Skip Navigation

Nebraska Library Board Manual

 CHAPTER CONTENTS Definition of a Board Board Responsibilities What Makes an Effective Board? Effective Board Member How Boards Are Established Nebraska Statutes: Chapter 51-202 Selection Process Board Member Term Limits The Importance of Bylaws Board Meetings What Makes a Successful Meeting? New Board Members Evaluating Board Progress Does Your Board Measure Up? Sample Self-Evaluation

   What is a Library Board?

A library board is a group of citizens responsible for the governing of a public library. Board members are the vital link between the library and its community. Board members serve as library advocates and leaders in developing responsible and creative library service to all members of the public. They are volunteers who serve their community with no financial compensation. Members may be reimbursed, however, for any reasonable and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of library business.

With few exceptions, Nebraska public library boards are administrative/governing boards and carry responsibility for the library and its policies. Traditionally, library boards have had the power to control library expenditures and to make rules and regulations for library use. Boards also have been empowered to hire the library director and to establish personnel policies, although library personnel policies and administrative procedures must be approved by the city council or village board prior to implementation. In some Nebraska communities, some of the administrative responsibilities of the library are shared with or supervised by municipal officials or staff, and the board functions as both a governing/administrative and an advisory board depending upon which issues are under consideration.

It is a violation of sound administrative standards when the library director independently changes or fails to follow established library board policy or when the library board engages in direct management of the library.

What Are Boards Responsible For? Quote

   What Are Boards Responsible For?

Under the powers of administrative/governing boards granted by law, boards make operating and administrative policies. The board acts as an agent of public trust governing the library. The library director is responsible for the internal management, daily operation and procedures of the library. The director exercises professional judgment under the direction and the review of the board to implement the goals, objectives and policies set by the board.

There are five areas of library governance that stand out as primary responsibilities for library boards. They are to:
  • Make everyone in the community aware of the library.
  • Secure adequate financial support.
  • Hire a competent director when the position becomes vacant.
  • Develop policies.
  • Encourage continued growth and development of library staff.
The duties and responsibilities of library board members and the library director may appear to overlap. Understanding the differences in function assures teamwork and better library service. Following is a chart of related responsibilities of the library board and of the library director.
Responsibilities of Library Board Responsibilities of Library Director
To select and evaluate the library director, if applicable, and to work through the director, following the established chain of command in the library To act as technical advisor to the board and to recommend employment of all personnel and supervise their work
To establish and regularly review all policies related to the library To carry out the policies of the library as adopted by the board and to recommend needed policies for board action
To aid in the active promotion of the library in the community To maintain an active program of public relations
To help develop and defend the library’s annual budget before funding agencies, receive reports and approve expenditures at board meetings, and seek additional funding as appropriate To prepare an annual budget for the library in consultation with the board and to give a current report of actual expenditures against the budget at each meeting
To be familiar with local ordinances, state statutes and national laws that affect the library To know local, state, and national laws and to actively support library legislation in the state and nation
To approve the library's materials selection policy that is used by the staff to select materials for the library To select and order all books and other library materials according to board policy
To faithfully attend and be prepared for all board meetings and support majority decisions reached by the board, in order to ensure good library services for the community To attend all board meetings and to serve as secretary of the board if required
To be familiar with the services of regional library systems and how they help the library fulfill its mission To make full use of the regional library system services
To be familiar with the services of the Nebraska Library Commission and how it helps the library fulfill its mission To make use of the services and consultants of the Nebraska Library Commission
To present the annual report to the municipality and/or county government, defend the budget before funding entities, and actively represent the library to the general public To report regularly to the library board, to the officials of local government, and to the general public
To explore ways to improve the library's services, engaging in ongoing strategic planning To suggest and carry out plans for extending services of the library
To receive regular reports from the library director and other staff, as appropriate, indicating progress toward the library's goals, and recommendations related to future needs of the library To prepare regular reports detailing current progress and future needs of the library
To participate in local, state and national organizations (as possible), to read library-related publications, to visit other libraries and other trustees in order to keep up with current trends and practices, and to support staff professional involvement To affiliate with state and national professional organizations and to attend professional meetings and workshops
To maintain status as a certified public library board under the board certification program To maintain status as a certified public librarian under the librarian certification program

When the board and the library director understand their respective roles, the library and its services are stronger.


