ALTA Trustee Handbook

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Section III: The Library Board

The Work of the Board


Municipal, intermunicipal, and library system Boards govern the management and regulation of the library services they offer. This means directing organizational development and promotion, as well as maintaining careful policy development and well-informed decision making.

Boards accomplish their work primarily in meetings, so it is important that trustees understand how to manage meetings to maximize effectiveness.

Under The Libraries Act, Boards are required to meet at least once every four months, and should meet as often as is necessary to accomplish the required business.

Most Boards meet nine to twelve times per year and each meeting should be designed to maximize Board and staff input through effective use or available resources.

Your Board goal should be to hold meetings that move briskly, stick to the desired timelines, take care of business and issues, and yield useful decisions.

Role and Responsibilities of the Board



The library Board is an autonomous legal entity, deriving its authority as a corporation from the The Alberta Libraries Act. The library board is a governing board, that is not only accountable to council, but to all citizens of the municipality and provincial government.


The Board is responsible for:

  • Determining the priorities of the library service and creating a plan of service based on a community needs assessment.
  • Securing funding by requesting funds from stakeholders and applying for provincial grants.
  • Keeping financial records and bank accounts and manages the budget and the board must undergo an annual financial review. The reviewer cannot be on the library board, and municipal council must approve the qualifications of the reviewer and set the level of financial review.
  • Creating bylaws which must be submitted to council for acceptance. Council can disallow a bylaw, but they cannot change it. Copies of bylaws accepted by municipal council should be sent to Public Library Services Branch, Alberta Municipal Affairs.
  • Creating the policies that enable the delivery of library services to the municipality.
  • Hiring and evaluating a senior staff member.
  • Complying with the Libraries Act and Regulation.
  • Participating in the development of framework, governance, and operational policies.
  • Helping to develop goals and objectives congruent with the library’s vision and mission.
  • Regularly evaluating and reviewing bylaws, policies, goals and objectives, and amending as required.
  • Ensuring adequate funds from government and other sources to carry out the goals and objectives.
  • Participating in the organization and implementation of marketing plans and activities.
  • Participating in the financial management of the library.
  • Participating in lobbying all levels of government for positive action for libraries.
  • Assisting in the formation of partnerships with other community organizations.

Board Meeting Agendas


Setting the agenda is the responsibility of the Chair (whether Board or committee), with input from other trustees, committee members, and senior staff. An agenda provides advance information, with a meeting outline.

It is recommended agendas be distributed with supporting documentation (minutes, financial reports, etc.) a week to ten days in advance of the meeting. The method of distribution may be any combination of Member pick up, mail, or email.

The date of the Agenda package completion and method of distribution should be decided at the organizational meeting. The agenda package should include:

  • The name of the group and kind of meeting (regular, special, committee, etc.).
  • The meeting location and time: day, month, year, and hour.
  • Items for information, discussion, and decision, including unfinished and new business.
  • Reports (special, committees, senior staff, etc.) and correspondence.
  • Next meeting and adjournment.
  • Optional items such as a list of participants and guests, a meeting timeline, the vision and mission of the Board, and the objective of the meeting.

Agendas generally follow a fairly standard format, which can help Board members know what to expect.

Agendas should facilitate the work of the Board. For instance, after adoption of the agenda and approved minutes, items for information may lead into items for decision, and to discussion for future decision items, to be followed by regular reports and correspondence, etc.

Deal first with high-priority items, to ensure focus of the Board’s energy and enthusiasm, and keep things in logical sequence!

It may be preferable to delegate some of the work of the Board to either standing committees, (that are struck to form recommendations on ongoing issues, e.g. finances) or to an ad-hoc committee for new or time-sensitive issues.

The Board should then require that these committees provide a recommendation for decision to the Board.

At each regular meeting, the Board should address:

  • Achievement of goals and objectives.
  • Issues and problems including concerns brought forward by the senior staff person.
  • Long-range planning objectives.
  • Policy update.



If a Board needs to discuss a confidential matter a motion must be made to go in camera. Confidential matters  are legal matters, security matters, personnel matters, or labour relations, as outlined in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Nothing discussed while in camera may be repeated. No motion may be made by the Board while in camera, however once a motion has been made to come out of camera a resolution can be forwarded regarding items discussed while in camera.

