BCLTA Governance Workbook: Board and Trustee Development

Board and trustee development is a circular and ongoing process of succession planning, recruitment, learning, and assessment.

Succession and Recruitment

An effective board is made up of visionary, big-picture-thinking individuals who can contribute their life experiences skills, and time to the public library. For many boards, whether they be public sector, non-profit, or corporate, a succession plan that includes recruitment strategies, criteria, and a  transparent application process is foundational to board development.

As established by the Library Act, municipal-library boards, public-library-association boards, and regional-library boards all have different mechanisms for board recruitment and appointment.

Municipal-library-board trustees are recruited through the public library or the city-clerk office (applications are normally managed by the city-clerk) and are appointed by a motion in council.

Some municipal public library boards participate in the process at various points depending on established practice and their relationship with local government. There is a growing practice to have prospective-trustee information available on the public library’s website. This is helpful for recruitment and strengthens the board’s transparency and demonstrated accountability to the community and to funders.

In general, the information explains the municipal board appointment process, trustee roles and responsibilities and the time commitment.

The most effective board sections on public library websites also include current information about who is on the board, meeting agendas and minutes, board policy, vision / mission, any values statements, the strategic plan or framework and importantly an email for contacting the board chair.

The following is a sample of BC municipal library “about the board” pages:

A public library association (PLA) board trustee is elected to their terms of office at the annual general meeting. The public library association will have rules for the application process and the Library Act defines who is an eligible candidate. As well, the PLA board will include appointed representatives from a local government that provides assistance, such as funding, to the association.

The following is a sample of PLA website “about the board” pages:

A regional-library board consists of an appointed representative, who is an elected official, from each municipality and regional district that is a member of the regional library. A review of the Vancouver Island Regional Library’s board page provides insight to the board composition, structure, process, and responsibilities.

Recruitment Trends and Issues

Challenges to board recruitment and appointments across BC may include

  • the recruitment and appointment process being removed from current board or     public library needs
  • community demographics and pressures such as too few available people for community and volunteer work
  • historical and systemic barriers for developing a board reflective of the community
  • library supporters, who could be prospective trustees, not knowing about public library governance or the application process

All three types of boards across BC can mitigate these challenges by planning for board       composition and board development and how it impacts

  • board integrity in regards to reflecting and being inclusive of the diversity and needs of the community it acts on behalf of
  • board effectiveness for achieving its strategic plan and being mission focused
  • organizational sustainability in an environment of social, economic, and technology change

The following list of trends and issues affecting board succession planning and recruitment is just a start on our shared understanding. This list will evolve and expand we learn more.


Organizations worldwide are embracing policy, programs, and governance structures of reconciliation as they address historical legacies, such as those of civil war or colonial policies,  as well as problematic practices in policing, health care, and social work.

In Canada, the Canadian Federation of Library Associations, of which BCLTA is a member, has published the Truth and Reconciliation Report and Recommendations, which provides a framework for how libraries, archives, and institutions of memory should respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action.

Increasingly Canadian organizations, including public libraries, are being more purposeful about reconciliation and organizational learning and development and the need to act on the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. For BC public libraries this includes relationship building with local First Nations and Indigenous organizations; demonstrating meaningful acts of reconciliation through the library’s collections, programming, policies, hiring and staff management practices, and space design; and taking steps to decolonize governance.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Board-level strategies and operational actions are required for ensuring that the often underrepresented have equitable access to being represented to and reflected on the board. This requires purposeful policy, language, and strategic direction that recognizes   historical oppression and current discrimination of groups of people due  to, or any intersection of, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sexual identities, physical and cognitive abilities, or other outcomes of systemic discrimination and marginalization within society and organizations.

Accountability and Transparency

The more the community, including funders, partners, and staff, know about the work of the board, the more community members will understand the work of the board and will want to join the board.

A board that is engaged with its work and understands the importance of governing the public library will encourage others to know it better by:

  • posting information about the board to the website;
  • easy access to governance, including policies, meeting agendas, meeting minutes, the process for attending board meetings either as an observer or a formal delegation, and a board or board chair email;
  • having trustees use social media and other communication channels to champion the work of the board and the library;
  • having a purposeful outreach and engagement plan that reflects the values of the public library and connects trustees with elected officials, partners and potential partners, and different aspects of the community.

Board succession and recruitment is critical to the continuity of the organization. This can be challenging for some boards and addressing the above issues will strengthen the work of the board, improve its value to the organization and the community, ease recruitment challenges, and ensure continuity. A continuity, that will look and be different 5 and 10 years from now, but will ensure the unique role and value of the public library in the community.

Learning and Assessment

As part of the Wise Practices series, the BCLTA and the Association of BC Public Library Directors (ABCPLD) have developed the Trustee Orientation Checklist. This checklist may also serve as a board development tool to ensure that the entire board has a shared understanding of the vision, mission, strategic plan, and ongoing commitment to,  and  engagement with, the roles and responsibilities of the board. This checklist can also form the beginnings of a board assessment tool.

A board assessment tool should query the level to which the board

  • has an accurate and demonstrated understanding of its roles and responsibilities as established by the Library Act
  • has an accurate and demonstrated understanding of its roles and responsibilities within the regulatory framework and compliance hierarchy that it operates in as an employer
  • is meeting its fiduciary, legal, and financial roles and responsibilities
  • has open communications and a collaborative working relationship with the library director through the board chair
  • is establishing clear strategic direction
  • is providing oversight of the execution of the strategic direction
  • is championing the library through relationship building and advocacy
  • is being transparent and abiding by effective board process and procedures
  • is operating with a duty of care in all its board work

The BCLTA Board Assessment and Development Resource Guide provides a look into the  “why”, “how”, and “what” of board assessment and includes a sample of board assessment statements and questions, a board development plan template, and a resource section.

All trustees are responsible for working with the board chair for a positive and ongoing board development environment, which may look like any of the following:

  • a board development committee
  • a portion of every board meeting set aside for discussing issues of importance, such as reconciliation, governance knowledge, or board financial literacy
  • attending library sector and community learning events that expand an understanding of the role of the public library, governance practices, and community trends and goals.
  • an annual board retreat that includes strategic planning (or review) and presentations and/or discussions relevant to board needs
  • ongoing and annual assessment of board development and board needs

The following are indicators of effective board performance in board and trustee development:

  • The board has a sufficient range of expertise and experience to make it an effective governing body.
  • The board has an effective process to evaluate its work and to identify what may need to be strengthened in the composition of the board.
  • The board communicates to those involved in the process of nominating, appointing, or electing the trustees what experiences (including a diversity of lived experiences), community connections, and skills would strengthen board
  • The board provides new board members with a thorough orientation and on-boarding
  • The board has a plan and practice for ongoing trustee and board learning and development