A review for seasoned trustees and a must read, for new trustees, as we start 2015.
This information below & much more can be found in the Trustee Handbook.


Library Laws and Regulations

As education corporations, libraries are subject to a wide range of federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations. While trustees cannot be expected to understand all the details of every pertinent law, they should be familiar enough with the major legal issues to be assured that their library is always in compliance. Boards are strongly advised to solicit the assistance of legal counsel well versed in education and municipal law.  It is important however, for every trustee to understand the legal foundation of their library and the extent and limitations of the Board of Trustees’ authority.

Public libraries in New York State are chartered by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York. The charter gives the library a corporate existence. The basic powers and duties of all library boards of trustees are defined inEducation Law Section 226.external link opens in a new window This law provides fundamental rules of conduct for the Board and details important powers such as the right to hold and control property and hire staff.

Other pertinent N.Y. State Education Laws and Regulations include (Ed. Law links will open in a new windowexternal link opens in a new window):

All public libraries are subject to various parts of the Education Law, Public Officers Lawexternal link opens in a new window and Not for Profit Corporation Lawexternal link opens in a new window, as well as numerous other New York State laws governing the conduct of corporations, both public and private; compelling reasons for the Library to retain knowledgeable legal counsel.

Public libraries, municipal, school district or special legislative district public libraries, are also subject to numerous laws and regulations designed to protect the public interest.  Most notable of these include:

  • Civil Service Law  (Job titles, Examinations, due process)
  • General Municipal Law (Bidding and Procurement; Conflicts of Interest)
  • Labor Law (Hour & Wage, Safety and “Wicks Law”)
  • Public Officers Law  (Indemnification, Open Meetings & Freedom of Information)
  • N.Y. State Comptroller’s Regulations (Accounting standards, Investments)

An excellent compilation of the laws, regulations and pertinent legal opinions affecting public libraries in our State


The New York State Library provides an up to date summary of Excerpts from New York State Law and Regulations of the Commissioner of Education pertaining to libraries, library systems, trustees and librarians and a compilation or recently enacted library law

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 260external link opens in a new window.

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. [Formexternal link opens in a new window]  A library that has such an exemption is required to file IRS Form 990external link opens in a new window.

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” [Applicationexternal link opens in a new window] from the New York State Department of Taxation and Financeexternal link opens in a new window to avoid the payment of state sales tax.  Public libraries are by law exempt, though they still must use Form ST-129external link opens in a new window 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 Statusexternal link opens in a new window]  Public libraries generally rely on their Friends or Foundation to take full advantage of 501(c) 3 status.

As noted in the section on Library Board Meetings, each library board is required by the Open Meetings Lawexternal link opens in a new window to conduct its business in public with only a few very limited exceptions. All municipal, school district and special district libraries must also conform to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Lawexternal link opens in a new window (FOIL). Though association libraries do not fall under the provisions of this law they are wise to consider such a policy since they are generally supported by public funds.

See: New York State Department of State, Committee on Open Government.external link opens in a new window

Every library is also required to file the Annual Report for Public and Association Libraries with the Division of Library Development of the State Education Department, detailing library activities and finances. Compliance with the state established minimum standards is also reviewed in this annual report. Failure to file such a report in a timely fashion can lead to the loss of state funding and ultimately to the closing of the library.

By Regulation 90.2, the Commissioner of Education has established minimum standards for public libraries. They are as follows:

A public library is required to have:

  • Written by-laws;
  • A board-approved, written long range plan of service;
  • An annual report to the community;
  • Written policies for the operation of the library;
  • A written budget proposal for presentation to funding agencies;
  • Printed information describing the library’s rules, hours, services, location, and phone number.

In addition, a public library is required to:

    • Periodically evaluate the effectiveness of the library’s collection and services;
    • Maintain hours of service according to a schedule based on population served;
    • Maintain a facility which meets community needs;
    • Provide equipment and [electronic] connections to meet community needs;
    • Employ a paid director with qualifications based on population served.

The minimum number of hours a library must be open to the public, as established in Commissioner’s Regulation 90.2external link opens in a new window, are as follows:

  • Population

    Minimum Weekly Hours Open

    Up to 500












    100,000 and above


    The minimum education qualifications for library director, as established in Commissioner’s Regulation 90.8, are as follows:

    • 2,500-4,999 population: two years of college study;
    • 5,000-7,499 population: bachelor’s degree;
    • 7,500+ population: Master’s degree in Library Science (MLS).

    Library boards should be aware that the Board of Regents now requires continuing professional education for new librarians to maintain their certification and provide opportunities for their staff to fulfill this requirement [SEECommissioner’s Regulation 90.7]. 

    A public library in New York State must meet these Minimum Standards in order to be registered to receive public funds.

    See also Helpful Information for Meeting Minimum Public Library Standards and New York’s Public Libraries Meet Minimum Standards.