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LET'S TALK LIBRARIES

A blog from the Ontario Library Service

Who Does What? Delegation of Authority and the Public Libraries Act

Public libraries in Ontario have followed the same provincial legislation since 1984, with a few minor changes.  Our role at the Ontario Library Service is to help library board members and staff members sort out the framework for library service within this legislation.  Section 3 (3) of the Public Libraries Act states that “A public library shall be under the management and control of a board” (although with a few exceptions).  We know that Section 15(2) of the Public Libraries Act makes it clear that a library “board shall appoint a chief executive officer who shall have general supervision over and direction of the operations of the public library and its staff, shall attend all board meetings and shall have the other powers and duties that the board assigns to him or her from time to time.”  It seems to be the parts in between where things get a little less clear.

The pandemic, which began with a lockdown in March 2020, illustrated to us that the lines of authority were not as clear as everyone thought.  The COVID-19 pandemic brought forward some weaknesses in the delegation of authority for Ontario public libraries.  Observations include:

  • A Library CEO did not have the authority to execute a Pandemic Response Plan and had to wait for the next meeting of the library board so that the library board could approve the Plan before re-opening the spaces.
  • While the framework for reopening was provided by the provincial government and the local health unit, some library boards felt that, to ensure compliance with province guidance, it was their responsibility to write the re-opening procedures.

From those observations, we started to wonder:

  • Is each party (the library board and the CEO) clear on the framework for “who does what”?
  • Did the library board delegate authority to the library CEO?
  • Is this delegation of authority clearly expressed in the written library policies?

Over the years, we have included some phrasing in the sample Trillium Public Library policies to reflect these lines of authority.  For example, that the “library board directs the Library CEO through decisions made at board meeting” or that the CEO will “take actions consistent with the board’s mission, vision, values and policies”.  However, given our most recent experience with the pandemic, we have strengthened these three Trillium Policy samples to better illustrate how a library could specify responsibility:

  • Statement of Authority (BL-01)
  • Purpose and Duties of the Board (GOV-01)
  • Board-CEO Partnership (GOV-08)

In the Board-CEO Partnership policy (GOV-08), we structured it so that the Library Board approves the policy and then, using the guidance provided in policy, the CEO writes the operational plans (e.g. technology, collection, emergency preparedness) and shares those with the library board for information.  In the case of the emergency, our samples show that the CEO can modify the procedures or plans – including the emergency preparedness plan – but would always keep the library board informed of the situation and may ask the library board for direction on specific matters relating to budget, property or service levels.

In the Trillium policy examples, we use a traditional framework where the Board approves all policies and the library’s strategic plan and delegates authority to the Library CEO for the creation of procedures or actions to implement the policies or strategic plan.  We recognize that there are library boards across Ontario using the Policy Governance (Carver) Model whereby the Library Board sets certain policies and then delegates authority to the Library CEO to carry out library operations but also to create and implement specific operational policies AND plans.

Either way, we want to highlight the crucial step of ensuring a clear framework for ‘who does what’.  Using these samples, a library could decide for itself how the lines of authority will be established for their local situation.

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One thought on “Who Does What? Delegation of Authority and the Public Libraries Act

  1. Many public libraries did not have an emergency preparedness plan in place prior to the pandemic. For these, the development of such a plan is now a priority action, but in the first throes of our response to government regulations it was not possible to create one, or seek direction from the Board. Accordingly, many CEOs moved quickly to implement the actions required by the Provincial government and advised the Board after the fact. In emergencies, I believe the CEO must act, and not wait for a meeting of the Board, when prompt action is required by a higher authority.

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