Are Your Trustee-Worthy? Ethics for Trustees

This afternoon, I’m upstairs for our annual Trustee Training.  This year the topic is Ethics…the good, the bad and the gray middle ground where most of us spend our time.  (Food: Beemer’s BBQ and Teri made strawberry tart dessert things that are To. Die. For.)

Royce Kitts, KLA 2nd VP and Tongie Public Library Director, gave a short Kansas Library Association chat about ‘bringing back relevance to the institutional membership’ by again tying that membership to the Trustee’s membership.  The KLA Conference in early April 2011 is also going to have a Trustee’s Day (at a cut rate).

Brenda also plugged Tech Day and John Blyberg on August 6 in Topeka.  We also get to have Joan Fry William as keynote for Fall Assembly – I’m looking forward to that one!  On Saturday, November 13 we planned a Brunch Workshop for Trustees on Hiring a Library Director with Dan and Jobeth Bradbury (both of whom I’ve worked for and Jobeth used to work here at NEKLS).

Gina Millsap, director of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, will be the featured speaker at this year’s NEKLS trustee workshops. The topic is ethics for trustees, featuring a discussion of various ethical situations your library board may face. Learn from the experiences of other libraries and leave feeling prepared to respond to problems and take action in a fair and thoughtful way. Sessions will be highly interactive, so bring your questions and come prepared for a lively discussion.

Enter Gina – (SlideShare of her presentation will be at later)

