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Public Library Board of Trustees: Overview

Library Boards

Photo Of People Holding Each Other's handsPublic libraries are an important part of their communities. They provide education, entertainment, computer and WiFi capabilities, research, notary services, programs, and more to those in their service areas. In order to make sure that libraries are supporting their communities and mission, all public libraries in North Dakota are required to be governed by a library board as laid out in NDCC §40-38-03.

Library boards in North Dakota are governing boards which means that they have a responsibility to conduct the library's business in accordance with local, state, and federal laws. This guide compiles information on major topics as they relate to library boards, but it is not comprehensive. Please consult the State Library with general questions or your local attorney for further interpretations of law.

The librarians at the North Dakota State Library are not lawyers, and they can only provide general guidance and point you towards other resources that may be of assistance to you on your quest for library law knowledge.

Powers and Duties of the Board

The powers and duties of the library board of directors are laid out in NDCC §40-38-04.

The board of directors shall have the following powers and duties:

  1. To make and adopt such bylaws, rules, and regulations relating to the duties of the officers of the board as may be expedient and not inconsistent with the provisions of this chapter.
  2. To make and adopt such bylaws, rules, and regulations for the management of the library and reading room as are expedient and not inconsistent with the provisions of this chapter.
  3. To control, exclusively, the expenditures of all moneys collected for or contributed to the library fund. 
  4. To have the supervision, care, and custody of the library property, and of the rooms or buildings constructed, leased, or set apart for use of library purposes.
  5. To contract to furnish library service and to receive library service from other counties, school districts, and cities of the state of North Dakota and adjoining states, and the state library.
  6. To employ qualified personnel to administer the public library and dispense library services. 

According to the North Dakota Library Trustee Manual, the library board is expected to also do the following:

  • Support growth of library services to the community, remembering that the goal is not to save the community money but to spend funding wisely for efficient and effective library service
  • Advocate for excellence and adequate funding
  • Obey local, state, and federal laws
  • Devise a strategic plan for library services and update it every 3-5 years
  • Conduct analysis of the community and its needs and implement responses to those needs
  • Build Board policies and procedures to work together effectively on behalf of the community for needed library services
  • Hire a competent professional Library Director and conduct a formal evaluation of that Director every year
  • Provide a model of exemplary performance of a public body functioning as a part of government 

Board Structure

NDCC §40-38-03 outlines the appointment of trustees, terms of office, vacancies, and the general organization of the board. The general guidelines are below. Please see the actual statute for the full text.

Trustee Appointment: "The governing body...shall appoint a govern the library and reading room." This means that the city council or county commission needs to officially appoint all trustees to the library board.

Number of Trustees: "...five directors who must be residents of the municipality or county, as the case may be..." (If the library board is a joint city-county library or resides in a community with a home-rule charter, this may be different. See information on Home Rule or joint libraries in §40-38-11 and contact the State Library or an attorney with questions.)

  • "One member of the governing body of the municipality or designated representative must be a member of the board of directors of a municipal library...and one member of the board of county commissioners or designated representative must be a member of the county board of directors." This representative has the same term limits, rights, and responsibilities as the other library trustees.

Term Limits: "...each director may hold office for a term of three member of the board may serve for more than two consecutive terms, after which an interval of one year must elapse before the same member may be reappointed."

  • Board terms should be staggered so that one or two members' terms expire each year. 

Many libraries have multiple service areas either through contracts or joint library mergers. Libraries that have been established as "city-county" libraries or "merged" libraries have different board requirements; they are outlined in NDCC §40-38-11.

Trustee Appointment: "...appoint a single joint library board to govern public library services..."

Number of Trustees: "The method of representation on the joint library board...shall be determined in the agreement. Provided, the joint library board shall consist of an equal number of appointees from each party to the agreement and, in any case, shall consist of not less than five members nor more than eleven members."

Term Limits: " member of the board shall serve for more than two consecutive three-year terms, after which an interval of one year must elapse before the same member may be reappointed."

"All vacancies on the board...must be reported by the board to the governing body of the municipality or the board of county commissioners...and must be filled thereby. An appointment to fill an unexpired term may be for the residue of the term only." —NDCC §40-38-03 #2.

A vacancy on the board can occur in several ways:

  1. A trustee chooses to remove themselves from the group
  2. A trustee is removed from the board due to provisions in the group's bylaws
  3. The governing body removes a board member due to the provisions laid out in NDCC §44-08-23 (misconduct, malfeasance, crime in office, or neglect of duty or for habitual drunkenness or gross incompetence). Note: Governing bodies are not able to remove board members for any other reason than those listed in §44-08-23 based on Attorney General Opinions 2009-L-03 and 2007-L-16 in conjunction with NDCC §40-38-03 as confirmed by NDSL after consultation with the Office of the Attorney General (12-19-2018).

In order to fill a vacancy on the board, another eligible trustee will need to be appointed by the governing body. This trustee will complete the remainder of the vacant term. After the partial term, they will still be eligible for 2 consecutive 3-year terms.

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Many of these resources and programs are funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.