What Does Happen at a Library Board Meeting?

So, tonight I went to observe a library board meeting, wanting to see what, exactly, I had signed up for. (One might argue that I should perhaps have done this BEFORE running for office as trustee, but the timing between my deciding to run for office and getting the petitions in was very tight, so this was actually the first board meeting available. Anyway.)

Thankfully, it ended up being fun and interesting, and I think this is a job (a monthly 2-3 hour meeting) that I think I can do. Here’s a recap of tonight’s meeting for the curious.

It opened with dinner and discussion with the library leadership team; they don’t feed the board at every monthly meeting, but they do twice a year for this discussion. It was lovely to get some pasta and salad tonight. 🙂 Then we moved into:

A) A presentation on using more visual data to support the trustees (graphs and charts instead of only rows of numbers in the reports). Obviously helpful, and I’m delighted by the move; if I get the job, this would make it much easier to be effective.

B) Notes from our new social worker, Robert Simmons, who works with at-risk patrons. Much of his discussion focused on the homeless patrons, who often have multiple challenges, including mental health and/or addiction issues. There’s a lack of local homeless services available during the day in Oak Park, which is particularly challenging for the elderly homeless patrons, who can’t easily travel far to other shelters. He’s working with faith leaders and Housing Forward to figure out how Oak Park can better provide services, such as warming centers in winter and cooling centers in summer, which aren’t really within the purview of the library’s mission. He’s also building relationships with teen patrons, working on more extended outreach with village organizations so that teens facing challenges can get the assistance they need. I’m thrilled that the library has hired a social worker; especially given the absence of any community center in Oak Park, the library serves a lot of that need. Robert’s only been on the job for less than a year, but it’s very clear that there’s a need for his services.

C) Idea Box: With resignation of Raleigh (sp?), who did programming for the last year, the library has had a lack of people who are ready to do that kind of creative installation. (The Idea Box has been pretty awesome for much of the last year.) Idea Box is going to become more of a programming space; it will sometimes be open 24/7, as with prior installations, but sometimes will have a librarian in the space. Beatbox, for example, will help kids create electronic music, and that would need a facilitator. They’ve bought a 3D printer, along with ‘soft’ maker stuff, sewing machines, different kinds of craft materials. Community members who want to participate can get in touch with Deirdre, talk about their idea for using Idea Box, figure out whether it can work. I admit, I’m tempted to ask them about something we do sometimes at writing conventions — set up a laptop with a projector, put up a sign “Writer at Work” and then just hang out there for a couple hours, working on my novel. I think people would be amused.

D) Multicultural Collection: Based in Dole, events started in October, grand opening Friday January 27, 2-4 p.m. A variety of objects from around the world, some of which can be checked out! From the website: “Established more than 30 years ago by District 97 and housed at Julian Middle School until early this fall, the Multicultural Collection has moved to the library. Most of the collection, which includes thousands of items—artifacts, traditional clothing, games, books, posters, music, and films from around the world—are available for cardholders to borrow from Dole Branch, the collection’s new home base. More fragile or rare items, such as a 6-foot-tall statue inspired by the sarcophagus of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen, an Aztec calendar stone, and straw artwork from Afghanistan, are on display or in-house use only.” Cool. I’m going to try to swing by the grand opening, if I finish with my independent study students in time.

That took from about 6:30 – 7:45, and wasn’t part of the regular meeting. It was interesting!


They then moved on to regular business – approval of minutes, trustee comments and board calendar, visitor comments, financial reports, unfinished business. That all went very quickly, about 10 minutes.

Then new business: library calendar, user service charges and fines policy, and meeting spaces policy, which all took about 20 minutes.

I was particularly intrigued by the discussion on meeting spaces — one question under discussion right now is about reducing costs for meeting rooms, especially for non-profits – the librarians are looking to significantly reduce or eliminate the fees, as the income is fairly negligible, and the meeting rooms are currently empty 75% of the time, which doesn’t seem a good use of library resources. One option they’re considering is to require a deposit, to reduce the chance of people misusing the space in some way (making a mess with refreshments, reserving a room and flaking, etc.).

Many other libraries make meeting space available free to non-profits, but charge more than we do to other renters / for-profits. Some trustees thought that sounded good, but then a question was raised about whether raising charges for other renters would make sense, given that some for-profits are very small businesses, and that a raised charge might be cost-prohibitive for them. My sense is that the librarians feel strongly that the quite small amount of revenue coming from fees is an unnecessary barrier to access / use. But the trustees were not quite ready to get rid of meeting room usage fees entirely; they’re considering the issue further, and will come back to it at the next meeting, I think.

Then there were quite brief reports from a variety of sources: executive director (library effectiveness), deputy directory (libracy capacity and infrastructure), managers (library experiences and initiatives), library statistics, friends of the library, legislative and government activity (council of governments, i-gov, Illinois general assembly, ILA public policy committee), collaboration for early childhood, and employment and separation from employment. 10 minutes were scheduled for this section – it was more like 20, but still, pretty fast and efficient.

And then they shifted to a closed session to discuss sensitive information, such as filed and pending litigation, specific employee issues (compensation, discipline, performance, etc.), etc. I left at this point, but that was almost the end; there’s an open session afterwards, presumably just in case there’s anything else that anyone wants to raise.

And that’s a library board meeting. Whew!



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