  • Being a trustee relies on personal honor and integrity and operating in an open and honest manner
  • Gina has worked with Boards, served on Boards and presented on this topic before
  • Begin to expand your network of colleagues so you know who to call when you need help
  • Topeka has a Library Governance Board, the Friends of the Library Board and the Library Foundation Board – made up with over 30 ‘citizen volunteers’
  • People come to Boards with different experiences, expectations and perspectives, so coming to consensus can be difficult
  • A few answers from our group to “Why I became a trustee?” ::
    ‘I was asked and said YES,’ ‘I was a volunteer,’ ‘As a former library worker, I thought I had something to contribute,’ and ‘I raised my daughter in the library.’   Other answers, ‘Interested in the future of the library,’ ‘enjoy being a community volunteer,’ ‘enjoy working with the other people on the Board,’ ‘see Library as a community center and can take over arts programming,’ ‘greater need for technical support and training with fewer resources,’ and ‘important to read and have access to books.’
  • Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.” – Potter Stewart, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
  • Adlai E. Stevenson says “Public confidence in the integrity of the Government is indispensable to faith in democracy; and when we lose faith in the system, we have lost faith in everything we fight and spend for…”
  • Trustee Job Description :: Advocate, Plan, Monitor, Set Policies and Hire and Evaluate the Director
  • State laws address how non-profit boards should behave, which can guide Library boards.
  • Basic duties:
    Care (informed, act in good faith, preparation, ensure compliance with laws),
    Loyalty (power in interest of the organization, disclose conflicts of interest, maintain confidentiality) and
    Obedience (comply with laws, adhere to policies, remain guardians of the organization’s mission)
  • If you don’t know your library’s mission statement, you don’t have one!
  • Topeka’s mission fits on a pencil and Gina recited it: “Your Place. Stories you want, information you need, connections you seek.”
  • Ethical Board – has a Code of Ethics, reviews it, reviews decisions and behavior of members, and takes the appropriate action if a trustee behaves unethically (it’s not a flu shot, it has to be how work is conducted)
  • Trustee Ethics Checklist
    • Listen to each other, respect opinions especially during difficult discussions, support decisions once they are made, respect the Board’s authority as a Board, speak with one voice, stay informed, participate actively and be prepared for meetings, communicate issues that could have a negative effect on the library, tell the library story (in an elevator speech), listen to and refer complaints, don’t micromanage (ensure library is well-managed without managing it themselves), hire the best director (don’t settle), represent the whole community, be good fiscal stewards, learn and grow, avoid conflict of interest (and declare them and recuse yourself to avoid appearances of conflict), don’t expect special treatment, uphold confidentiality, and respect the spirit and intent of the Open Meetings law.
  • Board has ONE employee, the Library Director.  The Board approves the Budget and the Library Director approves expenditures within that budget.
  • Attend Library events and programs, not just Board meetings.  See how staff interacts with the community and gauge effectiveness of the Library by being a customer.
  • Rules Don’t Ensure Ethical Behavior – Just look at Enron…
  • Failure to Engage – How do you combat this and get Board members to engage?
    • Have attendance policies in the By-Laws
    • Turn in the attendance record to the Mayor at the end of the year
    • Peer pressure — have other members call each other and create a ‘culture’ that fosters engagement
    • Board orientation, so they come to meetings prepared to engage
    • Communicate Expectations – time commitment, duties, roles, work involved
    • Educate the appointing authorities – Mayor, County commissions, etc.
    • City Boards can suggest that a member be removed, but they don’t have authority to remove a Trustee (only the County Attorney can do that, but the person can resign)
    • (TSCPL asked for legal opinion and shared that with NEKLS (and everyone here) and how does this ruling effect District Libraries?)
    • Planning retreat helped focus the Board
    • Private discussion with the Chair AND yearly discussions with the Director one-on-one
    • Members participate by holding Office or being on a committee
    • Talk to the Person :: Have Chair orient new trustees :: By Laws
  • City Council Steps In – “Whatever you say and do at the Board meeting Will appear on the 5 pm news…”
  • Child Projection or Censorship? Jessamine County Public Library –
    • Graphic Novel removed b/c two employees decided it was inappropriate.
    • Both employees were fired for gross violation of library policies and attempted to appeal to Library Board, but the Board declined the request because the policy gave the Director the final authority – there was no appeal procedure in the policies.
    • You will not get in trouble by following your policy but you will always get in trouble if you don’t.
    • ALA Code of Ethics
    • Regularly review your policies to make sure they are still appropriate and timely
  • It’s All in the Family – Cedar Rapids, Iowa
    • “Library Board Member Says She Had Conflict of Interest”  Iowa floods devastated the main library, Board was looking for property to purchase, Library Board member worked as a consultant for a company that owned one of the 3 properties and she voted to purchase that property – the appearance was of collusion.  Should have recused herself from the vote.
  • Questions for the Board – a Discussion Guide
    • Why should someone serve on a board?
    • Why should someone not serve on a board?
      (Bone to pick, ego, personal or religious beliefs are in conflict with the Library’s policies, non-library user)
    • If a trustee behaves unethically, what action may or should the board take?
      (Talk about it, even if it means conflict!  Does it need to take place in open meeting or Exec session? Involve an attorney, then it’s protected by attorney-client privilege.)
    • Do I understand and support all of the library’s policies (not just the ones I agree with)?
    • What if my personal/social/religious beliefs are in conflict with the library’s mission and policy?

Thank you Gina – this was a great Trustee Training.  Awesome discussion, wonderful questions, lots of food for thought and kudos to Brenda for putting this together.

Trustee-worthiness Quiz Answers

Here’s the Quiz from, with answers in Bold:

