by Mickey Coalwell, Consultant, Northeast System
As every serving trustee and library director in Kansas will readily tell you, recruiting new board members can be challenging. The civic responsibility of serving on a local library board requires time and commitment, and it’s difficult to ask busy people to add another task to their schedules.
But there are good people out there who are up to the challenge. Kansas libraries have survived and thrived because of the outstanding leadership local library boards have shown over the years.
So, instead of dreading them, try to see impending vacancies as opportunities to renew and revitalize the library. Every new member brings new ideas and new energy to the board.
Before discussing specific recruitment strategies, let’s review the purpose, authority, and focus of the public library board.
In Kansas, the Library Board of Directors (individual directors are also called Trustees) is charged with formulating policy and providing adequate funding and staffing for the library. Municipal governments levy, collect and distribute the tax dollars which fund the operational budgets authorized by local library boards.
This relationship, created by library law in Kansas, is intended to protect library boards from partisan politics and ensure the independence and integrity of library services for all citizens of the community.
The library board has the statutory authority to determine the library’s budget. They also have the political responsibility to be good stewards of public funds, and to justify expenditures to the municipal officials.
Public library trustees of a city library are appointed by a municipality’s governing body, generally with input from the library board and staff. A trustee is appointed for a four-year term with an option to be reappointed for an additional four-year term. Trustees can become eligible for appointment again after a one-year hiatus. (Boards of district libraries are elected, and are not bound by renewal limits.)
Unless exempted by a municipal governing body through local ordinance, library trustees must be residents of the taxing district in which they serve.
Members of the board cannot serve as paid staff members. They can volunteer for the library, but they should not interfere with the director’s role as manager of the library. Individual board members have no authority, but together, as a board, they are empowered to establish and support operational policies.
Dr. Robert J. Grover, who is currently Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Emporia State University, where he has also held the position of Dean and Professor of the School of Library and Information Management, sets forth the following criteria for good board members:
- Knowledge of the law
- Political savvy
- Diversity (opinions, professions, skills, experience)
- Representation from the entire community
Grover says trustees should keep abreast of local government goings-on, and know the people involved in local government, because they will be called upon to act as liaisons between the library and the community. Library board members must have, or earn, the respect of at least one governing official in order to be effective.
The first task of the library board is to negotiate its role in the trustee appointment process. Most governing bodies will look to the library for recommendations when it comes to trustee appointments, but this is not always the case. If you are not already doing so, become a legitimate partner in the process. While it is up to the governing body of the municipality to make the official appointment, it is only logical that the library should have a voice in recommending candidates.
So, where should you look for someone who might make a good board member? The first place you should look is in your own library. The best candidates are people who use the library regularly. Mothers with children, entrepreneurs who use the library’s resources to support their home businesses, and retired people who spend a great deal of time in the library are the people you should be considering. Homeschoolers are also heavy library users, and these parent-teachers are another possibility worth exploring.
Here are a few more:
- Business people (retailers, bankers, insurance agents, farm implement dealers)
- Church and civic leaders
- Teachers and educators
- Daycare providers
- Police and law enforcement personnel
Approach potential candidates with a short invitation speech and a simple one-page overview of the duties and responsibilities of the trustee position (see below). You may need to cultivate some of your potential candidates over time, with several discussions and interactions, before they are comfortable committing, but most people are flattered to be asked. Sometimes planting the seed is all you can do. It may take several months, or even years, for an invitation to bear fruit.
Which means it is a good idea to cultivate potential candidates on an ongoing basis. Don’t wait until you have a vacancy to begin courting your potential board members. The ideal situation is to have a few candidates “in the pipeline” when your vacancy arises. There’s nothing wrong with telling people that you don’t have any current board openings, but that you would love to have them give some thought to becoming a board member in the future. You should constantly be on the lookout for good library board candidates. All current board members, the librarydirector and library staff should all become dedicated recruiters of new board members.
Here’s what you should be doing to effectively recruit new board members:
- Make it known you are looking. Get the word out that the board is always seeking new applicants. Isn’t that what you would do if you had a paid position open? Advertise current board openings in your local newspaper, in your library newsletter, on your website, on Facebook — wherever you think your candidates may see a posting.
- At library events, before programs, and in community presentations, always take a few minutes to inform the crowd that you are on the lookout for people who want to serve as library board members or volunteers.
- Network. Current board members and library staff should be making personal invitations to people they meet at church, at work, at social events, and business meetings. Ask your city officials to be on the lookout for potential board candidates, too.
Sample Invitation for Potential Library Board Candidates
The Community Public Library would like to invite you to apply for a position on the Board of Directors of the Library. This volunteer position requires concern for and pride in our community, as well as connections and affiliations among various constituencies in our community.
We’re looking for people who believe that the public library is vital to the health and well-being of the community as a whole. We want someone who can approach people and problems with an open mind, and have the courage to resist pressures which interfere with the community’s democratic right to a full range of library materials and services.
We want people who are passionate about learning, committed to equality, fairness and transparency, and willing to work with others to achieve challenging goals. We want someone who will be a strong advocate for the library
We think you are that kind of person. We’d like to ask you to complete an application for a position on the Library Board of Directors.
• You must be at least 18 years old and a citizen of the U.S.
• You must be a resident of the (city, township, county).
• You must be willing to commit about 6 hours of your time a month, including at least one evening meeting lasting 1-1/2 to 2 hours
• You must be willing to be an active, vocal advocate for the library.
• This is not a paid position.
Would you consider applying for a board position? We would be happy to continue this discussion with you, if you are interested, at your convenience. Please let me know when would be a good time to visit.
Here is my contact information: