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Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Resource Guide Collection

Trustees: Municipal Charters and Libraries

Information, resources, and advice for library trustees in Massachusetts.

Charters and Library Trustees

A municipal charter or charter review can have a significant impact on the governance of the public library. Without a special act, trustees are given their statutory authority in Mass General Law, Chapter 78 Sections 10-13, which are detailed below.  A charter is a written document "which establishes and defines the structure of city and town government for a particular community and which may create local offices, and distribute powers, duties and responsibilities among local offices". 

The information below is to help trustees who live in communities undergoing a charter adoption or review process. MBLC Advisory Staff are available to provide support to library trustees who have questions about the impact of a charter on their community. We have supported other communities in reviewing MGL, proposed charter language, as well as connecting trustees to trustees in communities that have undergone charter processes. 

Mass General Laws Chapter 78 Section 10-13

Section 10: Town libraries; selection of trustees and officers

Section 10. A town which raises or appropriates money for the support of a free public library, or free public library and reading room, owned by the town, shall, unless the same has been acquired entirely or in part through some gift or bequest which contains other conditions or provisions for the election of its trustees, or for its care and management, which have been accepted by the town, elect by ballot at a meeting a board of trustees consisting of any number of persons, male or female, divisible by three, which the town determines to elect. When such board is first chosen, one third thereof shall be elected for one year, one third for two years and one third for three years, and thereafter one third shall be elected annually for a term of three years. The board shall, from its own number, annually choose a chairman and secretary and, if the town so votes, a treasurer, who shall give a bond similar to that given by the town treasurer, in an amount and with sureties to the satisfaction of the selectmen. Until the town otherwise directs the town treasurer shall act as treasurer of the board of trustees.

Section 11: Board of trustees; powers and duties

Section 11. The board shall have the custody and management of the library and reading room and of all property owned by the town relating thereto. All money raised or appropriated by the town for its support and maintenance shall be expended by the board, and all money or property which the town may receive by gift or bequest for said library and reading room shall be administered by the board in accordance with the provisions of such gift or bequest. The board of any library, for the purpose of improving the services of said library, may enter into an agreement with the board or boards of any neighboring library or libraries, to pay for services in common, or to manage a facility to be operated jointly by more than one municipality, such payments to be shared in accordance with terms of such agreement.

Section 12: Annual report of trustees

Section 12. The board shall make an annual report to the town of its receipts and expenditures and of the property in its custody, with a statement of any unexpended balance of money and of any gifts or bequests which it holds in behalf of the town, with its recommendations.

Section 13: Applicability of sections relating to trustees

Section 13. The three preceding sections shall not apply to library associations, nor to a library organized under a special act.

Charter Language in MGL

Charter, as defined in MGL Chapter 7 Section 4: 

Fifth, "Charter'', when used in connection with the operation of city and town government shall include a written instrument adopted, amended or revised pursuant to the provisions of chapter forty-three B which establishes and defines the structure of city and town government for a particular community and which may create local offices, and distribute powers, duties and responsibilities among local offices and which may establish and define certain procedures to be followed by the city or town government. Special laws enacted by the general court applicable only to one city or town shall be deemed to have the force of a charter and may be amended, repealed and revised in accordance with the provisions of chapter forty-three B unless any such special law contains a specific prohibition against such action.

Charter Language in MGL: 

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