BCLTA Discussion Starter: Financial Oversight

If you have questions about the library’s financial policies and procedures, budget, or anything to do with your role and duty of care in providing financial direction and oversight, it is your fiduciary responsibility to ask those questions.

Ask questions that are open, curious, helpful, and build trust in and with the governance team.

– “Board members are ambassadors. Every question
should be asked in the tone and spirit of someone who
is deeply committed to the mission. And the CEO /
senior staff should feel that.

– A presentation with no substantive questions is not a
good use of time. For either the presenter or the board.

– A CEO should welcome these questions. The more a
board member knows, the more invested … [they are].
The more skin … [they have] in the game, the more …
[they] will jump through hoops for the organization you
all care so deeply about.”

Joan Garry Consulting: Because Nonprofits are
10 Good Questions Board Members Should Ask

Board Discussion

Trustees bring a diversity of experiences, skills, knowledge, and questions to public library board work. Board policies and practices vary across the province and BCLTA is focused on common issues of common concern for board development. Your board chair, your library director, and BCLTA all have a role in helping you find further resources specific to your needs. The BC Public Libraries Branch staff are also available for your questions, particularly those regarding the Library Act.

Your board financial oversight discussions might cover a wide range of topics such as:

  • Board roles and responsibilities and library director roles and responsibilities
  • Supporting the library director in their day-to-day management of the library’s finances
  • Understanding fiducial responsibility and duty of care in the context of public library governance
  • The role and expectations of the Public Libraries Branch, Ministry of Municipal Affairs as a funder
  • How to understand financial reports and how to provide financial oversight
  • The risks of micro-managing the library’s finances and the risks of rubber-stamping the library’s financial reports
  • The sources of the library’s revenue and the importance of understanding the expectations of funders such as granting agencies, government and those the public library may have service agreements with such as local First Nations
  • Public library trends and practices such as those regarding the Friends of the Library, library foundations, and the charging of fees and fines
  • The role of the Friends of the Library and Foundations in fund development and their relationship to the board
  • The relationship between strategic priorities and the budget
  • The high-level breakdown of the annual operational budget
    • Note that the budget line for staffing is the bulk of the public library operating budget as public libraries are about providing service
    • Note how the budget compares to previous annual budgets and informs the next year’s annual budget
    • Note the relationship between revenue and expenses
  • Any capital funding initiatives such as building or renovation projects


BC Public Library Governance: A Quick Guide for Library Trustees
  • BCLTA, 2020 (to be updated in early 2022)
  • Fiduciary responsibility and duty of care defined
Library Finances
  • May 12, 2018, presentation by Susan Koch (Richmond Public Library Board Chair)
  • Highlights the difference between governance oversight and operational management of the budget Breakdowns the detail of an operating budget
  • Updated library finances presentation is being planned for 2022

Finance Policies
  • North Vancouver District Public Library, 2017
  • Detailed finance polices that clearly outline the role and responsibilities of the board

Please note!
The following resources were not developed for BC public library governance. Most are from the nonprofit sector and they contain some language and recommended “best practices” that may or may not be applicable to your BC public library board work. They are included in this Discussion Starter because used wisely they will support your board’s discussions regarding role clarity, fiduciary responsibility, and the important role of board oversight of your library’s finances.

Please work with your board chair and library director to better understand the needs of your public library and how your board provides financial direction and oversight.

A Guide to Financial Statements for Not-for-Profit Organizations (NFPs): Questions for Directors
  • From the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (updated annually)
  • While this booklet is intended for the non-profit sector, the plain language explanations for various financial reports are applicable to public library governance
  • The section on questions to ask about financial reports is useful for building a shared understanding with the library director regarding governance and operational roles and responsibilities

What Is Oversight and How Does it Relate to Governance?
  • Canadian Audit & Accountability Foundation (2021)
  • Useful definition of “oversight” that will help clarify the financial role and responsibilities of the board
Governance and Financial Management
  • E. Grant MacDonald, Governing Good, 2016
  • Helpful read for discussing micro-managing and rubber-stamping

© 2022 British Columbia Library Trustees Association. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License.