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Survival Guide for Idaho Librarians: Governance and Administration

A quick-start ready reference source for the accidental public library director or school librarian in Idaho

Boardsmanship: Or, Who Does What?


When you were hired as the library’s director, you became an employee of your library’s board of trustees. Most of the time, working with your board will be easy, because each of you has a common interest and a common mission: to provide your community with the best possible library service. Good board members will be your best allies in providing superior library service. They will bring ideas, encouragement, and enthusiasm to the library. A director who has a hard-working, knowledgeable group of trustees will find them an invaluable help. Below is a general guide to the relationship between the library board and library director. This document includes information on the role of the board vs. the role of the library director, working with a board, and recruitment and retention of board members.


Budgeting and Finance:  Or, Free Libraries Aren't Cheap!


Your library board is legally responsible for establishing the library's budget and for practicing good fiscal management. Often, however, much of this responsibility is delegated to the library's director. As an accidental director, one of your first jobs is to find out how much you will be involved with the fiscal management of the library. Here are some questions that you need to ask your board:
  • What is the library's budget for this year? The library director should always be well informed concerning the library's finances. If you don't have a copy of the library's budget, get a copy and add it to your Transition Notebook!
  • Who receives the bills and verifies that the billed goods or services have been received?
  • Who assigns the bills to budget categories?
  • Who prepares the monthly financial statement?
  • If you are responsible for preparing the financial statement, what format should you use? Are there computer programs or forms that are set up for this purpose?
  • Who prepares and signs the checks? (For city libraries, it is often the city clerk or treasurer.)
  • If the fiscal management is handled primarily by someone other than the staff, how is the staff kept informed of the library's financial status?
  • Is there a limit set on the size of expenditures that can be made by the staff without pre-approval by the library board?

Knowing answers to these questions will give you a good handle on your library's fiscal situation. Open the Budgeting and Finance document for more information.

Human Resources: Or, And I Thought We Were Friends!


Most libraries spend at least half of their budgets on human resources. The people working in the library are its most important resource, as they can make the library a smoothly running, efficient organization, or throw a monkey wrench into everything the library is trying to do. For this reason, the public library, like any organization, requires human resources management.

Human resource management (HR or personnel management) in libraries is intended to maximize employee performance with a view to fulfilling the library’s strategic plan. HR activities typically include employee recruitment, training and development, performance appraisal, and rewards (e.g., managing pay and benefit systems). HR is also concerned with the balancing of best library practices with library policy, government regulations, and labor law.

Human resources management is one of the most challenging of all managerial tasks. It is challenging for two reasons.  First, and foremost, it involves working with people, who bring their own needs and agendas to the workplace. Some people have pursued library work because they are interested in the “mission” of the library; some have sought library employment for other reasons. Workers with different levels of commitment to the job may require different levels and styles of management.

In addition to the problems of dealing with a number of different personalities and levels of interest, HR management is also the area where your library is most likely to get into legal trouble. No library should feel that it is small enough to be immune from the legal implications of inadequate personnel procedures. In Idaho, libraries serving even the smallest populations have experienced problems serious enough to result in threatened lawsuits. This means that HR procedures must be equitable for all employees, no matter how small the library.

It is this framework of trying to impose uniformity on diverse personalities that makes human resources work challenging. At the same time, it should be remembered that most personnel problems can be handled with relatively little drama by using good communication techniques and by having equitable procedures.

For more information about Personnel open the Human Resource Files, below.

Library Law: Or, Is All This Legal?


You don’t have to be an attorney in order to be a library director, but you do need to understand the basics of many state and federal laws that affect your library. You should also know about any local ordinances that might pertain to your library.

Legal requirements that may most seriously affect the library are in its fiscal management, personnel, policy, buildings, and political dealings. When making decisions in these areas, be careful. If some action that the library is about to take seems controversial, it should send up a warning flag and you should consider whether your action might have some legal ramifications.

There is more information about Library Law below.

Planning: Or, If I Knew Where We Were Going, I Wouldn't Be Lost!


Planning is an important part of the work of library directors and library boards. With limited resources, it is important that you library use what it has in a strategic, systematic manner. Unplanned changes usually cost more in time and money than changes that are thought out in advance. The following documents provide tips on planning for library directors.

Policies: Or, Can You Put That In Writing?


We like to think of libraries as peaceful, quiet places where people are always nice to each other. Much of the time, this is true. There are times, however, when libraries are not so quiet. In fact, sometimes libraries can become downright controversial.