Board Calendar


A calendar of Board and committee meetings, key events and timelines, conferences, training, and workshops makes it easier for trustees and Boards to plan their time. The calendar should be updated at every meeting. Some dates to include:

  • Regular Board and committee meetings
  • Annual election of Board executive (this is normally done at the Organizational meeting which is normally held at the first meeting following the Municipal Council’s Organizational meeting during which Board members are assigned)
  • Alberta Library Conference
  • ALTA workshops
  • Regional Library training opportunities
  • Municipal council meetings
  • Deadlines: Annual Report of Public Libraries, budget submission to council, and grant applications
  • Special events and fund raising activities
  • Other conferences

Board Records


A Board which does not keep accurate, organized records will find that its work will be lost, forgotten, duplicated, or – worst of all – need to be repeated again and again. Good records ensure continuity of governance and administration.

Recommended records include:

  • Minutes of Board and committee meetings
  • Bylaws, policies, and committee terms of reference (mandate statements)
  • Annual budget
  • Financial records
  • Annual reports
  • Needs assessment
  • Plan of service and goals and objectives
  • Library use statistics
  • Correspondence
  • Board member information
  • System agreements

Library Board and committee minutes are public documents, and are the official record of the business of the Board. When minutes of a meeting are approved, The Libraries Act requires that the presiding chair sign them, and this official copy must be kept on file at the library in books kept by the Board for that purpose.

Copies of system Board minutes must be sent to the Public Library Services Branch of Alberta Municipal Affairs. The signed minutes are the official version accepted in a court of law.

Minutes should be numbered to conform to the agenda. Committees should submit, if not minutes, at least written reports, as a record of their activity and actions. It’s probably a good idea to keep a separate running numbered and dated record of all motions passed.

Minutes should include:

  • Name of the Board or committee and kind of meeting (regular, special)
  • Date, time, and place of the meeting
  • Full names of presiding Chair, and those present, absent, or absent with regrets
  • Guests, if any
  • Minutes of previous meeting approved as circulated, amended, or corrected
  • Items discussed and reported on, including main points of discussion, and decisions
  • All motions, who made them, and whether they were carried, defeated, or tabled
  • Time and place of next meeting, if set
  • Time of adjournment
  • Name and position of person recording the minutes
  • Date of approval and signature of presiding Chair

Board and Staff Functions


Boards are responsible for the governance of the library service they provide, but not for the day-to-day operations. The Board sets directions, goals and objectives, bylaws, and policies, while the staff members administer library operations accordingly.

The Board is responsible for:

  • Identifying the community’s needs and developing a Plan of Service.
  • Setting policy.
  • Determining a budget and securing adequate funds to meet it.
  • Hiring, monitoring, and evaluating the senior staff person.
  • Developing long- and short-term goals, objectives, and plans.
  • Monitoring and evaluating the library service provided.
  • Promoting the library in the community.

The senior staff person has full responsibility for:

  • Interpreting Board directions and developing programs and services to meet community needs.
  • Making recommendations for policy changes based on staff and community feedback.
  • Purchasing equipment and materials within the operating budget.
  • Selecting and managing other personnel.
  • Implementing Board plans.
  • Evaluating program achievements.

Appointing the Senior Staff Person


One of the most important tasks the Board faces is choosing, monitoring, and evaluating the senior staff person. This individual will have more influence than any other over the tone and climate of library operations, and the quality of the programs and services offered.

Generally, the process includes:

  • Developing a selection process that meshes the Board’s needs with personnel policy, including job description, remuneration, and benefits.
  • Conducting a search for suitable candidates.
  • Making an offer of employment.
  • Providing orientation and training.
  • Establishing a plan for performance management and evaluation.

The senior staff person is responsible for hiring, training, monitoring, and evaluating all other staff, both paid and volunteer.

The Board and Senior Staff Person Relationship


The partnership between the Board and senior staff person must be based on mutual trust and respect. Channels of communication must remain open and easy in a spirit of free discussion and negotiation. The library’s vision, mission, and goals and objectives must remain uppermost.

The Board Chair or designate is responsible for monitoring the work of the senior staff person, presenting the directives of the Board in a manner that is accurate and fair.

The effectiveness of the partnership will influence how well the library runs, the happiness and productivity of other staff, and the Board’s relations with municipal officials and funding agencies. The senior staff person must be acknowledged by the Board and the public as the professional manager of the services the library provides.

