Fact Sheet 10: The Role of the Friends Board
It is not uncommon for the role of the Friends and the role of the public library Trustees to become confused. What authority and responsibilities do the Friends have? What is the role of the Trustees? Should an individual serve on both boards? If either of these groups is unsure of the limits of their respective authorities, conflicts can, and often do, arise. Fact Sheets 10 and 11 outline the roles of the Friends Board and the role of the Trustees specifically indicating where their work and communication should overlap or complement each other.
Friends are citizens who value the service of libraries and volunteer to help them. Friends usually operate with a self-elected Board of directors representing the community.
- Friends may be future Trustees, and Trustees future Friends; however, there should be no overlapping boards (see below).
- Friends are kept informed of the library's plans, progress, and challenges by the library director.
- A Friends Board member should be appointed as a liaison to the library's Board of Trustees. This liaison should attend all Trustee meetings, be prepared to report Friends issues and activities to the Trustees, and report back to the Friends.
- Friends recognize that they do not perform a policy-making role for the library, but should feel that their opinions are valued by the Trustees.
- Friends support policies set by the library Board of Trustees..
- Friends serve as "connecting links" between the library and community, interpreting one to the other.
- Friends funds supplement the library's operating budget to provide materials and programs that enhance the library’s service. Friends funds should not replace money that is normally provided by the city or institution for library operations. Friends decide how to spend their money after conferring with the library director and library Board.
- Fundraising by the Friends is done with the knowledge of the Trustees and in coordination with the library director.
- Individually and collectively, Friends use their influence to assist the library in obtaining desired financial support from the community or institution by representing the library point of view to local government, academic leadership, legislators and the media
Should a member of the library Board also serve as a member of the Friends of the Library Board? The generally accepted wisdom is "no." There are a number of reasons for this:
- It can imbue a single member with more power and authority than his or her peers on each of the boards.
- There can be a perceived conflict if a member of the policy making Board is also in a decision making role on the Friends Board that helps fund the library's services.
- There can be a potential conflict of interest when a policy the library Board is proposing might be considered not in the best interest of the Friends.For example, deciding to give discarded library materials to an outsourced agency, or proposing the establishment of a foundation for fundraising.
Even if your Trustee Board and Friends Board are working in perfect harmony right now, no precedent should be set that will allow possible conflicts in the future. Though it is the case that a Trustee Board member may take a leadership role in creating a new Friends group and therefore have a decision making role in both for awhile; this should be considered a temporary necessity and the new Friends should elect officers (other than library Trustees) as soon as possible.
For more information see FOLUSA's Toolkit "Libraries and Friends Working Effectively Together" in the Friends Zone. In addition, see the chapter on "Organizational Effectiveness" in 101+ Great Ideas for Libraries and Friends available from FOLUSA.