website:

  • A brief history of the library;
  • Copies of the library’s charter documents;
  • A map of the library’s service area;
  • Bylaws of the board of trustees;
  • Board membership and contact information;
  • Board committee memberships;
  • Schedule of board meeting dates;
  • Minutes of recent board meetings;
  • Information on Open Meetings Law;
  • Library policy manuals;
  • Long range or strategic plans and master facility plan;
  • Current operating budget;
  • Recent monthly financial reports and statistics;
  • Results of the most current community survey about the library;
  • Union contract (if applicable);
  • Employee Handbook;
  • Staff List & Organization Chart;
  • Previous annual audit(s);
  • Library service contracts and other key documents pertaining to the library;
  • An explanation of the library's public library system, including the services they provide to the library;
  • Library newsletters, brochures and annual reports to the community;
  • Information on the Friends of the Library (if applicable);
  • Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State;
  • Board of Regents Statement on the Governance Role of a Trustee or Board Member
  • Resume or brief biography of the library director;
  • Upcoming continuing education and networking opportunities through the local library system, State Library, LTA and NYLA;
  • List of local, county, state and federal legislators that represent the library's service area; and
  • Compliance calendar that indicates due dates of major reports and events for the organization.

All trustees should keep this notebook up to date by adding to it such documents as minutes and reports that are distributed at board meetings.