For example, sometimes where are people who do not like some of the books or other materials that a library makes available to the community. Or an employee may feel that she has been treated unfairly. Or somebody's behavior disturbs other patrons. Or someone claims that his books have been returned, although the library's records show that they are still checked out. Read the document below to learn how to respond to these situations and find tips on preparing—or updating—your library's policy manual.

Procedures:  Or, Where's the Light Switch?

A brand new director walked into her one-person library for the first time. She had worked in libraries before. She had highly developed library skills. The library board had been lucky to find such a qualified person. They had given her a key and a policy manual. She arrived early enough to open the library with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately, no one had thought to tell her where the light switches were located. She looked around as best she could in the dark. Then she tried the telephone, which shared one of several lines with city hall. City hall was closed. She could not get an outside line. Because of the mountains, there was no cell reception.

The new director, whose first day on the job started with every good intention, had to return home to use her land line to call the board president. Unfortunately, the board president did not know where the library’s light switches were located. Two hours later, a city employee was found who knew how to turn on the lights. The library was two and a half hours late in opening. It was not an auspicious start for a new library director.

Whether we like it or not, public libraries, like all organizations, are dependent on routine. We keep regularly scheduled hours; we shelves books consistently in the same manner; we use the same procedures to check out materials and check them back in; we catalog materials using the same system, day in and day out. If we did not follow these routines, our libraries would be disorganized, no one could ever find anything, and our customers would never know what to expect from us.

Read the document below to learn the difference between policies and procedures.  Also there are tips on developing a procedures manual.

Statistics:  Or, Count On It!

Some people get uncomfortable when the topic of "statistics" comes up. They envision complicated mathematical formulas and jargon they don't understand. In the library, however, statistics basically have to do with counting. Statistics are used as one way to measure how the library is doing in meeting the needs of its community.
There are basically two kinds of measures that are used.  One kind of measure tells us what the library provides. Some of these measures would include the number of volumes owned, the number of hours the library is opened, and the number of staff members. This kind of measure is sometimes called an input measure.
The other kind of measure tells us how much the library is used. Some of these measures include: number of people visiting the library, number of items circulated, and number of reference questions answered. This kind of measure is sometimes called an output measure.
Statistical measures can be very useful in helping evaluate library services. Using statistics, libraries can compare themselves to other libraries in similar communities. They can also compare how they have done in one period of time with a similar period of time in the past. For example, it is not unusual for a monthly library report to show how the present year's monthly circulation compared with last year's.
For online resources to learn more about statistics, check out these links:
  • :  blog for sharing ideas and experiences in working with data as a librarian
  • Databrarians :  facebook group for collaboration and questions

The sites linked below may be useful to anyone interested in library data in other states and at the national level.

GEOLib  Florida State University Library Mapping and Census Data

Library Research Service

National Center for Education Statistics

COMPASS Ada and Canyon County Maps, etc.


Tools for Team Building & Flexing


  • Team Building
    • by the World Health Organization
    • great resource for the concept of team building
    • under 20 pages
    • concise
  • Teampedia
    • online resource wiki
    • team building activities


Tools for Planning & Communication


  • Shaping Outcomes: Making a Difference in Libraries and Museums
    • an online course providing training in outcome-based planning by Indiana University and The Institute of Museum & Library Services
    • either self-directed or instructor- facilitated
  • The New Planning for Results: A Streamlined Approach
    • by Sandra S. Nelson, Public Library Association
    • chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 includes SWOT analysis
    • used copies available for purchase on
  • SWOT Worksheets
    • SWOT analysis (or SWOT matrix): a strategic planning technique used to help a person or organization identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to business competition or project planning.
    • available via


Tools for Project Management and Evaluation


  • Assessment, Evaluation, & Planing Tools from WebJunction
    • Brought to you by WebJunction
    • WebJunction builds the knowledge, skills, and confidence of library staff to power strong libraries that are the heart of vibrant communities. A program of OCLC Research, WebJunction is free and welcome to all libraries to use, regardless of size, type, or location.
  • Library Project Management 101
    • Presented by Core: Leadership, Infrastructure, Futures, a division of the American Library Association
    • Core is a community of library workers in the core functions of leadership and management, metadata and collections, and technology.


For More Information


If you would like to schedule a Question-and-Answer Session or a Board Training Session on any of these topics, please contact your ICfL Area Field Consultant, who will be happy to help.

Who is my area field consultant? Find Out Here.