In a series of guest blogs library board members Andrew Hallikas and Caroline Goulding will be exploring the question What can you do as a Library Board to improve the relationship between your municipal council and the public library? In this post we will be focusing on how some core responsibilities and philosophies that can help create and maintain your Library Board’s relationship with Municipal Council.
Be fiscally prudent.
Funding is always a problem area for municipalities, just as it is for Libraries. The Municipality provides the major part of the Library’s funding, and the Municipality is very aware of their obligation to provide taxpayers an accounting of where and how tax dollars are spent. Library Boards need to be very hands on with their budget and to understand it well. Utilize the Municipal Treasurer in your budget discussions. Review your budget carefully at every Board meeting. Do a budget presentation to Council prior to their budget discussions. It is important that the Municipality understand that taxpayer dollars allocated to the Library are spent well and that the Library Board is fiscally responsible and good stewards of taxpayer money. It is essential that the Library Board adhere to their budget and keep budget increases to a bare minimum.
There will be occasions where budget increases are unavoidable, particularly in the cost of electricity, union wages, utilities, insurance etc. These are uncontrollable for the most part and will be increases that the municipality faces as well.
The Library itself will generate some income, be as efficient and creative as possible in the income that you generate. The Fort Frances Public Library reached out to surrounding townships that cannot afford to have a public library and have contracted to provide library services to them for a set annual amount. They have also reached out to area First Nations, Community College Satellite Campuses and the Local Law Library to provide contracted Library services. An active Friends of the Library group can also raise a significant amount of money for the Library.
Be Proactive and Cultivate a Positive relationship with Council
Every Library Board will have at least one or two members who are elected councillors assigned to it. These Board members can be invaluable allies when it comes to dealing with the Mayor and Municipal Council as a whole. They will have a much better understanding of the operation, programming and services of the Library than Council as a whole. They can be extremely helpful in educating Council, especially at budget time. As well when the Library does presentations to council, these Board members/Councillors can assist by asking prepared questions of the presenters as Council members. This can amplify or emphasize the message that the Library would like to get out to not only council but the public. Media usually pay attention to questions asked by councillors. As well Councillors can comment on any presentation to further illustrate or amplify an important point. Ensure that these valuable potential allies are educated about the Library and made to feel that they are not only welcome but invaluable Library Board Members. They should understand that while they are at Library Board meetings, they are Board Members first and Councillors second.
Succession Planning is Important
The make-up of your Library Board is extremely important. Ideally you want a mix of dedicated Library supporters with complimentary skills. Often you get whoever council appoints and sometimes there are not enough qualified applicants to completely fill all Board positions. Be aware of when Board members’ terms expire or if Board members are considering not letting their names stand for another term. Have on-going conversations about suitable replacement candidates based on requirements that fill a need for your board. Encourage these candidates to apply to be on the Library Board. Do not just leave these council appointments to chance. Work constantly to fill your Board with qualified members. You want strong community representation on your Board. Libraries can hold an open house to encourage those interested in serving on a Library Board to come out and meet and talk with existing Board members about the duties and time commitment of Library Board service.
Libraries are generally loved by the Public, use this
Libraries tend to have a much higher approval rating than Municipal Councils. You want to cultivate this. Keep your patrons informed. Be very visible on social media. Use the Media wisely in getting your message out. The Fort Frances Public Library has an excellent relationship with local media and consequently gets strong positive coverage on most issues. We constantly inform the media regarding our events and for the most part they are well covered. You can also leverage the Libraries position as a trusted community organization in helping the municipality get their own messaging out.
Remember: Creating and maintaining this relationship is one of the most important issues that almost all Ontario Libraries face. We hope you are able to utilize some of the strategies that we have outlined. We would love to hear about how your Library Board has worked to build its relationship with Council, let’s start the discussion!
Andrew Hallikas is the Deputy Mayor and a three term Municipal Councillor for the Town of Fort Frances. He is a Board Member of the Fort Frances Public Library Board and the Past Chair. This is his fourth term as a member of the Fort Frances Library Board. He also serves on the Board of OLS-North. He is been an avid reader and a strong patron and supporter of Libraries since he got his first Library card at the age of eight. As a Teacher and politically active union member, he advocated for both School Libraries and Municipal Libraries over his professional career.
Caroline Goulding is a member of the Dryden Public Library Board and the former CEO of the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre. She is the 2021 Ontario Library Board Association President and also serves as a board or council member of the Ontario Library Association, Federation of Ontario Public Libraries, and the Ontario Public Library Monitoring, Guidelines, and Accreditation Council. She is the Executive Director of Patricia Area Community Endeavours, a Community Futures Development Corporation.