The management and operation of a library are accomplished through a partnership among trustees, the library director, staff and volunteers.
As the library's governing body (and the entity with ultimate accountability for the institution), the board of trustees has the responsibility to hire a competent, professional and qualified library director as the “CEO” (Chief Executive Officer) and then to regularly review and evaluate that person's performance in moving the library forward. Having hired a director, the board has an obligation to support the director wholeheartedly within the context of the employment relationship. Good communication and cooperation between the board and library director and an appreciation of the interdependency of each other's roles are prerequisites to a well-managed library.
It is critical for the board to establish and maintain clear lines of communication with the director. In general, the board's directions and intentions are communicated to the director through the President of the Board or through official actions at a board meeting. Individual trustees should refrain from issuing specific instructions to the director at board meetings and especially between meetings. Such individual directions are inconsistent with the concept of collective board authority and a library director risks being caught between conflicting intentions, even among well-meaning trustees.
The day-to-day management of the library, including the management of staff, is the library director's responsibility. The director is the only employee overseen by the board. The director is responsible for the management and supervision of all other library employees. Trustees have a responsibility to know staff at a friendly but professional distance, to be cordial and supportive and to promote good will. But they must approach staff relationships with a degree of caution.
Usurping the administrative prerogatives of the library director can only undermine that person's position and authority and ultimately lead to misunderstanding and conflict. (See Working Together: Roles & Responsibilities Guidelines in the Appendix for helpful guidelines.)
Board policies, including a “Whistleblower” policy as required by law, should clearly indicate the process for staff complaints and grievances, and the board should never get involved in such activities outside of this process. Individual trustees must never address staff complaints and grievances; rather, they should refer the staff to the appropriate policy. If and when a grievance reaches the board level, it is usually the responsibility of the director to communicate the board's decision back to the staff. Only in those cases where the grievance involves the director should the board communicate directly with the staff.
While Education Law §226(7) specifically prohibits trustees from receiving compensation, some trustees may act as library volunteers, especially in small libraries. Likewise, libraries without an anti-nepotism policy often have trustees’ family members on staff. This can lead to an awkward situation for all involved. (State law only prohibits public library trustees from appointing their close relatives as “officers of the corporation”, i.e., director, treasurer or trustee.) A trustee is part of the governing board of the library, while staff and volunteers report to the library director or other paid supervisor. Any trustee who pursues the role of volunteer or has a family member or friend on staff must be extremely sensitive to the potential conflicts of authority that may arise. It is best to avoid such situations whenever possible.
Education Law §226(7) specifies that all personnel actions must be approved by the Board of Trustees at a legal meeting. This does not suggest that the Board selects staff other than the director. It does mean that the Board creates all positions, establishes salaries and formally appoints the staff upon the recommendation of the director. In other words, the director selects, the board appoints.
Though the board must ultimately approve all appointments, titles and salaries, and so note in their minutes, often simple staff appointments such as pages or part time support staff cannot wait until the next board meeting. In such cases retroactive appointments are commonly made. Likewise, public library boards will often approve an appointment “pending civil service approval” in an effort to streamline the sometimes awkward formalities of civil service rules.
Typically, the board will review the credentials of candidates recommended for higher level staff positions such as department head or assistant director in order to be familiar with the library’s leadership. This would also apply to the positions of Treasurer and District Clerk.
The most important responsibility of a library board of trustees is to select a qualified library director who can work effectively with the Board, professionally manage the institution and reflect the ideals of the institution and the community it serves. All libraries are required to comply with Education Department Regulations (8NYCRR) § 90.8 governing the minimum qualifications for library director. Public libraries must also conform to the Civil Service rules for employment in their jurisdiction and in the State of New York. (See Civil Service 101 in the Appendix for more information.)
When embarking on this process, it is appropriate for the Board to ask themselves a number of critical questions about the library, the library board and the type of leadership they require. Each of these should be considered in light of the library’s mission, long range and strategic planning documents and recent assessments of community needs. Such questions might include:
All too often library boards look for the easy way out, the simplest or quickest choice or the cheapest alternative. Competent leadership of the library is essential for its efficient management and future success. Choosing an inadequate director will result in more work for the board and a disappointing library. Every library deserves a qualified library director who is respected by the board and community and is appropriately compensated.
To assure the best selection solicit candidates from a wide variety of sources. Talk to your library system. Thoroughly evaluate resumes and hold additional interviews for good candidates. Ask tough questions but be certain to stick within the law. Check references and previous employers. Lastly, negotiate a fair agreement for salary and benefits and put it in writing, in the form of a letter, memorandum or contract. Qualified professionals will expect no less.
In the event the library board finds themselves without a director/library manager during the search process it is important to appoint a qualified interim/acting director as soon as possible. If no one on staff is available the board is strongly advised to contact their library system for assistance. The interim director should not be a trustee, unless they resign their position and are qualified for appointment. In no case should the board take on the day to day management of the library.
In order to maintain clear communication and effective management it is critical for the trustees to regularly evaluate the performance of the library director. It is often one of the most difficult tasks as well. There are several good reasons to conduct an annual performance review. Among them:
It is essential that a written, reasonable and up-to-date job description be in place as a benchmark. It is also important to mutually develop an annual performance plan with the director. The annual evaluation is the time when members of the board and their chief executive focus on the important issues facing the library and evaluate how the director and the Board are performing as a team. There are many sample evaluation forms available, but it is the process itself that is most important, not the form. In order to make the process more effective consider the following tips:
It is important for the board to offer competitive salaries and benefits for library personnel. A library’s success is dependent upon the quality of customer service provided by library staff. You will want to plan accordingly to retain competent, qualified, customer service-focused staff. Use benchmarks such as the MIT Living Wage Calculator, salary levels of corresponding personnel in the local school district and salary and benefit levels in equivalently sized libraries in your region.
No one is born an expert at their job. On the job learning, mentoring and continuing education opportunities are essential to an employee’s success and therefore the library’s success. The board should adequately budget for continuing education for staff, including the ability for staff to attend educational opportunities on work time and accommodations to underwrite the travel costs to workshops and conferences. At least 1% of the library’s operating budget should be invested into education for staff and trustees. A good library never stops learning.
As a trustee, it is sometimes necessary to remind yourself that your first responsibility is to the library and the community it serves. The role of employer may be a role to which many trustees are unaccustomed, and it can sometimes seem easier to let an uncomfortable situation slide rather than face it head on. This is especially the case in small communities where trustees and library staff may have been friends and neighbors for many years. An unwillingness to deal directly with difficult personnel issues will ultimately damage the library and its ability to provide the best service to the community. If a library director has truly demonstrated a continuing, documented inability to manage the library effectively, the board must look for a new person who can do so rather than make excuses or run the library themselves.