Best Practice for Trustees: Massachusetts Library Laws

By Rob Favini, Head of Library Advisory and Development at the MBLC

Previous blog posts have been highlighting excerpts from the Trustee Handbook focusing on laws and liability relating to libraries and library trustees. What follows is a list of laws that apply to libraries for your reference.  As you can see many of the items on this list go beyond the specific laws governing boards of trustees that we have covered in MGL Chapter 78. Being aware of the broad range of laws governing libraries, human resources, finance, and labor relations is essential. And an important best practice for librarians and library trustees.

MASSACHUSETTS LAWS PERTAINING TO LIBRARIES

It is advisable for trustees and the library director to acquire a familiarity with local, state and federal laws which may have an impact on library management by consulting with local municipal officials and other authorities.

Although there are many Massachusetts laws which could apply to library management, the following is a selective list of Massachusetts laws which have a broad impact on the board of trustees and which are particularly relevant to the general administration of Massachusetts public libraries. Full text of Massachusetts General Laws may be accessed online at http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/Search.

A Selective List of Massachusetts Laws with Relevance to Libraries:

Accessibility of Public Buildings by Handicapped Persons (ch.22 §13A)
Anti-Discrimination Law (ch.151B)
Charitable Corporations (ch.180 §§1-11C, 26-26B)
Confidentiality of Library Records (ch.78 §7 ; ch.4 §7(26) ; ch.66 §10)
Conflict of Interest (ch.268A §§17-25)

Crimes in/against libraries:
Destruction or Mutilation of library Materials (ch.266 §§99, 100)
Theft of Library Materials (ch.266 §§99, 99A)
Disturbance of Libraries (ch.272 §41)
Harmful to Minors Act (ch.272 §§28, 31)

Funds:
General Receipt of Funds (ch.44 §53)
Receipt of Grants or Gifts (ch.44 §53A)
Replacement Funds (for lost or damaged materials) (ch.44 §53)
Revolving Funds (ch.44 §53E1/2)
Trust Funds (ch.44 §§54, 55B)

Labor Relations: Public Employees (ch.150E)
Liability (ch.258)
Public Libraries:
Establishment of Free Public Libraries (ch.78 §§1, 7-13)
Trustees of Town Libraries (ch.78 §§10-13)
Association/Corporation Libraries (ch.78 §§1, 13)
Board of Library Commissioners (ch.78 §§14-15, 19)
State Aid to Cities and Towns for Free Public Libraries (ch.78 §§19A,B)
Joint Libraries (ch.78 §11)
Written Policy for Selection of Materials (ch.78 §33)
Written Employment Contracts with Library Directors (ch.78 §34)

Open Meeting Law (ch.30A §§18-25)
Public Records (ch.66 §§1-18)

Information pertaining to this blog post can be found on pages 43-45 of the Massachusetts Public Library Trustee Handbook.

For more information about all services and resources available to trustees please visit the MBLC Trustee page (https://mblc.state.ma.us/for/trustees.php).

Have a question relating to your board? Contact Maura Deedy (maura.deedy@mass.gov) or Rob Favini (robert.favini@state.ma.us)

Best Practice for Trustees: Open Meeting Law

By Rob Favini, Head of Library Advisory and Development at the MBLC

The Open Meeting Law generates a lot of questions from trustees across the state. The most frequently asked is, “does this law apply to me?” The short answer is, yes! Public libraries in Massachusetts must adhere to open meeting laws. For corporation or association libraries that receiving ANY amount of municipal funding, following open meeting law is a basic best practice.

Below are links to resources available from Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. We recommend that all trustees review these materials to learn how the law applies to posting meetings, taking meeting minutes, executive sessions, and the use of email and social media.

Open Meeting Law
Public bodies, which generally include public library trustee boards, are required to comply with the Open Meeting Law (MGL ch. 30A, sec. 18-25), as enforced by the state Attorney General’s office. As noted in the AG’s Open Meeting Law Guide, “The purpose of the Open Meeting Law is to ensure transparency in the deliberations on which public policy is based. Because the democratic process depends on the public having knowledge about the considerations underlying governmental action, the Open Meeting Law requires, with some exceptions, that meetings of public bodies be open to the public.”

All library trustees should be familiar with the Open Meeting Law, which mandates meeting notices be posted prior to meetings of public boards, requires records or “minutes” of meetings to be kept, and delineates certain instances in which portions of meetings may be closed to the public. The Attorney General’s office has some helpful resources on their website, including the extremely useful Open Meeting Law Guide. Questions concerning the Open Meeting Law should be directed to the local Town Clerk or the Attorney General’s Division of Open Government (http://www.mass.gov/ago/government-resources/open-meeting-law).

Certain library boards, such as boards of some association libraries that are not municipal departments, may not be considered public bodies under the Open Meeting Law. If such a board is uncertain of whether it must comply with Open Meeting Law, the board should contact the Attorney General’s office directly for a determination. Some association/corporation libraries may be required to follow Open Meeting Law under agreement with the municipality that they serve. It is strongly recommended that all library boards follow the tenets of the Open Meeting Law, even if they are not required to by law. A board that practices openness and transparency will be better able to maintain a good relationship with the municipality and seek support from its community

Information regarding Open Meeting Law can be found on page 41 of the Massachusetts Public Library Trustee Handbook.

