‘Ask the Experts: Board of Trustees’ program at PLA Conference addresses strategies for problematic board members

At the recent Public Library Association Conference, held in Portland March 23-25, United for Libraries presented the program “Ask the Experts: Boards of Trustees”, which was well-attended by Trustees, library commissioners, and library staff.

The experts: Buzzy Nielsen, Program Manager for Library Support & Development Services at the State Library of Oregon, who has also worked with both an advisory board and a governing board as a library director. Deborah Doyle, a United for Libraries board member, who has worked in libraries, served on both staff and board of Friends of San Francisco Public Library, and currently chairs the Sonoma County Library commission, a governing body. Beth Nawalinski, United’s executive director, served a dual role, moderating the panel and providing expertise as well as pointers to United’s extensive resources.

The panelists tackled a topic on the minds of many library directors and boards: how to deal with a difficult board member. They each presented in-depth scenarios about a board member who was not working in tandem with their peers or was causing difficulties with staff or the community. Each situation provided opportunities to note the importance of library policies and Trustee training; panelists also offered some tips and best practices. Questions from attendees about the presented scenarios were addressed during a “lightning round” session. The conversation also broadened to cover other issues that arise with commissioners and boards.

All panelists agreed that while each situation is unique, certain strategies and techniques can and should be used to clear up misunderstandings about roles and responsibilities, and focus discussions on the mission and goals of the organization and the community rather than personalities or personal agendas in these difficult times. Trustees who seem difficult may eventually prove to be very strong voices for the library, but it may take careful listening, education, training, collaboration and communication — all good tools for a stronger organization that works well with and within its community.

—Deborah Doyle, Board Member at Large, United for Libraries

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