Library Board of Trustees prepares to welcome new member

The Madison Library is where the Board of Trustees meets the third Wednesday of every month at 5:30 p.m. Photo credit:
The Madison Library is where the Board of Trustees meets the third Wednesday of every month at 5:30 p.m. Photo credit:

Elections for one of five spots on the Library Board of Trustees will be held on May 16 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

Early voting is also available at the Madison County Clerk’s office from May 1 to May 12.

What is a Library Board of Trustees? 

Since Madison Library District is funded by taxpayer dollars, it is the responsibility of the Library Board of Trustees to make sure that money is being used to benefit the community when creating policies such as internet safety, collection development and budgets.

The Library Board’s mission centers on five goals: 

— Maintaining and developing a repository of information 

— Supporting intellectual freedom 

— Uniting the community 

— Encouraging lifelong learning

— Cultivating the enjoyment of reading and fostering creativity 

Even though the Library Board can help set policies and budgets, the Board still has to work within laws and statutes which the state has set. 

The Library Board hires a director for the library who oversees library employees and takes minutes at the meetings. Valerie Lloyd, the current library director, said she prepares the materials the board will review at each meeting and sends out a summary to the board members of the events and different things that have happened throughout the month.

The Board meets the third Wednesday of each month at 5:30 p.m. at the library. Meetings last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours as they approve bills and discuss potential changes to library policies. 

Pamela Beard, chair of the Library Board of Trustees, said the board generally votes unanimously.

“We’re unified,” Beard said. “(For) a lot of boards it just takes the majority, three out of the five people, to pass something, but generally we discuss it until we’re all on the same page.”

While some might see the lack of community presence at Board meetings as something to improve, Beard saw it as a positive. 

“Most of the time we don’t get a lot of visitors because I think our public trusts us and we work hard to maintain trust with them,” Beard said. 

If the Board makes any changes to policy, Lloyd serves as a bridge between the Board and the librarians through the implementation process. 

A place of safety 

Pamela Beard became chair of the Board in 2021. Libraries have always held a spot in her heart and she joined the Library Board as a way to give back to the community. 

“I’ve always loved the library,” Beard said.” It was kind of my safe place where I could escape.”

She sees the library as a pillar of the community and a refuge from the hate and anger of the world. 

“The library is supposed to be that gathering place for everybody,” Beard said. “It’s a safe place (for) everybody, regardless of who they are and what they believe. The goal for our library is to bring the community together and help everybody find this common ground.”

As a Board member, Beard said she gets to help cultivate that sense of safety for every member of the community. 

Lloyd said the library needs the Board just as much as the Board needs the library. 

“I see them as a board of advisors, a board of counselors or protectors,” Lloyd said. “They have the library’s best interests at heart.” 

Public misconceptions

Beard listed three misconceptions people generally have about the role of the Library Board of Trustees. 

First, the idea that a board can create any sort of policy it wants

Beard corrected this by saying that the Library Board can only work within existing laws.

Second, the role of the Board members. 

Beard said the Board focused on the bigger picture, whereas the library director and the librarians focus on the details of implementation. 

“The Board members have a big-picture responsibility,” Beard said. “They should not typically get involved in day-to-day management decisions related to the library. The Board sets policy through their official actions and should delegate responsibility to carry out the policy to the library director.”

Third, individual trustees can overrule the power of the Board. According to the Idaho Commission for Libraries, “All powers are at all times vested in the Library Board and none at all in the individual Board member. The individual has no power to act for the library in any way unless authorized by the Board itself.”

Beard credited the Board’s unity to its nonpartisan nature. 

“The Library Board is kind of the one place that’s nonpartisan,” Beard said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat or Republican. It doesn’t matter. The library is a nonpartisan institution. It is for everyone regardless of belief or political position and part of being a trustee is not coming in with your own political agenda.”

Role of the library 

Over the last few years, libraries have been at the center of political discourse throughout the country. One particular concern centers on the argument that libraries give children access to obscene and pornographic materials. 

These concerns have led Idahoans to petition dissolving library districts and act in ways leading to police presence at library board meetings.

Beard and Lloyd made it clear that they don’t provide such content to minors. 

Lloyd emphasized the role of librarians to be information providers, not babysitters or moral advisors.

“There’s been inflammatory language used and people are trying to make libraries out to be the bad guy and say that we’re doing things that we most certainly aren’t,” Lloyd said. 

Beard encouraged parents with these concerns to attend the library with their children. 

“They have this misconception that we are providing all of this bad stuff to children, that there’s stuff that they don’t agree should be here,” Beard said. “We want to help inform and educate that it is your responsibility as a parent to decide what your child is going to read and what you bring into your house. If you’re concerned about things in the library, then accompany your children. Don’t just drop them off at the door.”

Lloyd expressed gratitude for patrons who have come to the library’s defense.

“One of the things I really appreciate from our community is that in the past when the library has been under fire there have always been patrons who will come to our defense,” Lloyd said. “I appreciate that much more than I can say.”

Collection development policy

Books and other library materials are purchased according to their relative values, as outlined in the collection development policy

Certain things will increase a material’s relative value, such as: 

— Public interest determined by patron requests for materials, community educational, recreational and informational relevance and timeliness of the topic

— Excellence in terms of artistic merit, value to humanity, significance of the subject, factual accuracy, and effective expression, as judged by trusted experts in source evaluations

— Current or historical significance of author or subject

— Materials and authors specifically related to Idaho and the Northwest

— Reasonable balance among the various target ages, abilities and languages of patron groups

— Reasonable balance in different media, including audio, video, electronic, Internet, online computing, networking and other media

— Reasonable level of diversity of viewpoint

— Alignment with current collection objectives, program objectives and existing subject coverage

Other things will decrease the relative value of a material such as:

— Better access through interlibrary loan or electronically

— Costly or specialized in nature

— Rare and out-of-print sources

— Textbooks

— Not likely to be used by multiple patrons.

While it might be easy to assume that if enough people want or don’t want a book at the library, librarians won’t pick them, Beard said the reality isn’t that black and white. Beard said often people in the community will request things that other people in the community don’t like. 

Lloyd said the librarians selecting the books are well-educated and trained. 

Beard reiterated that as a board member, it’s not her job to tell people what they can and cannot read and watch and emphasized the power of agency and the freedom to choose. 

“We’re here to listen and to support everybody in the community because there’s a lot of diversity,” Beard said. “It may seem like in a community like this, it typically flows one way but it doesn’t. There’s so much diversity, and our country is built on freedom — freedom of religion and freedom of speech. It’s not my responsibility as a trustee to tell my neighbor what they can read or watch. That’s their job to decide.”

A silver lining 

Despite the increased politicization and misunderstandings surrounding the role of librarians and library boards, Lloyd and Beard have found their roles with the library to be rewarding because of the people they interact with.

“The library was a safe place when other parts of my life didn’t feel safe,” Beard said. “That’s the most rewarding part: getting to know all the people that I’ve worked with over the years and feeling like I have contributed a little bit — that my life isn’t quite as small as it could be.”

Lloyd said introducing a love of reading has been another highlight of her time in her 24 years with the library. 

“I love my community,” Lloyd said. “I love being around people. I love to help people. I also love reading and I think books are magic. I would love to share that with people and hope that they can discover what is magic for them.”

To find polling locations for the May 16 library board election, visit the Madison County website.