Library Board Organization

Public libraries are required by the Regulations of Commissioner of Education of New York State (CR 90.2) to operate under written by-laws. By-laws are “the set of rules adopted by an organization defining its structure and governing its functions.” (Sturgis, The Standard Handbook of Parliamentary Procedure; third edition, new and revised, p. 257)

By-laws may not conflict with federal or state law and regulations; such law and regulation is the highest authority governing the library’s affairs.

A board will probably find the need to tailor its by-laws to local needs and situations. The by-laws should be reviewed periodically and amended when necessary to maintain flexibility and relevance. All by-laws should include the following provisions:

  • Name of Organization, purpose, objectives and area served;
  • Board terms and composition;
  • Procedure for election, appointment and removal of trustees;
  • Procedure for filling an unexpired term;
  • Duties and powers of board officers;
  • Schedule of meetings;
  • Procedure for special meetings;
  • Attendance requirements;
  • Quorum requirements;
  • Summary of the director’s duties;
  • Standing and special committees;
  • Order of business for board meetings;
  • Parliamentary authority;
  • Procedure for amendment of the by-laws.

Trustees of municipal, school district, and special district libraries, and trustees of cooperative library systems are required to file the oath of office specified in the State Constitution:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the constitution of the State of New York, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of trustee of the _________ Library, according to the best of my ability.

The oath may be given by any officer of the court (judge, attorney, notary public) and must be filed in the local county clerk’s office. Failure to do so will vacate the position.

See: Public Library, Public Library System, and Reference and Research Library System Trustees and Oaths of Office

It is also good practice for the board to request a formal letter or certificate of appointment or election for each new trustee from the body that made the appointment or conducted the election, such as the town or village board or school district clerk. This document should state the term of office.

Collective Authority

Under New York State law, a library board has broad authority to manage the affairs of the library, but it is a collectiveauthority.  Individual trustees, regardless of their position on the board, do not have the power to command the services of a library staff member, nor to speak or act on behalf of the library unless they have been specifically granted that authority by a vote of the board.

An important corollary to this concept of collective authority is the need for the board to speak with one voice once a decision has been made. Debate, discussion, and even disagreement over an issue are an important part of policy development and the decision making process. However, every trustee has an ethical obligation to publicly support an adopted board decision.

The First Amendment protects the rights of a trustee who disagrees so strongly with a board decision that he or she must speak out publicly against it.  However, in such instances the individual must make it clear to all concerned that they do not represent the library and, indeed, may wish to seriously consider resigning from the board if such action interferes with their ability to effectively fulfill their responsibilities as a trustee.