  1. Which U.S. Supreme Court Justice said, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”?  Potter Stewart
  2. Name three items on a Trustee’s Job Description.  The first one is Advocate. Plan, Monitor, Set Policies and Hire and Evaluate the Director
  3. Of these three duties — Care, Loyalty and Obedience — which means a Trustee exercises their power in the best interest of the Library, discloses conflicts of interest, and maintains confidentiality? Loyalty
  4. True or False, Gina said “If you don’t know your Library’s mission, you don’t really have one.” True
    1. Extra credit, Topeka’s Mission Statement fits on a pencil, what is it?
      “Your Place. Stories you want, information you need, connections you seek.”
    2. For more about Mission Statements, listen to this great ‘George and Joan, Thinking Out Load’ podcast from Infoblog.
  5. True or False, an ethical Board does not have a Code of Ethics, reviews it, reviews decisions and behavior of its members, and takes appropriate action if a trustee behaves unethically. False, an ethical Board DOES have a Code of Ethics.
  6. How many items were on Gina’s Trustee Ethics Checklist? 19
  7. How many employees does the Board have? One, the Library Director
  8. Who should orient new Board Trustees, the Library Director or the Board Chair?  Board Chair
  9. Finish this statement, “You will not get in trouble by following your policy but you will a l w a y s get in trouble if you d o nt.”
  10. What are three of the six “Questions You Should Ask Yourself” to determine if you are Trustee-Worthy?  Hint, they’re covered on this Discussion Guide.
    1. Why should someone serve on a board?
    2. Why should someone not serve on a board?
    3. What if my personal/social/religious beliefs are in conflict with my library’s mission and policy?
    4. Do I know my library’s mission?
    5. Do I understand and support all of the library’s policies (not just the ones I agree with)?
    6. If a trustee behaves unethically, what action may or should the board take?

Everyday Ethics with Pat Wagner

Everyday Ethics for Libraries

This series of programs will explore how library professional ethics, as presented in the Library Bill of Rights, along with intellectual freedom concerns and privacy, impact library operations, collection development, policies, planning and customer service.

[Above from WebJunction Kansas]
Pat Wagner is appearing on ELMeR across the state this morning to talk with us about Everyday Ethics in libraries (Podcasts will be posted soon with the content from Pat’s ELMeR session).
Handouts – Ethics Cheat Sheet | Four Library Ethical Standards | Exercise Summary

Intro remarks:

  • A credible process will win more support – earn more trust and respect if you make thoughtful decisions.
  • “When you do Ethics right, God gives you a good night’s sleep.”

Polling groups, so we cover all subjects of interest:

  • While humans want concrete, absolute answers that is not the norm.  Process helps when dealing with concrete thinkers
  • Giving equal access in small communities – fighting prejudice and small-town bias.  Regardless of gossip and public discussion, emotional maturity requires that we be good stewards of public funds and provide equal access to library materials, meeting rooms, etc.
  • Strong conflicting opinions.  Having civil conversations – dialogues are conversations, not battles to win or lose (says Pat)
  • Focus on the bigger picture – “I support a marketplace of ideas.” – “regardless of how I feel personally, we have to live together tomorrow.” – “humans make mistakes. humans disagree. humans misunderstand.” Strong people with their own lives (full vessels) are bullet proof.  If we’re strong, happy and healthy – it means we can be unaffected by other people’s mistakes.  Minimize the impact of conflict and negative interactions.
  • Someone comes in who is ‘different’ – comes back later appearing different (from dirty to clean) – How we respond to people.  Local governments are a sacred trust. “Safety for the stranger.”  Travel, safety, immigration – Sheriff and coroners office were first 2 offices in early England to ensure safety of strangers.  Business people – England had courts that treated them fairly (in theory).  Wealth flowed in with these people, these strangers.  Racism v. xenophobia in rural America.
  • Fiscal ethics and business practices – Best thing the Board can do, is find a public-sector accounting firm in a different town to set up standards for how to do accounting at the library.  (I second this. Lowenthal is good.)
  • Difference between professional v. ethical – “both made up words.”  Look up general semantic theory and specificity.  What does professionalism look and sound like and how does it describe the behavior of people? What does ethical look, sound and behave like?  Stay home if you can’t put in a competent day’s work…and the person working next to you for 7 years doesn’t know you didn’t like them, and neither does your best friend.  “Take the drama out.”
  • Input from ‘strangers’ – Manners – if they’re the same towards everyone, you have fewer problems.  Governance – what is it?  It’s not combative or full of ’emotional blackmail’ or ‘bullying’ – it’s education.  Boards and community leaders and staff work together to tolerate and welcomes diversity (Birmingham, AL) – community pledge about how citizens treat people.
  • Pat started with us – example of the process of letting everyone speak, gather information, have a dialogue.


