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  Public Library Director's Guidebook


The great majority of Nebraska's 273 public libraries are governed by public library boards that are governing (aka administrative) boards. Only in the thirty or so cities of the first class (communities with populations between 5,001 and 99,999) may library boards be either governing or advisory. (See sections 16-251 and 16-253 Neb. Rev. Statutes.) About half of these library boards are governing and half advisory. In addition, Lincoln and Omaha both have governing library boards.

How are public library boards established?

The primary sections of the Revised Statutes of Nebraska (state law) that deals with public libraries are in Chapter 51. Following is a summary of information from those statutes that deal with library boards:

  • When a library is established by a city, village, township (each of these by resolution of the elected officials), or county (by vote of the people), the city council, village board, township board, or county commission, that body also must name a library board of at least five members.
  • Under state law that library boards can either be appointed (as above), or the elected officials can decide that library board members shall be elected. Currently no library boards are elected to their terms, although at least one board was elected in the past.
  • The elected officials determine the length of the library board members' terms, typically three years. (Note: Library board bylaws determine how many terms in succession may be served by its members.)
  • Neither the mayor/board chair nor any council/board member is allowed to serve on the library board.
  • As library board members' terms end, the elected officials appoint their successors.

What are governing library boards responsible for?

The library board and library director form the leadership team of the library. Each has its own role in making the library a success. The library focuses its energies on setting direction for the library through its board actions and its determination of the library's policies. The library director received direction from the board and uses the board-approved policies as a guide to determine procedures that meet those policies. It is a general rule of good organization that the board stick to policy-level decision making and the library director stick to administering those policies. All these activities, of course, are guided by the library's mission and by goals and objectives laid out in the library's long-range/strategic plan.

See the following table showing the related responsibilities of the library board and of the library director. Notice how they complement each other.

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 reports 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 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

What powers do library boards have, according to state law?

The following are taken from sections of Chapter 51 of the Nebraska Revised Statutes:

  • Elect its officers, at least a President and Secretary, but others allowed
  • Adopt bylaws, rules, and regulations for its own guidance and for governing the library (policies)
  • Exclusive control of expenditures of all money collected or donated to the library
  • Purchase or lease grounds and exercise eminent domain to secure a site for a library building
  • Appoint library director and staff, set their salaries, and remove. (However, it is recommended that it should be the library director that handles personnel decisions other than for the director. Also note: A change in state law now mandates that "any personnel administrative or compensation policy or procedure" of the library must be approved by the city council, village board, township board, or county commission before it can be implemented in the library.)

Why does our library board need bylaws?

All groups organized to accomplish something on a continuing basis need some way of organizing their efforts to ensure some structure and consistency in the "business" of the board. Typically bylaws will include the following sections:

  • Article I: The name of the board - e.g., Blytheville Public Library Board
  • Article II: The object (or purpose) of the organization
  • Article III: Members - number of; how appointed; restrictions (e.g., must be resident of village, etc.)
  • Article IV: Officers (designated what those officers are - by state law the library board must have at least a President and Secretary)
  • Article V: Meetings (designate regular meeting times - e.g., second Tuesday of each month; provision for special meetings; the fact that the board follows the Public Meeting Laws - aka Open Meetings Act - in Nebraska state statutes; may also include rules about how many meetings may be missed before a board member is asked to resign, which could also be covered under Article III, Members)
  • Article VI: Executive Board
  • Article VII: Committees (could include standing (i.e., ongoing) committees, provision for special committees, and membership on each. Remember that if more than two members of a five-member board meet that must be a posted public meeting.
  • Article VIII: Parliamentary Authority - Usually something like Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, citing the procedures under which the meetings are run. Remember, under Nebraska's Public Meeting Laws, all actions by the library board which require a motion, a second, and a vote must be recorded in the meeting minutes including who, by name, voted yes or no, or abstained.
  • Article IX: Amendment of Bylaws - details on how this may be done

It is obvious that all library boards need to be familiar with Nebraska Public Meeting Laws. See the following sections of state statute, and ask your regional library System Director or the Nebraska Library Commission if you have questions: Sections 84-1408 through 84-1414 Neb. Rev. Statutes

What makes an effective library board member?

It's already been noted that the board and the library director need to be mindful about their relative roles. Sometimes this is as much art as science in determining these roles, for example, when a library director leaves and there is no other staff, the board may temporarily assume some staff responsibilities. The board needs to be quite careful if this circumstance occurs. At any rate, board members, as representatives of the community, need to reflect the community as a whole both in the makeup of the board and in the perspectives and attitudes they bring to the board's business. It is good to have balance on the board - in age, gender, socio-economic background, race, culture, etc. - which is sometimes difficult in smaller places. Nevertheless, it is something to strive for.

How should board meetings be organized?

Refer above to the Public Meeting Laws (aka, Open Meetings Act) mentioned above. The agenda of a board meeting, which needs to be publicly posted no less than 24 hours before the meeting, and preferably earlier than that, typically is arranged as follows:

  • Name of library, date, time, location appears at the top of the agenda
  • Call of order (i.e., the meeting begins when the presiding officer of the board gets everyone's attention and opens the meeting). Presiding officer needs to call attention to a copy of the Public Meeting Laws (Open Meetings Act) which should either be posted on a wall in the room, or a copy of the laws is prominently displayed on a table in the meeting room.
  • Approval of the Agenda (by board members, by a motion, second and vote; don't forget to record who voted and how)
  • Approval of Minutes from the last meeting (A draft of those meetings needs to be available for the public no later than ten days following the last meeting.)
  • Reports from Board Officers and Board Committees (if any)
  • Monthly Report from the Library Director
  • Unfinished Business (if any, from previous meeting(s))
  • New Business (new topics to be taken up, if any)
  • Opportunity for Comments from the Public (This does not have to be on the agenda of every library board meeting, but must be on its agenda during the course of the year's meeting. It might be a good idea to put it on the agenda each time, but that is up to the board.)

Note: The board and the library director will want to be familiar with the sections of the Public Meeting Laws that deal with a board going into closed (or executive) session. There are very specific procedures that must be followed in order for this to be done legally.

Should new library board members receive an orientation?

In short, yes. New board members need to be given a tour of the library, of course, and they should also be given copies of library board minutes from the last six months at least to familiarize them with what the board has been discussing. It would also be useful for them to look at the information about library boards on the Nebraska Library Commission's webpage and to let them know about the monthly listing of free webinards sent out by the Continuing Education Coordinator. Each board member should know what the library's mission is and should be provided with a copy of the library's current and/or planned budget. Comparisons with like-sized libraries are also useful for the board's work. Finally board members should know which library System they are part of and should use the resources of that System to address their concerns.

How does the board know how well it is doing?

Following are some questions the board can ask of itself to help judge its effectiveness:

  • 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?
  • Has the board adopted a strategic plan (or long-range plan) which serves as the basis for library services and activities?
  • Does the board work systematically to assure adequate current and future library funding?
  • How is the communication?

The board may wish to use the following form to further evaluate its performance:


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