   What Makes an Effective Library Board?

Each library board member will bring to the board certain strengths--skills, talents and personal experience that uniquely serve the library. A well-balanced board can bring in less-experienced members who provide new viewpoints and who learn while serving. Expert knowledge in a professional or technical discipline is valuable for specific undertakings. Some boards rely almost entirely on their members for advice in such fields as construction, law or finance, while other boards make extensive use of consultants, advisory boards or volunteers for information. The board as a whole should represent a broad spectrum of community interests, occupations and areas. A board consisting of diverse viewpoints assures that the library will serve the total community. The competence necessary to fulfill all board responsibilities should be present in the composition of the board as a whole.

Collectively the library board should strive to have:
  • Business management and financial experience.
  • Diversity in age, race and gender.
  • Legal knowledge.
  • Occupational diversity.
  • Political awareness.
  • Varied socio-economic backgrounds.


   What Makes an Effective Board Member?

  • Active participation in board matters by attending meetings, studying, questioning, voting on all issues, monitoring progress, and maintaining active committees.
  • Serve no more than two consecutive terms.
  • Have a policy in place that sets forth the ethical standards of the board. United for Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, presents a Public Library Trustee Ethics Statement that the board may wish to adopt.
  • Have a policy in place that provides guidelines for attendance and for fulfilling duties.
  • Read the minutes. Corrections are made by amending the minutes before final acceptance of minutes is voted upon.
  • Be sure the minutes of each meeting are maintained and that each vote is properly recorded.
  • Vote against proposed actions if you feel you have insufficient information on which to base an opinion. If you abstain until more information is provided, follow up on the issue and let the record show your position.
  • Eliminate any conflicts of interest on a board. A generally accepted rule of thumb is that a trustee or his/her immediate family may not receive any tangible or intangible gain in dealing with the library. In case a relative is a potential recipient of library funds, the affected trustee should abstain from any discussion or vote.
  • If conflicts are occurring, put your concerns in writing. This protects you.
Even if you follow through on these recommendations and act in good faith, boards can still be sued. The American Library Association (ALA) recommends that to protect the board and its members, you should purchase directors’ and officers’ insurance. There is no set standard or accepted amount for this insurance. There are some policies designed specifically for public officials. Consult with your city for information on liability and/or errors and omissions policies, which can be extended to library board members.


   How Are Public Library Boards Established?

The Nebraska Revised Statutes provide for the establishment of library boards under Chapter 51. Trustees should be familiar with these particular statutes. The library board also should be familiar with local ordinances that established the library, set the number of board members, etc. See Chapter 2 (Public Libraries, Trustees and the Law) “How is a public library legally established?”

Nebraska Statutes: Chapter 51. Libraries and Museums
51-202. (1) When any city council or village board decides by ordinance to establish and maintain a public library and reading room under sections 51-201 to 51-219, the city council or village board shall establish a library board. The library board shall have at least five members. Neither the mayor nor any member of the city council or village board shall be a member of the library board. Except as otherwise provided in subsection (2) of this section, the city council or village board shall by ordinance determine the number of members, whether the members are elected or appointed, and the length of the terms of the members. The terms of members serving on the effective date of a change in the number of members shall not be shortened, and the city council or village board shall provide for the appointment or election of their successors. In cases of vacancies by resignation, removal, or otherwise, the city council or village board shall fill such vacancy for the unexpired term. No member shall receive any pay or compensation for any services rendered as a member of the board.

(2) If the city council or village board by ordinance provides for appointment of the members to the library board, such library board members shall be appointed by a majority vote of the members of the city council or village board. If an interlocal agreement, a memorandum of understanding, or any other contractual agreement between the city or village and another political subdivision providing for library services allows representation from the other political subdivision on the library board from outside the city or village, the governing board of the other political subdivision may appoint one or more members to the library board as provided in the interlocal agreement, memorandum of understanding, or other contractual agreement.