Have a question relating to your board? Contact Maura Deedy (maura.deedy@mass.gov) or Rob Favini (robert.favini@state.ma.us)

Please join us at the MBLC’s Trustee Institute, April 27th! For information and registration: https://mblc.libcal.com/event/5158107?hs=a

Best Practice for Trustees: Town and City Charters

By Rob Favini, Head of Library Advisory and Development at the MBLC

The laws that establish the authority and role of library trustees can be found in the Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 78. It is important to know that in some instances, state laws governing Libraries and trustees are superseded by local laws found in town and city charters. Trustees should be aware of all established and proposed local laws that pertain to the organization and management of their library. Today’s Trustee Handbook Focus looks at local charters and how they impact libraries.

TOWN AND CITY CHARTERS and HOME RULE PETITIONS

Some Massachusetts municipalities are governed by special legislation or a charter, components of which may or may not relate directly to the library. It is critical for trustees to know if their municipality has such a charter or has plans to implement one, and if so, how its provisions affect their library. While trustees have traditionally looked to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 78 to delineate the rights and responsibilities of trustees to exert “custody and management” over public libraries, a local charter will take precedence over Massachusetts General Laws.

If your community is planning a charter change or adoption, make sure that at least one trustee becomes familiar with the charter reform process, and is informed every step of the way about proposed changes. A proactive board is a well-informed board which serves as a partner in the change process. It is much easier to keep unfortunate changes out of the charter than to try to fix problems after the fact. The following are issues which may not constitute the main thrust of the changes to the charter, but may somehow “sneak” in if trustees don’t pay careful attention:

  • Who will the director report to? In some towns, the town administrator has the authority to appoint department heads. Make sure that the power of the library board is not eroded; in other words, make sure it is spelled out in the charter that the board of trustees governs the library and appoints the director.
  • Will the library be grouped with other town departments for purposes of efficiency? The library could lose its status as a separate department, becoming combined with other departments which do not share common missions or organizational/operational methods.
  • Will all human resource functions be centralized? Under whose control? Trustees should help develop a municipal plan for the transfer of employees between departments. Make sure the library director has responsibility for the hiring, dismissal, and supervision of library personnel.
  • Any charter proposal should contain provisions specifying the duties and powers of the board of trustees. Make sure the board has control of the library’s budget, personnel issues, and policy making authority.
  • Another issue that might be introduced is the number and kind of trustees. Monitor for proposals that would change the way trustees are elected or appointed. Who has the authority to appoint trustees? Will there be ex-officio trustees (those appointed by virtue of their office, i.e. selectmen and clergy) who may change the constitution of the library board?

If your municipality is considering a charter or home rule change, it is imperative for your board to be involved and aware of the seriousness of the issues at stake. If charter reform, home rule petition or other effort is underway to revamp municipal power and decision-making, the library should get involved from the start to advocate for wording which exempts the library from being under the control of another municipal department or officer.

Trustee Tip!
Successful boards of trustees know what’s happening in their communities and are active players in the local political process. Remember that it is your responsibility as a trustee to advocate for the best possible library services and practices. Library boards that stay active and involved in community affairs yearround are better positioned to make their case for the library than boards that wait until “crunch time” to get involved.

Today’s Trustee Handbook Focus can be found on pages 39 – 41 of the Massachusetts Public Library Trustee Handbook.

For more information about all services and resources available to trustees please visit the MBLC Trustee page (https://mblc.state.ma.us/for/trustees.php).

Have a question relating to your board? Contact Maura Deedy (maura.deedy@mass.gov) or Rob Favini (robert.favini@state.ma.us)

Please join us at the MBLC’s Trustee Institute, April 27th! For information and registration: https://mblc.libcal.com/event/5158107?hs=a

The Updated MBLC Trustee Handbook

By Rob Favini, Head of Library Advisory and Development at the MBLC

Library trustees have a unique and vital role in the oversight, stewardship and advocacy of public libraries in Massachusetts. Trustees gain their authority from legislative statute (MGL Chapter 78, Section 11) but the details of their day-to-day duties are based on local rules, bylaws and traditions. Because of this, the MBLC does not have legislatively mandated regulations for how trustees must carry out their duties. What we do have is the benefit of over 125 years of experience as a statewide agency overseeing libraries in Massachusetts. This experience has established a wealth of best practices that is available in the newly revised MBLC Trustee Handbook.

The handbook is a valuable resource to help trustees navigate the many procedural and policy questions that boards face on a daily basis.  The handbook is arranged by the following sections:  Becoming a Trustee,  Board Organization, Legal Responsibilities, Policy Making, Planning, Personnel, Budgeting and Financial Management, Library support: Fundraising, Foundations and Friends, Advocacy; Library Construction and Resources.

The handbook is available in PDF format on the MBLC’s Trustee Page (https://mblc.state.ma.us/for/trustees.php). In addition to the handbook, the Trustee Page links to the MBLC Trustee Resource guide , MBLC resources and services, and to the Massachusetts Public Library Trustees Discussion List.

If you have any questions or feedback regarding the Trustee Handbook please let us know! Contact Rob Favini, Head of Library Advisory and Development (Robert.favini@state.ma.us) or Maura Deedy, Library Advisory Specialist (maura.deedy@state.ma.us).