Monday, May 19, 2008

What's a Board For?

I was invited to be a guest panelist by our library system last week to field questions by newly minted library directors and assistant directors. One of the concerns discussed was what to do when your Board of Trustees gets "out of control." Examples of this were such delights as board members sitting in staff offices "looking for dirt", board members trying to influence hiring and firing of lower staff, or board members making inappropriate procedural decisions without a vote from the board at large. Clearly, these libraries have this problem because no one took the time to inform new board members about what they are for when they took office. I used this analogy in the group discussion: a Board of Trustees is like congress; they pass the law saying speeding is illegal, but they don't hop in their cars and pull people over. Board members are the representatives of the people, whether appointed by a mayor in a municipal library or elected in a library district. Their job is to ask the questions of the Library Director that the people would want asked, to provide the transparency that any government agency must have to survive with credibility. Being a public overseer does not constitute "playing librarian". I'm proud to say that the Kankakee Public Library Board of Trustees clearly understands that distinction. I wish more boards would learn from their example.

Stephen Bertrand
Assistant Director


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