Determining Responsibility in Materials Selection Policy

Submission Date:


The [NAME REDACTED] Public Library has a materials selection policy in place. When recently updating the policy, trustees had questions about the "responsibility" section which states:

"Authority and responsibility for the selection of library resources is delegated to the Library Director by the Board of Trustees. At the discretion of the Library Director, staff who are qualified by reason of education, training and experience are given the responsibility to select resources within the framework of this policy."

The question we have is should the word "delegated" be used in this context. The Handbook for Library Trustees includes sections stating that the board is legally responsible for all aspects of the library as an institution and have broad and almost exclusive powers and authority to administer the library. We wonder if the delegated section is correct, or if the responsibility section should just say that the Library Director is responsible for the selection of library resources.


What an insightful question.

Here is my answer: no, "delegate" is not quite the right word in this context.  A more suitable phrase could be:

"Per library policy, the Director, or an employee designated by the Director, has authority and responsibility for the selection of library resources."

Here is why:

The word "delegate", in the context of a board operations,[1] pertains to outsourcing very precise responsibilities (such as managing investments[2]).

Many board responsibilities can't be delegated.  For instance, a library board has a legal responsibility to hire the library director,[3] and a legal responsibility to pass policy related to library operations.[4]  Neither of these can be outsourced (or "delegated").

But having responsibility to hire the library director and a legal responsibility to pass policy related to library operations is not the same as performing professional duties required of that director, per that policy.

Just as with other work performed by a credentialed professional, collection management should be governed by board-approved policy, but that policy should not "delegate", but rather authorize, those duties to the person qualified to perform them.

If this seems a little obtuse, here is a small poem to illustrate the point:

A board can hire a lawyer

But cannot practice law.

A board can hire an architect

But plans it cannot draw.


A board can hire a CPA

But can't audit on its own.

A board can hire a barber

But can't cut hair alone!


When a job requires credentials,

When it's licensed or certified,

The duty's not "delegated,"

Instead the action's "authorized."


So when selecting books to add

Or choosing what to weed,

The policy's set by the board,

But the director does the deed.


For these reasons, a collection management policy should emphasize that the board passes the policy governing the process, but the policy empowers the Director to set and apply the selection criteria.  The sample language above is not the only way to articulate this, but it is one way; to see another sample, ask your library system director for the model policy created last year by PULISDO and ESLN.

Thank you again for a thought-provoking question.


[1] Meaning, as it is used in the Not-for-Profit Corporations Law (see Section 717).

[2] To go down one large tunnel connected to this rabbit hole, visit, and search for the word "delegate."

[3] See Section 260 of the Education Law.

[4] See 8 NYCRR 90.2 (a)(4) .


Policy, Board of Trustees, Legal Poems, Collection Management, Public Libraries