(3) If the city council or village board adopts an ordinance to provide for the election of library board members at municipal elections in April, it shall follow the statutes governing municipal elections. If the municipal election is to be held in conjunction with the statewide primary election, the election shall be held as provided in the Election Act. If the board members are to be elected, the city council or village board shall give public notice of such election after the adoption of such ordinance naming the offices to be filled, the length of terms, and the filing deadline for the placing of names of candidates on the ballot.


   How Are Library Boards Selected?

According to Chapter 51 of the Nebraska Statutes, library boards may be appointed by the governing body of the city or village or elected by popular vote. The city council or the village board decides how the library board members are to be chosen. For further information, see Residency Requirement for Nebraska Public Library Boards".


   How Long Should a Board Member Serve?

The number of reappointments by a governing body is not stipulated by Nebraska statutes, but local ordinances should be consulted to verify if there are any regulations pertaining to term limits of library board members. If there are no local ordinances that determine board member term limits, a library board might want to evaluate whether it is beneficial to the community to have board members serve indefinitely. Continuity of service provides for the wisdom of experience, but change provides the essential infusion of new ideas. Both are needed.

Former board members could contribute to the library and community through a number of ways:
  • Help fundraise.
  • Participate in a committee.
  • Volunteer for a project.
  • Provide occasional needed expertise.
  • Become active in the local Friends of the Library or library foundation.
Board members should continue to recruit and encourage qualified potential trustees. To assist a library board with determining reappointments, there are recommendations made by the Nebraska Library Association and the Nebraska Library Commission that members of library boards serve no more than two consecutive terms.

If a vacancy occurs prior to the expiration of a board member’s term, the position is filled in the same manner that appointments are made, and the new appointee completes the unexpired term. The filling of a vacancy does not constitute a whole term.

Bylaws Quote

   How Do Bylaws Help a Board Operate More Effectively?

A library board can run most effectively if it has bylaws for its own operation and if it conducts successful board meetings. These bylaws must be consistent with local ordinances and state statutes pertinent to the library. Bylaws provide an opportunity for a library board to establish rules and routines for governing its actions and carrying out its responsibilities. Bylaws usually include:
  • Selection, appointment, term length, number and composition of board, as determined by local ordinance establishing the library.
  • Place, time and responsibility for regular meeting.
  • Procedures for calling special meetings.
  • Attendance requirements.
  • Definition and requirements of a quorum.
  • Parliamentary rules to be followed.
  • Duties of individual board members.
  • Duties of officers.
  • Appointment and duties of standing committees.
  • Provisions for special committees.
  • Relationship with the library director.
  • Limitations on board members.
  • Required reports and yearly timetables.
  • Procedures for adopting or amending bylaws.
  • Order of business. (i.e., the order in which topics are usually taken up during regular board meetings)
The bylaws provide the general structure for the board’s work. All board members need to understand the specific roles, assignments and the expectations for all officers, and committees, and individuals as outlined in board’s bylaws.


   Meetings of the Library Board

In order to conduct board business effectively, regular meetings should be held. Most library boards schedule monthly regular meetings at times and places planned and announced well in advance. Meetings are governed by the Nebraska Open Meetings Act. See Chapter 2: Public Libraries, Trustees and the Law, “What laws govern board meetings?” [Need link] An agenda should be prepared jointly by the chairperson and the library director with input from other board members and staff. It is good practice to ask at each board meeting what items members may wish to have placed on the next agenda. The agenda items should be sufficiently descriptive to give the public reasonable notice of the matters to be considered at the meeting. Robert's Rules of Order lists the following as basic agenda items:
  • Roll call.
  • Reading previous minutes and statistical reports.
  • Correspondence and communication.
  • Report of the librarian.
  • Reports of any standing committees.
  • Reports of special committees.
  • Old (unfinished) business.
  • New business.
  • Adjournment.
Bookville Public Library Board
June 6, 2xxx—6:30 p.m. MT

Call to Order/Roll Call
Approval of Agenda
Approval of Minutes from May 2, 2xxx
Reports of Officers and Board Committees
Monthly Report from Library Director
Unfinished Business:
      **Director Performance Evaluation
New Business:
      Request from Citizen to Remove a Certain Title from the Collection
      Library Summer Picnic as proposed by Friends of Bookville Public Library
Opportunity for Comments from the Public

Successful Meeting Quote

   What Makes a Board Meeting Successful?