  1. What is Ethics?
    Study of right and wrong, the study of moral standards.”  More than faith, emotion, common sense – it’s law, accounting, language, facts, the brain – study: Not Reactive.  We take questions and complaints seriously – do research first because we are innocent until proven guilty.
    How often is the statute or law the end of the argument?
  2. What is hard about ethics?
    Ethics is more than how I feel about something – goes against ‘human nature’ (our inner 2 year old) – We have to be the Adult!  Ethical systems conflict with each other (standard of privacy v. transparency)
  3. What is hard about library ethics?
    At the time of the writing of the Bill of Rights, there were not public schools or libraries.  Tax supported libraries means pooling the money, so someones value system will be violated. Founders didn’t anticipate that development.  WWFT (What would Founders think?)

Ethic Basics

  • Rule of Law:
    We will be a nation governed by contracts, not personalities.
    Don’t enforce rules that aren’t written down.  No invisible rules or ‘village rules.’  Inventing rules is a violation of civil rights.  What does the contract say?  No special privilege for the king, religion, or a superior caste. Fair Treatment.  Law is Accessible and Ordinary – an 11 year old can understand it!  Law is rational and reasonable – the common sense test (from Ethics Cheat Sheet linked above).  Run your rules by a 3rd party because we can all be blind sided.

Ethical Standards

  • Transparencywritten rules for users, staff, Director and Board.  Train ALL on the rules and Duties | Open meeting laws followed in spirit (don’t hide or make it difficult for people to attend ‘can’t we get away with…’) | Timely communication – if a group of people have an ‘impactful’ meeting, then everyone should get the same info from that meeting within 24 hours | Everyone has access to the same services (no secret services, like secret Holds for more holds for old timers)  Services for people we know and like v. services for people we don’t know and don’t like.
  • Equal Treatment – Everyone has access to same services | No special class of library users | No insiders regarding contracts | No special privileges for staff or board – My question, so are FOL/Special patrons unethical?  Donated services can be unethical because it leads to insiders.
  • Privacy – NO discussion of individual library users’ reading – it’s none of your business what they read, how they live (think of how you would feel if lawyers were talking about your case in the lobby, or the banker talking about your finances, or doctor’s talking about your health?)  Circ desk IS NOT your living room (where you shouldn’t be talking either).  Working at a library is not just another job. | No sharing of records without court orders | Refrain from comments on usage | No discussions of personnel issues (because you probably don’t know the whole story)
  • Access of Information for all – Library is safe for people with disabilities (even invisible ones) | well-lit and clean | Outreach initiatives to EVERYBODY (immigrants, literacy, ESL) | computer classes – 21st century and computers are how people reach the world

Difficult people v. ethical issues:  Pat says, “You’re being paid to put up with annoying people by working in the library.” 😉  Complainers shouldn’t be demonized…and we need to remember that we are always being judged by others.  Do we remain courteous in difficult situations or do we ‘poison the well’ by ridiculing others or demonizing people?

The Traits of “Extremists”
Taken from Nazis, Communists, Klansmen, and Others on the Fringe: Political Extremism in America by John George and Laird Wilcox (978-0879756802) I can send this if anyone wants it.  We have permission from Mr. Wilcox to distribute these traits.

And, we ran out of time…

Visit WebJunction for the Schedule of Events for follow-up desktop sessions organized by the other Systems…and a wrap-up session in June with Pat again.  I hope the Discussion Tab at WJ is used to answer these questions:

  • What are examples of transparency issues in libraries?
  • What are examples of fair treatment issues in libraries?
  • What are examples of privacy issues in libraries?
  • What are examples of access to information issues in libraries?
  • How do ethical concerns collide and contradict each other?
  • What is an Ethics Audit?
  • What is an Extremist?
  • What extremist traits do we need to watch for in ourselves?
  • What is a practical action you could take from today?