The problem with independent libraries is that they all have their own internal rules, put in place by volunteers who often do not understand the complexities of running an library. I remember one director once telling me that she didn't even know her book budget. She just purchased materials until the board told her to stop. How can this be? Why aren't library directors standing up for their professionalism and the trust the community has put in their decisions? I don't blame the directors. When I asked why they allow this to happen, their answers were the same - "Because that's how we've always done it."
Librarians are some of the most creative, diverse people I've ever met. Some call it eccentric. Others call it quirky. No matter what it is, our profession is well-educated, well-read and understand public libraries. They should be trusted to stand at the helm of their institutions with support, not limits.
I understand that the checks and balances of a nonprofit require oversight. I'm all about oversight. What I am not all about is micromanaging from boards - something that I'm realizing is pretty common in small libraries. Our organizations need to be run like any other business. Board members need to have the same mindset - and a deep respect for the passion their directors bring to the job.
I certainly don't know everything about running the library. No amount of education or research can prepare you for the realities of human resources, tax law, etc. However, if I don't know something, I'm on the phone with a board member who has the most expertise in whatever the topic is. The only catch is that you have to have a board who trusts their director. I am lucky enough to have that kind of board and believe it is one of the reasons that our library has thrived.
I think sometimes we forget the awesome resource it is to have board members who excel in their fields. The ability to consult one of them when I have a question is invaluable. However, nobody has ever called me and questioned a decision I've made. If they did, they know they'd get a well thought-out decision process. And they know that.
When I see competent library directors having to waste time and energy to track down a board member for simple things like signing checks or sitting in on applicant interviews, it makes me crazy. That being said, some directors are more librarian than business person and then board members may have to get more involved. And there are those that need constant oversight. But that shouldn't be the norm. It's time for library boards to reexamine the things "they've always done that way" and make way for library directors to use their time creating better libraries.