[Michlib-l] Composition of library board committees

Michael McGuire mdmcguire at yahoo.com
Sun Aug 11 01:09:59 EDT 2013

I have always has serious reservations about staff being considered "member" of a library board committee. A BOARD committee is, almost by definition made up of BOARD members. A committee is usually a subset of the larger body that designates it as a committee. One definition is: a body of persons delegated to consider, investigate, take action on, or report on some matter; especially : a group of fellow legislators chosen by a legislative body to give consideration to legislative matters. 

To cite an example, legislative committees in both the Congress and the Michigan Legislature are made up of members. They are members of the larger body and are designated by that body (or a chair/speaker of that body) to take up and recommend with respect to certain matters of legislation or institutional management. 

In 40+ years of law practice - almost all in local government - and some time spent as an interim library director and director of another department as well, I have never seen a committee that functioned effectively with members of a governing body and staff members of the organization governed by that body function effectively. There is too much disparity of authority, interest and role. I have, by the way, served on such committees. 

What I have seen function very effectively is for staff members to serve as non-voting resource persons for a committee made up of members of the governing body. They can do everything that they can do as committee members except vote. Provide information and data (which is not usually available to governing board members), make recommendations, seek and convey input from other staff and outside entities, etc. Having staff support committees allows a clear distinction between "line" expertise, research and policy recommendation provided to the elected (or appointed) sub-set of the governing body and the action of the committee which is itself a part or subset of the governing body. It is the role of the committee to study issues, questions and possible policies and to receive public comment. Part of this process is staff input. The committee then makes an initial determination as to what action should be taken and if the
matter should go forward to the full governing body.  Staff also has a potential avenue to bring matters before the governing body via the executive director, manager or other chief executive but only if that officer deems it appropriate. 

The committee structure allows members to develop expertise in certain areas and to look at matters at a level of detail that a full governing body would find difficult and time-consuming to do. This is why each committee (except a committee of the whole) has a specific assigned area of responsibility and can develop expertise in that area that isn't necessarily shared by the governing body as a whole.

One way to define the committee and staff roles might be:

monitor on-going library operations, identify issues suitable for Board  review or action, consider and act upon
matters referred to the committee by the Board or the Chair, gather and
evaluate information, and recommend courses of action to the Board.
staff role with respect to the committee is:
	* To provide information and policy recommendations on items being worked on by the committee. 
	* To provide special or professional knowledge, advice, relevant background,  expertise and perspective that relates to items within a committee’s area of responsibility. 
	* Objectively participate in the committee’s work during and between meetings.  
	* Be willing to assume responsibility for work requested by the committee.
WHO the staff member is that is assigned to work with a committee is certainly the Director's decision and that staff member may change depending on a number of considerations (expertise, time available, faithful performance of duties, etc). No matter what, the assigned staff member, if not the Director, has the responsibility to keep the Director fully informed of her/his activities with the Committee. If the Director doesn't believe that the staff member is acting in the best interest of the Library, then it is the Director's prerogative to assign a different staff member. 

There are certainly other ways of looking at this concept and I hope that others will share them. 

Michael McGuire, J.D.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
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