In my role as State Librarian, I do from time-to-time engage directly with local library boards of trustees who are “behaving badly.” Typically, these opportunities arise because individuals or groups in a local community are deeply concerned about the library, as they should be, and have asked the State Library to intervene in some way. As your State Librarian, I take concerns and complaints that I receive about local libraries very seriously. At my direction, our Library Development staff will first contact the library system and/or the library to find out if they are aware of the concerns and to gather background information. Often the complaints were initially directed to library staff and/or the library board, but the individual or group is not satisfied with the response. In some instances, it’s apparent that the individual does not fully understand how libraries operate in New York State, and the library system and/or State Library staff can provide information to the library and/or to the individual or group that addresses the concerns.
In my experience, library boards that work in close partnership with their library director to quickly and fully address public concerns are highly successful. A library board that consistently strives for transparency, open communications and accountability in its operations and in its interactions with the community is usually able to quickly address public concerns about the library’’s policies, procedures or operations.The public trust and public support are critically important for libraries.
I am always surprised when I learn that a library board is not following basic legal requirements such as Open Meetings Law and the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). I encourage every trustee to learn more about these two important laws, and to be sure that the board is in compliance. The Handbook for Library Trustees in New York State contains excellent information about both, and the Committee on Open Government has excellent resources and opinions on its website. I encourage every trustee to read the Handbook for Library Trustees in New York State. In addition, the State Library and LTA offer webinars designed to assist library trustees in understanding their basic duties and responsibilities. Archived versions are posted at: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/webinars/index.html.
Here is one of particular interest: Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Laws for Libraries,Bob Freeman, Executive Director of the New York State Committee on Open Government. 75 minutes. https://vimeo.com/134617974 . The archived webinars can be viewed at your leisure from your computer. Please contact me if you have suggestions for webinar topics.
Excerpts From the Trustee Handbook:“All public libraries in New York, including association libraries, are subject to the Open Meetings Law (SEE: Education Law 260-a and Public Officers Law, Article 7). This law requires that board meetings must be properly posted and advertised and open to the public. In addition, working sessions of the board (even if they are not formal meetings) must be advertised and open if a quorum of the board is expected to attend. Notice of all board meetings must be sent to the news media, noted on the Library’s website and posted in a public place such as the Library bulletin board.
Under Open Meetings Law when a document “is scheduled to be the subject of discussion by a public body during an open meeting,” the legislation requires the public body, with reasonable limitations, to make the record available to the public prior to the meeting. Optimally, the record will be made available online. If that cannot be done, the record can be made available in paper form in response to a request. Each library board is required by the Open Meetings Law and Education Law 260a to conduct its business in public with only a few very limited exceptions.
All municipal, school district and special legislative district libraries must also conform to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Although association libraries do not fall under the provisions of this law, they are wise to consider such a policy since they are generally supported by public funds and are often subject to public scrutiny.
From the Desk of Bernard A. Margolis,
New York State Librarian and Assistant Commissioner for Libraries