The senior staff person is not a trustee, but should attend, but not required to, all Board meetings, and may attend committee meetings, conferences, and training events as appropriate. This is included in the job description, and is thus part of the paid responsibilities of the position.

A HR Performance Review template is available to trustees! Refer to the section titled “HR Performance Review” located within Appendix B: Further Resources.



Direct criticism of staff by Board members is never appropriate. Such feedback should come through Board or committee channels to be dealt with as part of the performance management process. Nor is it appropriate for the senior staff person to criticize the Board or its policies to the rest of the staff, to individual trustees, or to the public. Again, such feedback should go through channels established by the Board.

The line of authority goes from the Board to the senior staff position, through the Chair or designate, and from there to all other paid and volunteer staff.

Feedback from library patrons and staff comes back the same way. In the event of failure of the normal channels of communication established by the Board, another avenue must be made available. This applies both to the senior staff position and to all other staff.

Board volunteers have a fiduciary duty to provide oversight and good governance to the organizations that they serve.

Conversely, some Boards may be overwhelmed by the tasks they face, or unaware of their responsibilities. Boards should be alert to unsatisfactory situations some of which include the following:

  • Board does everything and does not allow staff to do what they should.
  • Board does nothing, offloading even Board work on staff.
  • Board micro-manages staff.
  • Board is managed and dominated by staff.
  • Board is dominated by one or two trustees who take on all work and authority.
  • Board abdicates all responsibility to one or two trustees.
  • Municipal council dominates Board function and decisions.
  • Board and municipal council are antagonistic.

Plan of Service


The Plan of Service is a strategic plan that allows a board to connect with its community and ensure library service aligns with local needs. All library boards in Alberta are required to regularly complete a Plan of Service. More than a legal requirement, a Plan of Service is a powerful tool that helps boards govern more effectively.


  • Helps maintain a focus of what’s most important in your community.
  • Helps prioritize activities and ensure funds are allocated efficiently and according to plan.
  • Helps keep board, management and staff on the same page working toward common goals established in the strategic plan.
  • Helps communicate to the public and stakeholders what the library offers.

All boards must have a current Plan of Service on file with Public Library Services Branch. PLSB tracks when plans will expire, notifying boards when a new Plan of Service needs to be implemented and submitted. The Libraries Regulation defines the requirements for the Plan of Service:

  • Boards must regularly complete a new plan – at least every 5 years for municipal and inter municipal boards; at least every 3 years for system library boards.
  • The plan must include a mission statement.
  • The plan must include goals and objectives.
  • The plan must be based on a needs assessment of the community served.
  • The plan must be reviewed by the board at least annually.

By creating an effective Plan of Service board have a guiding principal for governing the libraries within their communities and ensuring the needs of those communities are being met. A Plan of service is meant to be a living document that changes along with the communities it serves. Remember goals and objectives can be flexible and boards are meant to learn from those and modify them as necessary to continue excellent service to their communities.

Needs Assessment


A needs assessment is a critical step to creating an effective Plan of Service. Libraries Regulation requires that a boards Plan of Service be based on a needs assessment. A Needs assessment allows boards to understand their community and better guide library service and allocate resources. It is essential to ensure that a needs assessment addresses and reflects the whole community.

Needs assessment typically consists of two parts:

  • Community engagement – it is vital to talk to people to find out how the library can better serve them, there are multiple methods boards can utilize and boards are encouraged to employ multiple methods:
    • Surveys
    • Focus groups
    • Social Media engagement
    • Community discussion at events
  • Environmental Scan – looking at other sources of library and community information to better understand needs.
    • Community needs assessment work done by other organization, e.g. your municipality, volunteer associations, community service groups.
    • Community profiles, demographic data.
    • Library usage statistics (to better understand how your library is currently being used).
    • Trends in the broader library world.

Whatever methods a board choses be sure to engage users and not users. Make a concerted effort to reach underserved groups in the community (Indigenous people, individuals with disabilities, new Canadians, etc.) Even if you do not hear from particular groups, it does not mean they do not exist – it then becomes important to rely on other sources of information to fill in those gaps.

There is no right or wrong way to conduct a needs assessment – boards must find what works best for their community as well as their available time and resources. Reach out to fellow trustees in the province to find out how they did their Plan of Services. Collaboration is key and additional support and assistance is also available from Public Library Services Branch.

Responding to Community Needs: Developing your Plan of Service



Based on the results of the needs assessment, boards determine the service priorities (often called “service responses”) they would like to focus on over the course of their Plan of Service. These broadly define the types of programs and services a library will offer:

  • Examples include: Early literacy, career support and development, lifelong learning, etc.
  • Boards choose a limited number of priority areas, typically no more than 3 or 4.


Referencing the Needs Assessment goals and objectives must be created as part of your Plan of Service to develop the methods in which your board will put the service priorities into actions. Remember:

  • Goals typically describe the things the library will do and the benefit the community will receive as a result.
    • Objectives typically describe the way in which the library will measure its success in achieving those goals.
    • It is important that your library can easily review and measure its success at achieving the goals, so the board can easily determine what does and doesn’t work for the community being served.


Once your service priorities, goals and objectives have been identified you can start to bring your Plan together. By keeping these in mind your board can create a mission statement for the library over the course of the new Plan of Service. Now your board is ready to put all these parts together in your Plan of Service document:

  • There is no required format: it can be standard text document, a brochure, poster or something else. (contact other libraries and see what they are doing for ideas).
  • Once completed, a copy must be filed with Public Library Services Branch.
  • Your Plan of Service is a living document and can and should be adjusted as necessary.
  • Boards must review their Plan of Service at least annually but should ideally review more frequently.
  • Reviewing the Plan of Service regularly keeps it top of mind for board trustees and ensures the library is always on track to keep the needs of its community as the priority.

Developing Policy


Policies should be clear statements expressed in broad terms, with input from trustees, staff, and the community. The Board’s Vision, Mission, and goals and objectives or plan of service are the basis of all Board policies. The library manager should usually take the lead in developing board procedures. Other staff should implement those procedures. The board should only monitor and supervise the library manager, not other library staff.

Help is available from the Public Library Services Branch, Alberta Municipal Affairs, and from your regional library system, including advice and sample policies. Legislatively required policies and policy changes must be filed with the Branch. Boards are responsible for staying abreast of changes in library legislation.

The following is a direct quote from Section 7 of the Libraries Regulation stating which policies are required for library boards:

(1) Subject to section 36 of the Libraries Regulation Act, every board shall establish policies with respect to the following:

  • (a) confidentiality of user records, except where disclosure is required by law;
  • (b) orientation and continuing education of board members and staff, including expenses for attendance at library meetings, conference workshops and courses and for memberships in library associations;
  • (c) finance, including designation of expenses for which board members and staff will be reimbursed, the form and manner in which those expenses shall be claimed and the appointment of signing officers for the board.

(2) Every board that operates a library service point shall, in addition to establishing policies under subsection (1), establish policies with respect to the following:

  • (a) personnel, including job descriptions and performance appraisals for employees and volunteers, qualifications for staff positions, working hours, conditions of employment and a grievance procedure;
  • (b) selection, acquisition, purchase and disposition of library resources, including a policy respecting gifts and donations;
  • (c) resource sharing, including participation in a provincial resource sharing network and the conditions that apply to the acquisition of library resources and information from other sources, including inter-library loans and information in electronic databases;
  • (d) provision of library resources to persons unable to use conventional print resources, including provision in co-operation with community agencies;
  • (e) the terms and conditions under which library resources will be loaned to members of the library for use in a location other than the library;
  • (f) hours of service at each library service point;
  • (g) the terms and conditions for use of any areas of a building managed by the board that are not normally used for library purposes, including who may use those areas.

(3) A library system board shall also establish a policy with respect to the provision of municipal library services to any member municipality that does not have a municipal board and shall ensure that by-laws under section 3 and policies under subsections (1) and (2) apply to those library services.

Governance Functions

  1. Framework Policies (not required) clarifies the library’s purpose and identifies who it exists to serve and why. It includes:
    • Values and beliefs
    • Vision and mission
    • Strategic directions, goals and objectives, plan of service
  2. Board self-governance policies (not required) sets out how the Board goes about its business. It defines, in broad terms, the roles, responsibilities, and functions of the Board, trustees, committees, and staff, and includes:
    • Policy format and process (Policy on policy making)
    • Bylaws
    • Type of Board and Board structure
    • Rules of order and the “rules of the table” unique to this Board
    • Record keeping methodology
    • Job descriptions for trustees and Board positions
    • Terms of reference for committees (mandate statements)
    • Trustee orientation, training, and evaluation
    • Chair’s role
    • Trustee code of conduct (e.g. ALTA Code of Ethics)
    • Development and maintenance of a comprehensive Board Manual
  3. Operational Policies (not required) governance deals with specific areas of operation in a broad manner. It ensures uniform and consistent practice, prevents “spur-of-the- moment” decisions, and provides continuity. It is not specific procedures of day-to-day operations.
    1. Programming:
      • Needs assessment cycle to ensure program relevance
      • Program planning cycle, basis for the operational procedures developed by staff
      • Strategy to achieve mission and goals
      • Allocation of resources
      • Monitoring and evaluation of results
    2. Personnel (required, bot not all):
      • Relationship with and required skills, authority, role, responsibilities, and functions of the senior staff person
      • Hiring, evaluation, and firing of senior staff position
      • Conditions of employment, compensation, and benefits for senior staff position and all other staff
      • Policy for volunteer staff
      • Staff job descriptions
      • Safety
      • Adherence to Alberta Employment Standards and other applicable legislation
      • Whitecourt’s Personnel Policies: https:// library-personnel-policies/
    1. Finance (required, but not all):
      • Budget development and review, and financial reporting
      • Ensuring sufficient funds to meet the budget
      • Monitoring resource allocation, including replacement and capital needs
      • Fundraising
      • Contracts, leases, insurance
      • Reimbursement for expenses (trustees, staff, and volunteers)
    2. Advocacy Policies (not required): aims to create positive interrelationships between the library and Board and the community, government, and other organizations.
      • Community awareness and support of the library
      • Responsiveness to the community
      • Representing the library to all other organizations, business, and government
        Forging partnerships to enhance library service
      • Addressing issues
      • Monitoring legislation and interacting with elected officials

Securing Funds


The Board, is responsible for ensuring sufficient funds to meet the budget, and for allocating them wisely while working with the senior staff person. One of the major issues facing Boards is how to utilize tax-based funding alongside other forms of revenue, such as fundraising and private donations. Once funding policy is developed, the Board must consider

  • Justification of the need to fund long-range goals and annual objectives.
  • Changes and improvements recommended by the senior staff person.
  • A level of remuneration that will attract and keep people with the necessary skills.
  • Priorities of the municipal council(s), who will accept or reject the library’s request for funds at the annual budget presentation.
  • The moral and legal obligations surrounding public funds.
  • The annual grant application to the Public Library Services Branch, including the budget and financial review.
  • Administration of trust funds and/or donations in accordance with the wishes of the donors, to the maximum benefit of the library and the community.
  • Agreements and contracts with agencies or individuals who provide services, equipment, or materials to the library.
  • Alternative sources of funding.

The majority of public library funding comes from municipalities.

The remainder comes from the provincial government and other funding sources, such as lotteries, other grants, private foundations, corporate sponsors, other community agencies, fundraising activities, and individuals.

Proposal Checklist


The Political Process


Library trustees and the political process are inseparable. We represent the interests of patrons and supporters at the same time as we represent the library to the community.

Competition for municipal, provincial, and lottery funding is always fierce. Because we serve a public trust, we must be as accountable as any other publicly funded organization, both in how we govern the library and in how we most effectively benefit the community.

The Board must present a unified front, establishing a broad base for community need, with emphasis on how many people gain from current and expanded services.

Design your plans well, ensuring they are compatible with political goals. A sense of realism and a healthy sense of humour are valuable tools. Timing is crucial.

The first step is identifying the existing power structure, whether at the municipal, provincial, or federal level, and working through it, rather than against it. Instead of demanding political cooperation when you want something, remain in regular, year-round contact with your elected officials.

Political activity has the most impact when it is accompanied by the support of many citizens over a long period of time. This means letter writing campaigns and personal contact.

Most importantly, acknowledge support and show appreciation to those who have helped the library. Say “thank you.” Don’t write off those who did not support you – there is always a next time!

The Library Association of Alberta has an excellent resource, “Advocacy: Talk about libraries and influence the political process,” available at: Kit%202013%20update.pdf.