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Bylaws for Public Library Boards
By Ellen Richardson
Library Law Specialist
Library of Michigan
One of the important duties of a library board is the establishment of bylaws for the proper functioning of the board as an organization. These basic rules that relate to the library board define the structure of the board, describe its primary duties and characteristics, and prescribe how the board functions.
Trustees rely upon the bylaws to guide their deliberations and to provide a structure for the conduct of board meetings and other business. Bylaws serve the public, too, by providing expectations of how this particular body will fulfill the public trust given to them by election or appointment.
Bylaws are important, but they do not need to be lengthy or elaborate. They may be only a few pages long. They will vary from one library board to the next. However, there are some basic provisions that will appear in most library board bylaws. The following suggested provisions are among the most common:
- Legal authority: This provision should give the full legal name of the library and make reference to the establishment statute or the source of the library's existence; e.g., the County Libraries Act or the city charter.
- Library Board: The number of board members, whether the members are elected or appointed, the length of a member's term, the date on which the members' terms begin, and the powers and duties of the board members should all be stated. If there is statutory authority for the powers and duties, or if they are delegated powers, that reference should be included.
- Officers: The officers should be listed, as well as the method of selecting officers and the duties and powers of each.
- Board meetings: Several items should be included in this provision, such as regular meeting dates, meeting place, posting of notices, and the usual "Order of Business." Compliance with the Michigan Open Meetings Act should be specifically stated. The "Order of Business" gives both trustees and the public a structure to rely on for the orderly progress of the board meetings. Many boards provide the recording secretary with a template of the "Order of Business" as an aid for taking minutes. A typical "Order of Business" may include the following items:
- Call to order
- Approval of the agenda
- Approval of the last meeting's minutes
- Treasurer's report
- Committee reports
- Director's report
- Old business
- New business
- Public comment
It should be noted that the Open Meetings Act requires an opportunity for public comment. It may be placed on the agenda at whatever part of the meeting the Board deems most helpful.
- Committees: Provision should be made for standing committees and for the appointment of additional committees as needed.
- Amending the bylaws: Most boards require a two-thirds vote to amend the bylaws, in contrast to the simple majority required for most other matters.
- Other provisions: The board may include any other provisions necessary for the proper functioning of the board. Although it is tempting to clutter bylaws with extraneous provisions, this practice should be resisted so that the bylaws address only necessary items.