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Magazine Feature

Information at Their Fingertips: New York Library Trustees Online

by Sara Dallas on December 16, 2013

In April 2012, nine New York State library systems joined together to create a unique online resource for public library trustees. The
New York Library Trustees Online (NYLTO) website provides trustees and library directors with easy access to the information and
resources they need to manage effective public libraries.

An effective public library has the collections, the staffing, the building, and the technology needed to provide quality ibrary services to its community. Library directors and staff do not create effective libraries in a vacuum. They must work collaboratively with their boards of trustees to identify the services and programs that community residents need and want and to obtain the resources required to provide those services. No library director can succeed without strong, positive board support. No library board can be successful without a qualified and engaged director. For the relationship between the library director and the library board to work, everyone must clearly understand the unique roles and responsibilities of trustees and the director.

The roles of the trustee are financial and legal.1 The library trustee is responsible for ensuring that the library’s resources are used to fulfill the library’s mission. The trustee must guarantee that financial resources are used both efficiently and effectively. The trustee also must ensure the library complies with all applicable laws. The role of the trustee is not running the day-to-day operation of the library; that is why they hire and evaluate the library director/manager. The board of trustees approves the long range plan, evaluates library services, approves library policies, approves the library budget, and makes sure the library is sustainable with the necessary funding stream to provide library services. The trustee
is the library’s best advocate and voice.

Public library trustees in New York are volunteers who come from a variety of backgrounds and occupations. While they are all interested in developing and maintaining excellent public libraries in their communities, few have received any formal training to be trustees. Much of what they know has been learned on the job. As a result, some trustees may not feel that they have the skills or the information they need to successfully address all of the duties previously listed. Even experienced trustees can feel overwhelmed when faced with rapidly evolving technologies, new formats, and changing user demands.

There are twenty-three public library systems in New York State. The staff of these library systems provides support and assistance to public library boards and managers. System staff meets regularly with library boards to discuss current issues and provide needed information. System staff has recognized for years that many trustees would benefit from increased support and training Managing change can be overwhelming for trustees, especially when they have limited funding and little contact with other trustees who are facing the same challenges.

Grant Opportunity

In early winter 2012, the New York State Library (NYSL) announced the 2012-13 Service Improvement Invitational Grant Program. Grant projects were required to be “linked to one or more of the four goals in New York’s LSTA [Library Services and Technology Act] Five-Year Plan and to one or more of the federal LSTA purposes and to the library system’s Five-Year Plan of Service.” The third goal in the state’s Five-Year Plan is “The New York State Library, library systems and libraries will deliver new and improved library programs that anticipate and meet New Yorkers’ constantly changing needs for library services,” and the second of the seven Federal LSTA purposes is “Provide training and professional development, including continuing education, to enhance the skills of the current library workforce and leadership, and advance the delivery of library and information services.”2

There has been an increasing emphasis on system collaboration in New York since the New York Board of Regents released Creating the Future: a 2020 Vision Plan for Library Service in New York State in 2010.3 In view of that, the staff of the Southern Adirondack Library System (SALS) reached out to the administrators of the other twenty-two public library systems in New York to see if they would be willing to combine grant resources to develop an online tool that would fulfill the invitational grant requirements, support the regents call for system collaboration, and provide a resource for public library trustees and library director/managers.

Eight public library systems agreed to combine their resources to create NYLTO. A ninth region joined the collaborative effort in January 2013. The invitational grant funding per project ranged from $11,400 to $17,400 depending upon the size of the public library system. The participating systems and the grant amount each was awarded are listed below. Together, the nine systems contributed $120,600 in LSTA grant monies to the NYLTO project.

  • Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System ($11,400)
  • Mid-York Library System ($11,400)
  • Monroe County Library System ($17,400)
  • North Country Library System ($11,400)
  • Onondaga County Public Library ($17,400)
  • Pioneer Library System ($11,400 )
  • Ramapo Catskill Library System ($17,400)
  • Southern Adirondack Library System ($11,400)
  • Southern Tier Library System ($11,400)

NYLTO Steering Committee

Although the participating systems were each required to submit a separate grant application to NYSL, staff from the systems worked together to create the structure and content of NYLTO. Early in 2012, representatives from the participating systems joined together to create the NYLTO Steering Committee. Committee members were responsible for writing the grant goals, objectives, activities, and outcomes that would be included in each system’s grant application. Through meetings and online communications, committee members agreed that an online resource for trustees needed to contain tips, tools, and resources that would be easy for the target public library trustees to access and use. The committee also decided that an online site with 24/7 access was needed so that people could connect to the site either from home or work. The information on the site needed to be adaptable and appropriate for library communities with differing budgets, staff size, resources, sophistication, and locations.
Committee members worked closely with library experts June Garcia and Sandra Nelson and their firm, E-Learn Libraries, to develop NYLTO. E-Learn Libraries has created successful library-specific online learning and sharing sites for a variety of clients using the open-source learning management system Moodle. Committee members reviewed those sites and determined that NYLTO would be developed using the Moodle platform.

Committee members agreed that they wanted the NYLTO site to have several areas of focus. First, they wanted the participating trustees to have a place to ask questions and share ideas. Next they wanted the site to provide “one stop shopping” for trustees who needed information on a variety of topics. Finally, they wanted the site to include an online training component with interactive tools designed to improve trustee skills in a key area. Several potential skill areas were explored and in the end committee members decided to focus on helping trustees learn to develop more effective library policies.

The individual system grant applications were due on March 7, 2012. All applications were approved and the grant year ran from April 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013. As a result, the system staff had one year to develop the site, add the content, and roll the site out to the libraries. The Southern Adirondack Library System (SALS) director and board agreed that SALS could serve as the project administrator. The other systems entered into Intergovernmental Agreements with SALS that allowed SALS staff to manage all of the grant resources. Steering committee members continued to be responsible for providing direction on the content and design of NYLTO.

NYLTO Site

Before work could begin on the NYLTO site, decisions had to be made about the URL, the hosting, and the branding for the site. SALS purchased the URL www.nylto.com. The Ramapo Catskill Library System director agreed to install Moodle on the system server and to have his information technology staff members serve as the Moodle administrators. Libby Post, president of Communication Services, agreed to create the logo as a pro-bono service. Communication Services is a full-service marketing and communications firm, and Post has worked extensively with libraries and library systems throughout New York State.

While the NYLTO site setup was occurring, the steering committee members had to decide how to manage the initial enrollment on the site. The members knew that it was very important to involve library directors in the NYLTO site from the beginning. The whole point of NYLTO is to strengthen library boards and the relationship between trustees and the library director. Therefore, all directors in the participating systems were automatically enrolled in the site. The more challenging question was how to enroll trustees and which trustees should be enrolled. This issue was complicated by the decision to automatically email any messages in the NYLTO forums to all enrolled trustees. Committee members identified several enrollment options:

  • Enroll every trustee in the system
  • Provide a single enrollment for each board in the system
  • Let the library director in each library decide who should be enrolled
  • Let the individual trustees decide if they want to enroll

Ultimately, the Steering Committee decided that each system could make this decision based on what was best for the libraries and trustees in that system. This was the first of a number of decisions that underscore the flexibility of the NYLTO site. NYLTO provides a wide variety of content. The staff in each of the nine participating systems chose to highlight and use different parts of that content depending on the unique needs of their member libraries.

Once the Moodle site was up and ready and enrollment decisions had been made, the actual design began. Garcia and Nelson worked with steering committee members to identify the initial content that would be available when site went live on September 3, 2012, and the content that would be added throughout the grant year.

NYLTO Content

When the site opened it included seven sections:

