Trustee/board members owe allegiance to the institution and must act in good faith with the best interest of the institution in mind. The conduct of a trustee/board member must, at all times, further the institution’s goals… Statement on the Governance Role of a Trustee or Board Member; New York State Board of Regents.
A trustee is a person to whom property is legally committed in trust. A library trustee’s commitment is to both the physical property and resources of the library and the services it provides. The library board has the final responsibility to see that its library provides the best possible service to its community.
The New York State Board of Regents, the institution responsible for the chartering and oversight of educational corporations in New York, describes the duties of Trustees as those of “Care, Loyalty and Obedience.” All actions must be taken with these principles in mind.
Duty of Care
A trustee or board member must act in good faith and exercise the degree of diligence, care and skill that an ordinary prudent individual would use under similar circumstances in a like position.
Duty of Loyalty/Conflicts of Interest
Trustees/board members owe allegiance to the institution and must act in good faith with the best interest of the organization in mind. The conduct of a trustee/board member must, at all times, further the institution’s goals and not the member’s personal or business interests…A trustee/board member should avoid even the appearance of impropriety…. Acts of self-dealing constitute a breach of fiduciary responsibility that could result in personal liability and removal from the board.
Duty of Obedience
A trustee/board member has a responsibility to insure that the institution’s resources are dedicated to the fulfillment of its mission. The member also has a duty to ensure that the institution complies with all applicable laws and does not engage in any unauthorized activities.
In addition, the Regents charge the Trustee to “ensure that financial resources are being used efficiently and effectively toward meeting the institution’s goals”; and to “hire a CEO to manage the operation of the institution and evaluate his/her overall performance.”
(All excerpts from: Statement on the Governance Role of a Trustee or Board Member; New York State Board of Regents)
The particular responsibilities of trustees are few in number but broad in scope. They are:
- Create and develop the mission of the library;
- Select, hire and regularly evaluate a qualified library director;
- Secure adequate funding for the library’s service program;
- Exercise fiduciary responsibility for the use of public and private funds;
- Adopt policies and rules regarding library governance and use;
- Regularly plan and evaluate the library’s service program;
- Maintain a facility that meets the library’s and community’s needs;
- Promote the library in the local community and in society in general;
- Conduct the business of the library in an open and ethical manner in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations and with respect for the institution, staff and public.
Every trustee makes a personal commitment to contribute the time and energy to faithfully carry out these duties. Although the board is legally responsible for all aspects of the library as an institution, it is unreasonable to expect a trustee or the whole board to be expert on every activity or concern that affects the library. Sometimes the most important thing a board can do is acknowledge that it does not have enough information or resources, and to ask for help. A trustee must make decisions based on the best information available. It is often wise to consult with your public library system staff or specialists such as lawyers, accountants, architects, computer analysts and other experts.
Under New York State law, library boards have broad and almost exclusive powers and authority to administer the library. The board should not only be concerned with the internal operations of the organization but also alert to external trends and changes that can affect the library’s program of services. Being proactive and open to change is imperative in order to survive and thrive in a world in which change is the only constant.
Checklist for Effective Library Trustees: