What is a Library Trustee, Anyway?

What an exciting time to be a part of Marvin Memorial Library!  My name is JC Elgin and I am one of the newly appointed Trustees of our community library.  I’m also an attorney who practices various areas of the law including non-profit governance.  While most people never even consider what a “Trustee” is, I spend my days thinking about how non-profit boards are set up and operate.

I thought I would just give a brief introduction to what your library Board of Trustees is and what we do.  Stick with me, I promise we won’t get too technical or legalistic.

It’s helpful to think of the library as a business, because, at the core of it, Marvin Memorial Library is a business.  A for profit business like Wal-Mart or McDonald’s has employees, executives, Board of Directors and shareholders – each “level” has its own responsibilities and duties, and answers to the next level up )executives answer to the board, the board answers to the shareholders).

Libraries in Ohio are set up similarly.  We have employees, executive staff (our Library Director and our Fiscal Offer) and a board.  We have shareholders too – all of you!  Our library is funded by tax dollars – your investment.  It’s our job as Trustees to ensure we are wisely utilizing your investment.  If we’re not, we need to answer to you, the taxpayer.

Our library is a “school district” library.  Ohio also has “county,” “township,” and “municipal” libraries.  There is also the State Library of Ohio and each county has a county law library.  As a “school district” library, our service area and tax basis is the Shelby City School District.  We work closely with the Shelby City Schools, who approve our annual budget and appoint trustees to serve.

Trustees are non-compensated and appointed for a seven year term.  Library Boards of Trustees are corporate bodies politic.  That is a fancy way of saying that we can sue and be sued, enter into contracts, buy and sell real estate, buy books, shelves, computers, and all sorts of things companies can do.

Trustees have powers and duties defined by statute.  In fact, we have only those powers that the Ohio Revised Code explicitly gives us.  We’re not allowed to make new rules – we have to play within the boundaries that have been set by the Ohio Legislature.

In addition to the statutory duties Trustees are charged with, we also owe fiduciary duties to the library.  These duties include a duty of care and a duty of loyalty.

Trustees must exercise good business judgement and use ordinary care and prudence in operating the library.  We must take action only in good faith and in the best interest of the library.  The standard of care is the same standard an ordinary person would use in a similar circumstance.  We must actually use the information available to us when we make decisions – and we must deliberate.  It would be a violation of our duty of care to just go along with the crowd.

Trustees also owe a duty of loyalty to the library.  No, this doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to use Mansfield/ Richland County Public Library!  Instead, it means that we must put the library’s interests ahead of our own in business dealings.  If someone approaches me with a great deal on computers for Marvin Memorial Library, for example, I have to pass that on to management; I’m not allowed to say “no but I’ll buy those for my law office!”

So with all of these duties, why would anyone be a library trustee?

That’s a personal question for each of the Trustees.  I know for me, this is one way that I can give back to my community.  I can put my years of training to use in a way that directly benefits Shelby.

The bottom line is simply this:  The Board of Trustees works for YOU, taxpayer and member of the Shelby Community.  If you have questions, comments, or complaints please feel free to reach out to us.

Warmest regards,

JC Elgin

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