  1. Welcome to NYLTO: First Steps—Because the project was open to librarians and trustees in systems throughout the state, the first challenge was to make sure everyone could access the site. One of NYLTO’s strengths is that it is accessible to people with all levels of computer expertise, from the reluctant to pro. Trustees who did not have Internet access in their homes were encouraged to log into the site from their local libraries. Once the trustees were logged in, the first thing they saw was the “Welcome to NYLTO” section. In this section, they were encouraged to do a “Tech Check” to insure that they were able to open a Word document, PDF document, and listen to an audio file. Navigation of the site was equally important. The section also introduced trustees to the concept of “breadcrumbs” and how to always get back to the homepage. System staff worked closely with their member library staff and trustees to make sure they were able to access the site and find the information they needed to use the site.
  2. Take Ten Minutes: Tips and Tools for Busy Trustees—This section was designed with busy trustees in mind. It includes topics on trustee responsibilities, tools for new trustees, meeting basics, links to all of the public libraries in New York State, and library acronyms. Each topic can be read, viewed, or completed in less than ten minutes.
  3. Share Your Experiences: Exchange Ideas and Get Suggestions—This is an interactive, moderated discussion group. There have been lively discussions among the library trustees about issues as diverse as board organization, attracting new trustees, conflicts of interest, library insurance, programming, fundraising, and director’s searches. Without NYLTO, these trustees would not have had the opportunity to work with each other in order to solve their local issues. This has been one of the most successful parts of the NYTLO project.
  4. For Your Information: New York Public Library Trustee Resources—This section contains links to longer and in depth resources including the Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State,4 New York State library laws and regulations, managing change, trustee associations, and the Board of Regents’ document Creating the Future: A 2020 Vision and Plan for Library Service in New York State.5 The section also addresses advocacy, another important role of the library trustee. NYLTO has links to the Library Trustees Association of New York State, the New York Library Association, and the American Library Association. NYTLO makes it clear that all public library trustees, even those from small libraries in rural communities, can participate with others who care about libraries in state or national library advocacy networks.
  5. Library Policy ABC’s: Everything You Need to Know about Developing Library Policies—Currently, the most substantial part of the NYLTO site centers on library policies. Policy development is an important board function. New York State Public and Association Libraries and Public Library Standards require boards to have “board-approved written policies for the operation of the library.” This section introduces trustees and directors to the policy-related terms and concepts from Creating Policies for Results: From Chaos to Clarity6 and set the stage for a series of sections on specific policies.
  6. Spotlight On [Selected Policy]—Through NYLTO, library boards get the information and support they need to develop and review policies for eventual approval.Steering Committee members selected the first five policies to be highlighted as (1) meeting rooms,(2) privacy/confidentiality of library records, (3) unattended children,(4) customer behavior, and (5) reconsideration of library materials. One of these policies was introduced as a “spotlight policy” each month between September 2012 and February 2013 (no policy was introduced in December). Each spotlight policy includes a template from Creating Policies for Results. The templates list the questions to consider when evaluating, developing, or revising the policy statement and regulations relating to a specific issue. Staff from each system assisted directors and trustees from libraries in their system to use the templates to review existing policies or develop new policies in the spotlight area. As a direct result of this project, twenty-seven libraries reviewed and revised policies or developed new policies.
  7. System Staff Resources—This section is only open to system staff. It includes a forum for system staff to share suggestions for helping directors and trustees to take full advantage of NYTLO resources and detailed instructions for helping trustees use the Moodle site.

Content was added to the site and links were updated throughout the grant year. For example, information on tax cap audits was added to the For Your Information section in December 2012 when auditors began visiting libraries, fire districts, and town governments to review tax cap compliance. In addition three new sections were added.

  1. Hiring and Evaluating Your Library Director—This section includes links to resources to help library trustees hire a qualified library director/manager and evaluating his/her performance. Trustees will find information on the search process, job descriptions, proper interview questions, and reaching consensus on who to hire. There are also guidelines to help the board evaluate the director and sample evaluation forms.
  2. Library Director Resources—This section is only open to library directors and system staff. It includes a forum for library directors to discuss trustee issues, tools to use when providing new trustee orientations, and links to information on board/director relations and working with Friends of the Library groups.
  3. Additional Library Policy Templates—Creating Policies for Results includes thirty-six policy templates. Five of the templates are available in the Spotlight On section. A sixth template is available in the Library Policy ABCs section. The remaining thirty policy templates are available in this section. They include policies on governance, customer services, circulation services, information services, and group services.

Effectiveness

There are currently more than seven hundred people enrolled in the NYLTO site. System staff report that 40 percent of their member libraries participated in the project. At least twenty-seven public libraries wrote or reviewed policies in one or more of the Spotlight policy topic areas. The forums were active and provided a strong support network for participating trustees and directors. One hundred ninety-five unique users made 1,763 posts in the NYLTO forums.

The grant outcomes and indicators that SALS included in the system’s final grant report illustrate the project’s impact in one system.