  • Successful meetings depend on advance preparation.
  • The agenda establishes the order of the meeting.
  • The entire board meets to transact its business in public.
  • The library board should review its bylaws annually.
Although library board members serve without pay, they are expected to give time and effort to their responsibilities. The knowledge and ability of individual members come together in the regular meetings of the board, where all members are equal and only the board as a whole can make a decision. Board members are expected to attend all board meetings.

Every board meeting should be meaningful and productive, and deal only with appropriate issues. Here are some suggestions for making meetings effective:
  • Plan meetings on a regular schedule as listed in your bylaws. Select specific dates, times, and places six to twelve months in advance. Special meetings may be called if needed.
  • Follow procedures for conducting business meetings as outlined in Robert's Rules of Order. This may seem over-formal, but the rules ensure orderly flow for the meetings and opportunities for all to be heard.
  • To save time and provide an opportunity for careful study of issues, hold working board sessions and committee meetings prior to the formal board meeting. Written reports of committee findings and recommendations that are distributed before the board meetings will provide the board as a whole with the information to make good decisions.
  • Prepare the agenda in advance. Allow adequate time for the items listed, and establish clear time limits.
  • Mail or distribute the agenda, related reports, statistics, etc. at least 10 days in advance of the meeting.
  • Publish or post public notice of meetings.
  • Begin meetings on time with a roll call.
  • Introduce any visitors and/or new board members.
  • Approve minutes of the previous meeting.
  • Keep an archival file of board minutes in the library. Individual board members should retain current minutes in their trustee notebooks.
  • Require board members to inform the board chair of absences in advance and limit the number of allowed absences from meetings.
  • Library staff members also should be invited to attend meetings to observe and/or report. The communication between the board and staff members can reward the library with an increased level of cooperation and understanding.

Successful Meeting Quote

   New Board Members

How should new library board members be familiarized with the library and the work of the board? The library board should have a written orientation plan in place that can be used when a new person joins the board. The orientation will be the joint responsibility of the library director and the chairperson of the board, although other board members may want to participate, as this is a good time to review board functions.

Board members need to understand that they are the link between the community and the library. They are responsible for developing and supporting the library’s mission; securing and overseeing financial resources, understanding the laws that govern libraries; overseeing services and defining policy; planning for the future of the library; hiring and evaluating the library director; promoting the library and its programs; and meeting certification/ accreditation standards.

Suggested Orientation Activities:
  • Contact new member to welcome and schedule orientation.
  • Provide tour of library facility and introduce library staff.
  • Explain the roles and responsibilities of the board, and of the director and staff.
  • Review the library history, mission and goals; bylaws; policies; and budget.
  • Introduce new member to the board and review trustee responsibilities.
Orientation Materials:
  • Library mission statement
  • Directory of board members and staff
  • Calendar of board meetings
  • Nebraska Library Board Manual (including library laws)
  • Library policy manual
  • Current library budget
  • Recent annual and monthly reports
  • Recent board meeting minutes
  • Statistical data about the community and the library, such as the information from the library’s annual Public Library Statistical Survey and Supplemental Survey.
  • Information about the state library and library systems
  • Contact information for library and trustee organizations

Successful Meeting Quote

   How Does a Public Library Board Evaluate Its Progress?

Boards are most effective when their decision-making is based upon systematic annual evaluations, as well as upon continuous informal monitoring of their library's progress. Evaluation is a board responsibility inherent in all trustee duties. Boards which lack a formal method of systematic evaluation tend to evaluate by instinct, public outcry, staff discontent, building conditions, or the librarian's recommendation, and are therefore reactive instead of proactive.

Areas for annual evaluation can include:
  • Overall progress of the library's program and planning.
  • Self-evaluation of the board's effectiveness (individual trustee and the board as a whole).
  • Performance of the director.

   How Does the Public Library Board Measure Up?

