BCLTA Governance Workbook: Roles and Responsibilities

Roles and Responsibilities

As noted in the previous section, there are different types of public libraries in BC and this makes a difference to how trustees come to be on a board and to the funding relationship with the local, regional, and provincial government. Additionally, public library boards may have differing priorities across the province depending on local demographics, economies, and community needs. As with all BCLTA work, the BCLTA Governance Workbook focuses on areas of common concern and common issues while acknowledging differences. It is important for governance discussions to be  informed by and rooted in local needs and  situations.

Governance Team

The term governance team is frequently used In BCLTA’s learning and development resources. The governance team is the board and the library director working together with their distinct roles and responsibilities, to provide the strategic, fiduciary, and visionary leadership that the public library needs and the community deserves. 

The Board of Trustees

The board is the legal authority of the public library and is accountable for the organization’s resources and activities. Trustees are guardians of a public trust (hence “trustees”) to ensure  that the library provides relevant, comprehensive, and effective service to the community it serves.

The public library board represents the community in the governance and oversight of the  public library. As such, the board

  • establishes the strategic direction, budget, and policies of the library
  • employs a library director to implement the strategic direction, budget, and policies
  • monitors and evaluates the outcomes

The Library Director

  • is the direct employee that reports into the board
  • is responsible for the execution and management of the organization’s operations
  • acts as secretary and expert advisor to the board


An effective board must have a clear understanding of the differences between its role (governance) and the role of its library director (operational management). When the board or individual trustees become involved in the operational management of the library they undermine role clarity and lines of authority, which will result in a dysfunctional public library. The board’s role is to provide direction and oversight, not to manage operations.

Successful boards grant appropriate authority and power to the library director and provide support for the execution and management of the organization’s

  • mandate (the provision of public library service in accordance with the Library Act    and other aspects of the legislative framework that public libraries operate in)
  • strategic direction (what needs to be accomplished to meet the board’s vision, mission, values, direction, and desired outcomes)
  • policies (the guidelines for the work of the public library)

Successful boards also recognize the role of the library director in effective governance. The following are found in highly functional library board–library director relationships:

  • The library director, as part of the governance team, has an active role in board work and shared leadership with the board chair.
  • The library director provides the board with professional advisement, accurate reporting, and shares with the board chair the responsibility for board orientation and
  • The library director keeps the board in the loop with the information necessary for governance, strategic direction, oversight, and assessment.

Below are a few examples of what the board is responsible for (governance) and what the library director is responsible for (execution and management).


Establishing policies for managing risk and crisis (for example, who is responsible for communications, facility closures, staffing decisions and more should there be a crisis such as a pandemic, forest fire, or flood)

Managing / troubleshooting operations and staff based on what is known and what resources are available in the moment; representing the library on a municipal crisis-management task force (e.g., forest
fires, opioid crisis, anti-poverty)

Establishing a strategic direction and assessment criteria for developing community partnerships so that staff can
proceed with authority and support

Developing and working with a partnership

Ensuring there are protocols for addressing

Mediating a patron or staff situation

Reviewing and assessing regular reports that compare money spent to budget, results achieved to strategic targets, and compliance with financial controls and
spending policies

Managing the budget in accordance with policy, legislation and regulations to execute the strategic direction and achieve desired outcomes.

Board Work

The following are the key areas of work that BC public library boards engage with:

  • board and trustee development
  • effective board meetings
  • appointing and supporting the library director
  • establishing the strategic direction of the organization, which may include
    • a vision statement
    • the mission or purpose of the public library
    • a strategic plan or framework that describes goals and desired outcomes
    • assessment methods
  • establishing policies
  • oversight and assessment of programs and services
  • oversight and assessment of the organization’s finances including establishing an annual budget, ensuring that an annual audit or review takes place, presenting the budget to local government funders, and ensuring that all funding reports and the Statement of Financial Information are accurate and on time
  • organizational continuity – governing through risk and crisis
  • fund development
  • advocating on behalf of the library

The next sections of the workbook will explore each of these key areas in greater detail.