The Library Trustee's Bookshelf
by Jim Britell, LTA Board Member
To stay under tax caps many local governments have reduced appropriations to community groups like libraries and unfortunate trustees are confronting the fact that they have no legal claim to the funds that historically made up their budgets. We won't know what the final damage to libraries has been until local budget processes are over but clearly trustees of any library that can't levy taxes should consider beginning the process to become a public library district with its own taxing power and tax cap. This need to convert was a key message in the 12-page draft report "2020 Vision and Plan for Library Service" just issued by State Regents.
That report deals with trustee responsibility for library funding in two ways: it exhorts libraries to get the tax base only trustees can initiate and approve, and calls for "library champions" to do more advocacy. The document also calls for trustee training and reviews the challenges created for traditional library activities by the proliferation of online resources, copyright and fair use issues, and information digitization.
The 2020 vision process aggressively solicited comments from the library community and collected many thoughtful essays about the library of the future from librarians, consultants and academics. The collected comments are at http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/adviscns/rac/responses/index.html. Reviewing the draft and comments will take about as much time as reading a New Yorker and will help you understand our rapidly evolving environment.
If libraries did not already exist it is unlikely we could create them in the current information-privatization climate. Tough budget times have made it clear that library trustees must become more politically active and do more lobbying. Clearly many state and county legislators do not understand the critical services the 23 library systems perform for their member libraries.
On the subject of boring looking but interesting government documents, I found one we all own but few of us ever read that might be useful in solving some of your difficult management and political problems. This is the 53 page "Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State" and it overflows with administrative and legal tools, and policy guidance to help your board establish and maintain control over your library.
For example, if people in your community become outraged about a controversial new book, pg. 51 reminds you that libraries are the "cornerstone" of the first amendment so it is natural we will always be providing material that is "threatening" or creates "disapproval", "dismay" or "outrage" and these conflicts are expected since a public library trustee is an important defender of the first amendment and free speech.
Or perhaps trustees are frustrated because they all want the library to go in one direction and the director insists on another; see pg, 9. Every library must have a board approved formal written long range plan and trustees are required to prepare regular formal written appraisals on how the director implements it, pg 31. So if your board of trustees has devolved into a cheerleading squad for a book warehouse, go read your handbook at: http://www.librarytrustees.org/handbook.php