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

Content from the latest edition of the Trustee Handbook.

Orientation of New Trustees

A successful trustee has 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 on 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 after they are elected or appointed.

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

In the orientation process, the Library Director and Board President will provide information on:

  • Mission, goals, long-range plans, and projects in progress;
  • How the library is organized (e.g., type of library), governed, and funded;
  • Financial statements of the organization; 
  • Responsibilities and expectations of trustees; including oaths of office, ethics, trustee education requirements, meeting attendance expectations, conflict of interest, and anti-nepotism policies;
  • Funding sources, key stakeholders that influence funding for the library, and how the budget is created and managed;
  • Demographic overview of the chartered service area;
  • 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; and 
  • Day-to-day operations.

As part of this orientation, the Library Director and Board President should work to help new trustees connect with the culture of the organization. Taking the time to highlight how the Board does its work through the lenses of transparency and accountability; equity, diversity, and inclusion – including a commitment to intellectual freedom; and environmental stewardship, can all help set the tone, so everyone is working from the same set of assumptions as you move forward together. 

Every trustee should receive a thorough orientation and packet of essential documents to keep in a notebook or online file of library-related materials. It is wise to become familiar with these items before you fully participate in board decisions. Orientation materials should be reviewed annually to ensure they are up-to-date. 

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

  • Library origin documents including the Charter and bylaws; 
  • Board organizational documents including the schedule of board meeting dates, board roster that lists contact information and term limits; an archive of board minutes (required by Open Meetings Law); a list of board committees, including their charge statement/objectives and a roster for each; 
  • A brief history of the library and a map of the library’s service area;
  • Library policy manuals including the employee handbook; 
  • Long-range/strategic plans and the board-approved facility plan;
  • Financial information including the current operating budget (required to be posted as per minimum standards); recent monthly financial reports and statistics; and the most recent independent annual audit;
  • Results of the most current community survey about the library;
  • Information about the staff such as the resume or brief biography of the Library Director; staff contact list, organizational chart and, if applicable, the union contract;
  • The most recent annual reports to the community (required to be posted as per minimum standards); newsletters; brochures;
  • Information on the Friends of the Library (if applicable);
  • An explanation of the library's public library system, including the services they provide to the library;
  • Reference materials such as the Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State, the Board of Regents’ Statement on the Governance Role of a Trustee or Board Member, and relevant legal references including information on Open Meetings Law;
  • Upcoming continuing education and networking opportunities through the local public library system, State Library, LTAS and NYLA;
  • List of local, county, state and federal legislators that represent the library's service area; 
  • Compliance calendar that indicates due dates of major reports and events for the organization; 
  • Subject Matter List, as it pertains to FOIL requests; and
  • Most recent Annual Report for Public and Association Libraries.

All trustees should remain up to date with this information throughout their tenure on the Board.