Since the library board is vital to the success of its public library, its performance should be part of the total evaluation. Boards should be willing to look at their own operation and ask these questions:
  • Does the board operate under a written set of bylaws and follow the laws that govern board operations?
  • Is there an effective committee structure that involves all members in board work?
  • Are board meetings run in a businesslike manner with a minimum amount of time devoted to unimportant matters?
  • Does the board meet monthly at a regular time with an agenda and relevant documents distributed in advance?
  • Are minutes compiled and mailed to members no later than ten days following the meetings?
  • Does the library director attend board meetings and committee meetings?
  • Is there a training or orientation program for new trustees, jointly conducted by a senior trustee and the library director?
  • Is a local library board member manual maintained to supplement the state manual?
  • Does the board work closely with municipal governing agents who appoint trustees? Are qualifications and duties clearly stated? Are terms of appointment limited? Does the board represent the whole community?
  • Do board members and does each library maintain an up-to-date policy manual?
  • Is there a step-by-step plan for the future growth and development of the library?
  • Does the board work systematically to assure adequate current and future library funding?
  • Does the board encourage and fund member and staff attendance at local, state and national library meetings?
  • Is there good communication between the library director and the board, between the president and the members, between the board and related public groups, and among various board members?

   Sample Evaluation:

1. Our board members fill an important role in the organization; they represent a high degree of competence and experience and are in a position to influence others in the community.
__ all do          __ most do          __ half do          __ few do          __ none does
2. Our board as a whole represents a cross section of our community.
__ completely          __ mostly          __ half           __ only small portion          __ not at all
3. Our board members brief themselves on the organization’s problems and needs; know the organization’s mission, history, philosophy and plans; keep abreast of trends which affect our organization; understand the role of a board member.
__ all do          __ most do          __ half do          __ few do          __ none does
4. Our board members prepare themselves for meetings; study and understand reports and background materials; ask probing and insightful questions at meetings; focus on problems; demand and get necessary information for major decisions.
__ always          __ usually          __ Sometimes          __ occasionally          __ never
5. Our board members are active spokespersons for our organization and are using their influence with others who help our library.
__ always          __ usually          __ Sometimes          __ occasionally          __ never
6. Our board members assist with fund raising efforts of the library, help with the development program and promote the library’s budget.
__ all do          __ most do          __ half do          __ few do          __ none does
7. Our board members serve on one or more important board committees and are active in committee assignments, carrying out duties and making useful contributions of ideas and information.
__ all do          __ most do          __ half do          __ few do          __ none does
8. Our board members attend board meetings regularly and faithfully.
__ all do          __ most do          __ half do          __ few do          __ none does
9. The mission and goals of the library are:
__ very clear          __ clear          __ somewhat clear          __ not clear
10. The role of the board is:
__ very clear          __ clear          __ somewhat clear          __ not clear
11. The board’s problem-solving abilities are:
__ very good          __ good          __ somewhat good          __ not good
12. Conflict on the board is managed:
__ very productively          __ productively          __ somewhat productively          __ not productively
13. The board’s decision-making processes (taking into account procedures, the level of information and the people involved) are:
__ very effective          __ somewhat effective          __ not effective
14. The quality of communication among board members is:
__ very good          __ good          __ somewhat good          __ not good
15. The quality of communication between the library director and the board is:
__ very good          __ good          __ somewhat good          __ not good
16. The level of effectiveness of the board’s committees and the committee structure is:
__ very effective          __ effective          __ somewhat effective          __ not effective
17. I recommend individuals for service on the library board:
__ very often          __ sometimes          __ almost never          __ never
18. I find serving on the library board to be a satisfying and rewarding experience:
__ completely          __ almost completely          __ very little          __ not at all


   Additional Resources

Parliamentary Procedure at a Glance, by O. Garfield Jones.
Parliamentary Procedure -- A Practical Overview (video 14:59)
Robert's Rules of Order, or, How I Learned to Stop Kvetching and Love the Gavel (video 5:32)
Robert's Rules of Order - Summary Version
Running Effective Meetings
How to Chair a Meeting

  Main Page                                                                                              Next Page

created 2006; rev. 7/2015                                                        For more information, contact Holli Duggan

back to top