This information below & much more can be found in the Trustee Handbook.

Legal Structure

There are four types of public libraries in New York State: association, municipal, school district, and special legislative district. Trustees and community leaders are quite often confused about the legal structure of their community library and the laws that govern them. Considering the fact that each of these library types has several variations it is critical for all associated with the administration to clearly understand their particular configuration.

a detailed comparison chart

An association library is a private corporation established by the members of the association and not considered a “public” library in the legal sense. It contracts with a unit of local government to provide library service to the residents of that jurisdiction. In legal terms, this contract may be written, oral or implied; but it always exists.  Though association libraries are private not-for-profit corporations and not subject to some of the laws and restrictions of true public libraries, they are generally supported by public funds and must always keep that in mind.

A municipal library is formed either by a vote of the governing body of a municipality (village, town, city, or county) or by a public referendum to serve the residents of the municipality. Although the board of trustees is an independent corporate entity, the library acts as an agency of the municipal government and is subject to all the laws applicable to public institutions in the state.

A school district public library is organized to serve the residents who live within the boundaries of a given school district (hence the name). The library and the library board are independent of the school district and the school board.  The school district is responsible for the collection of taxes and for the issuance of municipal bonds for construction on the library’s behalf.  The separation of powers between local boards of education and school district library boards is detailed in Education Law Section 260.

A special legislative district public library is created by a special act of the State Legislature and established by a local public vote, to serve an area defined by the special legislation. Each of these libraries is somewhat unique but all are considered “public” insofar as adherence to state law.

Federal tax-exempt status should be obtained by every association library under Section 501c (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This exemption allows the library to avoid federal tax liability and also to be eligible to receive tax-deductible gifts. [Form]  A library that has such an exemption is required to file IRS Form 990.

The Form 990 functions in place of a federal income tax return for the exempt organization and there are large financial penalties for late filing or failure to file. Federal law requires that the library’s completed Form 990 must be on file at the library and available for public inspection upon request.

Association libraries must also obtain an “exempt organization certificate” [Application] from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance to avoid the payment of state sales tax.  Public libraries are by law exempt, though they still must use Form ST-129 to avoid hotel taxes.  However, many local merchants will still require a tax exempt number or other documentation.  Public libraries may request a letter of exemption directly from the State Department of Taxation and Finance.

Public libraries, (municipal, school district and special district) are, by definition, tax exempt and not 501c (3) corporations.  However, public libraries may receive a confirmation of their federal tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. [Affirmation of Your Tax-Exempt Status]  Public libraries generally rely on their Friends or Foundation to take full advantage of 501(c) 3 status.

Click on any of the maps below to see a larger version

association libraries map; click for a larger image

Association
Library

public municipal libraries map; click for a larger image

Municipal
Public Library

public school district libraries map; click for a larger image

School District
Public Library

public special legislative district libraries map; click for a larger image

Special District
Public Library

How Established

By vote of association members or as trustees operating under a will or
deed of trust.
By vote of county, city, town or village board; or by petition and referendum. By vote of school district voters. By special act of State legislature and vote of special district voters. *

Charter

Regents incorporate by charter. Regents incorporate by charter. Regents incorporate by charter. Regents incorporate by charter.

Registration

Education Department registers. Must meet minimum standards in order to
receive public funds.
Education Department registers. Must meet minimum standards in order to
receive public funds.
Education Department registers. Must meet minimum standards in order to
receive public funds.
Education Department registers. Must meet minimum standards in order to
receive public funds.

Tax Funds

May receive appropriation from units of government. Also tax levy by vote
of municipal or school district voters. Library should sign contract with appropriating unit. May petition municipal
and/or school district taxpayers for funds.
Budget approved by county, city, town, or village board. Also tax levy by
vote of municipal or school district voters. May petition municipal and/or school district taxpayers for funds.
Budget approved by school district voters. May also petition for a tax levy
from municipalities.
Budget approved by district voters. May also petition for a tax levy from
municipalities, unless enactment legislation specifies otherwise.

Bonding Authority

Not permitted. Requires a special act of legislation through Dormitory Authority
of the State of New York (DASNY)
Municipal government may bond if it owns the library building. School district may bond if it owns the library building. A municipality may bond on behalf of district if legislation allows. *

Board of Trustees

Number: 5-25. Elected by association members. Term of office: set by charter.Responsible to association membership and to Regents. Residential requirements may be established in bylaws. Number: 5-15. Approved by municipal governing board; term of office: three
or five years if established after 1921.
**Responsible to municipal government, public, and Regents. Must be residents of
municipality (except village library).
Number: 5-15. Elected by school district voters. Term of office: three or
five years (if established after 1921).
**Responsible to school district voters and Regents. Must be residents of school
district.
Number: determined by enabling legislation. Elected by residents of special
district. Term of office: five years or as defined by legislation. Responsible to special district voters and Regents.
Residency requirements determined by enabling legislation.

Community Involvement

Public can join association and may vote for trustees. Public “owns” library; votes for elected officials who are sympathetic
to library needs.
Public “owns” library and votes directly for trustees and budget. Public “owns” library and votes directly for trustees and budget.

Retirement Benefits

May purchase retirement benefits from private vendor. Some may be in State
Retirement System if specified in statute.
State Retirement System benefits through municipality. State Retirement System benefits through school district or independently. State Retirement System benefits if library district opts to participate.

Civil Service

Employees not covered by Civil Service. Employees subject to Civil Service Law. Employees subject to Civil Service Law. Employees subject to Civil Service Law.

Notes:

* Special district public libraries are created by
act of the New York State Legislature. Each one is different and reflects
the particular needs and situation of that district. There is no
comprehensive legal definition of a special district public library.

** Became effective January 1, 1999.

Abbreviation Type of Library Abbreviation Type of Library
ACi Association City PCi Public City
ACo Association County PCo Public County
AO Association Other PO Public Other
ASD Association School District PSD Public School District
PSLD Public Special Legislative District
AT Association Town PT Public Town
PJT Public Joint Town
AV Association Village PV Public Village