Winter 2008

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NYSALB's Trustee Training Proposal is on the "Bleeding" Edge

By State Senator Hugh T. Farley, Chair, Senate Subcommittee on Libraries and Member of Assembly Amy Paulin, Chair, Committee on Libraries and Education Technology

Winter 2008 issue of Trustee

We strongly believe in life-long learning. As technology, globalization, and human knowledge advance at increasing rates, few people actually do the things we were taught to do in school. Formal education should teach us how to learn, while we need various forms of continuing education to teach us how to work and function in society.

NYSALB has proposed legislation to ensure that library trustees — both elected and volunteer — receive training about their significant legal, financial, and leadership responsibilities. We have agreed to introduce this proposal in the State Legislature.

If signed into law, this legislation would put library trustees at the cutting edge of professionalism, particularly among elected offices. Currently, only a handful of elected positions — school board members, elected assessors, and non-lawyer town justices — require formal training as a condition of holding office.

Specialized education is hardly a new idea for library trustees. Most public library systems have long offered formal “introductory courses” for new trustees, as well as seminars and programs covering advanced topics. And, library trustees are bound to be active patrons of their own public library — the institution often labeled “the people’s university.” New York‘s first requirement of formal training for elected governing board members dates back only to 2005. A law adopted that year, reacting to reports of financial scandals, increased requirements for auditing and financial oversight of school districts and, almost as an afterthought, required school board members to receive formal financial management training as a condition of holding office.

Hence, NYSALB’s proposal, although to be applied to all library trustees, whether or not elected, would be, for elected trustees, the first required training for elected officials born neither of specialization (as with assessors) nor of crisis (as with the school boards). Being on the leading edge (sometimes called the “bleeding edge”) has its advantages and disadvantages.

On the plus side, the professionalism engendered by required trustee training is likely to improve library management and to attract more qualified board candidates, although some would argue that the extra effort could reduce the pool of trustee candidates.

As we have discussed the idea, however, three issues have been raised. First, some people are philosophically opposed to any constraints, including post-election office-holding requirements, on a decision made by the voters. Second, others ask why we need to spend $500,000 a year when many library systems already provide trustee education. And, some recommend a cooperative approach with the New York Library Association (NYLA), which is expected to seek continuing education provisions for certified librarians.

These are valid questions which will require negotiation, education, and cooperation to resolve. We commend the members of NYSALB for taking the lead in this discussion, and look forward to working with you.

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