Outcome: Participating trustees indicated on a survey that they have a better understanding of how to write an effective policy.

  • Indicator: 100 percent (21) trustees reported that they understand how to write an effective policy.
  • Indicator: 100 percent (42) (trustees and library managers) reported that they understood the importance of well-written policies.
  • Indicator: 100 percent (42) reported that they now had the tools, knowledge, or resources necessary to review, write, or approve library policies.

Outcome: Library system staff will indicate on a survey that they improved their knowledge of using the e-learning tool and were able to assist trustees from their member libraries.

  • Indicator: 100 percent (3) library system staff were able to assist trustees in NYLTO.

Outcome: Participating member library trustees will have reviewed, evaluated, and approved an effective library policy.

  • Indicator: 50 percent (10) libraries reviewed, evaluated, or approved at least one library policy.

Outcome: Participating library managers will find the director’s toolkit to be useful when working with trustees.

  • Indicator: 100 percent (21) library managers reported that they found the tool kit useful when working with trustees.

Outcome: SALS member library trustees participated in this project.

  • Indicator: 41 percent (87) trustees participated in the NYLTO.
  • Indicator: 100 percent (42) of the survey respondents reported that they will continue to use the site after the grant ends.
  • Indicator: 69.4 percent (25) people report that they use the site weekly or monthly.

Public library trustees who are using the site are finding NYLTO to be an invaluable resource. Trustees report that they appreciate and value the ability to read conversations about library issues faced by library trustees across the state. One trustee from a rural library wrote: “The forum digest is helpful and interesting because it addresses day-to-day problems/questions. Answers or suggestions are usually provided by someone who has experienced the same issue.” Another trustee said that NYLTO “created an awareness for myself that some policies should be written before you need them. We have tended to ignore them in the past and deal with each individual event as it occurred.”

Trustees also value the fact that all of the information they need to be effective is available on a single site. One board president wrote, “There are so many links to pages that took me ages to find in the past—so there’s a great deal of information at our fingertips. I’m excited about the policy spotlight section. Our board is in a discussion now to create a schedule to review current policies and this is great motivation. And I know that I will find the discussion forum very helpful. I expressed concern about not having a link with other boards to discuss issues that come up that
we need help dealing with. The general discussion forum is the answer.” A public library system director, not currently participating in NYLTO, said that he looked forward to his system’s involvement within the year. He stated that “NYLTO was the tool trustees and library managers needed
to make good and informed decisions. Good decisions mean quality library services in each community.”

What’s Next?

NYLTO will continue and grow. The focus of year two is to enroll more trustees and directors, and to make sure the content continues to be of value to library trustees and directors. There will be more orientation sessions with public library trustees and staff in the participating systems to
highlight the current content. The members of the steering committee are now considering adding additional content to the site in the areas of library advocacy, library funding, and library management. It is also anticipated that additional public library systems will make NYLTO available
to their members. The members of the Public Library Systems Directors Organization (PLSDO) have agreed to participate in NYLTO.

NYLTO is an example of statewide library collaboration at its best. The project provides systems with the opportunity to work collaboratively to pool their resources to develop a needed resource. NYLTO gives system staff an opportunity to learn more about policy writing and evaluation. NYLTO takes advantage of statewide collective strengths to share experiences, relationships, perspectives, and skills. Most importantly, NYLTO allows systems to highlight and share the highest quality of library services in each of our member library communities in a simple and cost effective manner. The ultimate goal is to ensure that all trustees and directors in the State of New York can benefit from participating in NYLTO.

REFERENCES

  1. New York Board of Regents, Statement on the Governance Role of a Trustee or Board Member, May 2010, accessed Sept. 9, 2013.
  2. New York State Library, 2012-13 Service Improvement Invitational Grant Program.
  3. New York Board of Regents, Creating the Future: a 2020 Vision Plan for Library Service in New York State, Oct. 2011, accessed Sept. 9, 2013.
  4. Jerry Nichols, Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State (Bellport, New York: Suffolk Cooperative Library System, 2010), accessed Sept. 9, 2013.
  5. New York Board of Regents, Creating the Future.
  6. Sandra Nelson and June Garcia, Creating Policies for Results: From Chaos to Clarity (Chicago: ALA Editions, 2003).


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