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Handbook for Library Trustees of New York

Risk Management

The public library is exposed to a wide variety of risks in the conduct of its business. These include natural disasters such as fires and storms, patron accidents of various kinds, negligence, willful misconduct and other criminal activity. It is the board's responsibility to reduce risk to a manageable level so that the service program or even the survival of the library is not threatened. A poorly managed incident, a lawsuit or a judgment against the library can have consequences far beyond the immediate impact of the event.

Library boards and trustees can be held liable for infractions of laws and regulations by the library, although considerable immunity is granted as long as the board is acting in good faith in carrying out its responsibilities. New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation Law §720-a and Public Officers Law §18 afford individual trustees some degree of immunity from liability, but that does not prevent library boards and individual trustees from being sued for any reason, or seemingly for no reason at all.

The best way to reduce risk is to be sure that the library is operating in a safe, legal manner according to carefully written policies and thoughtfully implemented procedures. It is always better to prevent harm than to rely on insurance to pay for a loss. (See the Policies chapter for more information.)

Risk management has several components. The most obvious is insurance. The library must carry property and general liability insurance appropriate to the size and scope of its operations. Errors and omissions insurance, also known as directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance, insures the library and the board against real or perceived errors of judgment. Such insurance will usually cover legal costs and judgments against the library. Workers' compensation insurance is required by law. Other coverage, such as flood insurance, may be appropriate in some situations. The library's entire insurance package should be reviewed thoroughly and regularly for cost and adequacy of coverage.

Careful record keeping and inventory management and valuation are important in the event of a loss. In addition to the traditional inventory list, a video of the library and its contents can be useful, especially if the library houses artwork or other items whose value might be questioned.  Inventories are also required in order to comply with generally accepted accounting procedures for public entities.

Another critical component of risk management involves attention to personal safety, physical facilities and loss prevention strategies. Does the library have a viable security system and a fire suppression system? Has the heating and air conditioning system been inspected and properly maintained? Is the building maintained free of safety hazards? Is the staff familiar with emergency procedures? Are practice drills held? Are security procedures in place?  Is there a business continuity plan for valuable papers, critical materials and data?

Remember that risk management is a continuous process involving the Library Board, administration, staff and insurance professional.

Related Policies and Documents

  • Business Continuity Plan
  • Emergency Plan (includes disaster recovery and active shooter procedures)
  • Fire Safety Plan
  • Incident Report Form
  • Inclement Weather/Closing Procedure
  • Patron Behavior/Code of Conduct
  • Patron Complaints
  • Records Retention
  • Unattended Children
  • Vulnerable Adults