Board Basics

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Great boards don't just happen. They take proactive recruitment and a passionate belief that public libraries are essential to the quality of life in a community. The first step in building a powerful board is recruiting the most qualified people.

Board Basics

Trustee Boards should reflect the cultural and professional mosaic of your community. Remember, it is an appointed "volunteer" position which requires a willingness to "actively" participate and advocate on behalf of an essential resource, the library. Learn more about Board Basics: Recruitment, Job Description, Tips and Effectiveness.

In New Jersey, elected officials almost always appoint individuals to serve as library trustees. However, libraries can influence appointments by providing elected officials with a job description for library trustees, accompanied by a short list of qualified candidates. When the library and elected officials work collaboratively, the head of the board and the library director have an opportunity to interview prospective appointees to measure their level of interest and capacity to serve.

Libraries should be continuously searching for individuals who:

  • Reflect the community’s values and priorities;
  • Bring desirable skill sets in areas such as human resources, financial management, marketing, and fundraising;
  • Demonstrate leadership or “roll up the sleeves” capacity;
  • Possess both a willingness and ability to work with elected officials;
  • Understand the political and budgetary process;
  • Are willing to make the necessary time commitment; and
  • Have prior experience serving on a non-profit board

What’s in a Trustee’s Job Description?

Successful boards clearly distinguish the roles of trustees from those of staff, friends, and volunteers. Designated board members conduct orientation for new trustees and periodically all board members attend statewide trustee training on the seven very important aspects of public library service for which they are responsible:

  1. Advocating for adequate funding for services the community wants and needs
  2. Hiring, evaluating, and terminating a director
  3. Capital projects, such as facility construction and renovation
  4. Policy review and approval
  5. Budget review and approval
  6. Overseeing three-to-five-year community assessments and strategic planning projects
  7. Oversight, planning, and direct involvement in donor cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship


  • Confer with friends and library foundation leadership (if a foundation exists) to develop a memorandum of understanding that delineates the respective roles of each organization.
  • Enliven board agendas with educational presentations by the director, staff members, or community residents about specific library issues, advancements in information technology, etc.
  • The first year that a person serves on a board is important.  Make sure that a new trustee receives the necessary training and gets involved immediately by serving on a committee or working on a special project.
  • Effective boards hold annual retreats to review progress and explore future challenges and issues.
  • Training programs conducted by the New Jersey State Library, the New Jersey Library Association, and the New Jersey Association of Library Trustees build a board’s knowledge base of library trends and professional best practices.

Measures of Board Effectiveness

Successful boards annually assess their performance. Each trustee should answer the following questions independently before a board discussion that shapes goals for the following year.

  1. Is the library’s mission still relevant? Does it reflect what trustees know about the community? Can trustees actively support it?
  2. Are trustees familiar with the library’s bylaws and policies? Do trustees attend at least two library events a year?
  3. Do trustees attend meetings regularly? Are they prepared to participate? Do trustees understand the board’s decision-making process during meetings?
  4. Are trustees willing to abide by majority board decisions and support them publicly?
    Do trustees treat each other with respect and listen openly to everyone’s opinions? Are they willing to serve on committees, as needed?
  5. Do trustees understand and respect the different roles and duties of the library director and the board? Do trustees interfere with the director’s managing of staff? Do trustees support the director in achieving the library’s goals? Do trustees visit the library often enough to be familiar with its needs?
  6. Do trustees leverage personal and professional contacts to the benefit of the library?
    Do trustees advocate effectively for the library with elected officials and other influentials?
  7. Are trustees familiar with laws that apply to public libraries in New Jersey?
    Does the board keep abreast of legislation and its impact on public libraries?
    Do trustees have established relationships with local and state representatives?
  8. Do trustees belong to a state or national library organization? Do trustees regularly attend statewide training sessions? Do trustees read issues of state or national library organization journal?