Trust in Your Trustees: Politicians Prefer Your Board's Views on Library Needs over Yours

By Manley, Will | American Libraries, November-December 2012 | Go to article overview

Trust in Your Trustees: Politicians Prefer Your Board's Views on Library Needs over Yours


Manley, Will, American Libraries


It frustrates me profoundly to have someone in the library profession approach me at a conference to challenge my credibility as a speaker--usually in view of the fact that I'm retired, out of touch, and behind the times. In other words, I'm no longer actively involved in library matters.

My defense is immediate. I explain that while I may be retired from the administrative wars, I now play an even more important library role: I am a trustee. Inevitably the response is both derisive and dismissive: "Trustees aren't really a part of our profession, are they?"

While that rejoinder really bugs me, I have to grudgingly admit that it does carry a certain element of truth. Quite frankly, trustees do not belong to the library "tribe." But that is precisely why they are the most important players in the public library arena.

Here's a quiz: What are the three main duties of a library board of trustees? If you answered (a) hire and fire the director, (b) make library policy, and (c) secure library funding, you are correct. Everything else they do, from attending meetings to approving minutes, is strictly secondary.

Of their three main duties, securing funding is by far the most critical. Trustees can be much more effective fundraisers than librarians, precisely because they are outside the library tribe. They don't know the secret library handshake, the litany of obscure library acronyms, or the meaning of the terms "autoregressive bibliographical interface," "triangulated title access," or "multipolycentric reference control." Heck, most of them haven't a clue what OCLC stands for.

Does that make them aliens from outer space? No, that puts them on the same level as the local politicians who control the library purse strings. Point one: Local politicians hate to be talked down to by professionals. …

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