Ask Joe Eisner: How is the Number of Trustees on a Library Board Determined?

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The following should not be construed as legal advice, for which the services of counsel should be obtained:

Q. How is the number of trustees on a library board determined?

A. Libraries, whether association or public, are creatures of statute. Library boards derive their powers from the State, and cannot exceed those powers:

  1. the number of trustees on a library board is determined by the State in one of two ways: by enactment of a general statute, such as

    a)   Education Law s226(1), which limits the number of trustees of corporations chartered by the Regents  to not more than twenty-five nor less than five, and is applicable to association and public  libraries; or

    b)      Education Law s260(1), which limits the number of trustees of county and Indian libraries to not more than fifteen or less than five; or

  2. permitting library boards whose charter indicates that the number of board members is five to apply to the Regents for a charter amendment increasing the number of board numbers to not more than the number permitted by Education Law s226(1) or s260(1), depending on type of library.

Municipal public library boards whose members are appointed by the municipality should consider indicating to the municipal appointing authority the desire of the library board to increase the number of library board members, but the consent of the appointing body does not appear to be statutorily required.

School district public library boards  whose trustees are elected by the school district voters “…should adopt a resolution to put a proposition before the voters at the next annual meeting authorizing the election of additional trustees at the succeeding annual meeting….” (Op Counsel Education Department, ltr, December 16, 1977). After approval by the voters, the SDPL board should a submit a request via the Division of Library Development to the Board of Regents for a charter amendment.  It is entirely within the prerogative of the SDPL Board to Initiate such an action- the consent of the board of education is not required.

Special district library boards should consult their enabling legislation to determine if the number of library board members  is limited, in which case an amendment to the enabling legislation may be required to allow the board to proceed with a request for a charter amendment to increase that number.  Consultation with legal counsel is advisable.

A by-law which indicates that the number of library trustees is greater than specified in the provisional or permanent charter granted by the Regents is without force and effect and should be amended to agree with the library’s charter  provisions, or an application made to the Regents to amend the charter to increase the number of trustees to the number desired by a majority of the library board but not in excess of the limits mandated by the above cited provisions of the Education Law.

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