As New York State 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 their
public library system and seek the advice 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 receive a charter from the Board of Regents of
the University of the State of New York and are registered with the Education
Department. The charter gives the library a corporate existence. The basic powers
and duties of all library boards of trustees are defined in Education Law § 226.
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. A library’s
“registration” demonstrates compliance with Education Department Regulations (8
New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (NYCRR) § 90.2 (Minimum Standards).
A library must maintain its registration to receive local and state public funding.
Other pertinent New York State Education Laws and Regulations include:
Education Law:
 § 216 – Charters and incorporation
 § 226 – Powers of trustees of institutions
 § 253 – Definition of a public library
 § 254 – Standards of library service
 § 255 – Establishment of a library
 § 256 – Library service contracts (with unchartered areas)
 § 259 – Library taxes and funding
 § 260 – Powers of Trustees; School District Public Library authority
 § 272 – Library Systems
 § 273 – Apportionment of State Aid
Handbook for Library Trustees___________________________2015 Edition; Revised 10.16
8
Commissioner’s Regulations:
 § 11.4 – Annual Reports
 § 90.2 – Minimum Standards
 § 90.3 – Public Library Systems;
 § 90.4 – Central Libraries
 § 90.7 – Certification of Public Librarians
 § 90.8 – Personnel
 § 90.9 – Library Services Aid
 § 90.12 – State Aid for Library Construction
All public and association libraries are subject to various parts of the Education
Law, Labor Law, Public Officers Law and the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law
(including select portions of the Non-Profit Revitalization Act), as well as
numerous other New York State laws governing the conduct of corporations, both
public and private; a compelling reason for the Library to retain knowledgeable
legal counsel.
Public libraries, those considered to be municipal, school district or special
legislative district libraries, are also subject to several additional laws, regulations
and policies 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, Oath of Office & FOIL)
 NY State Comptroller’s Policies and Procedures (Accounting standards,
investments, etc.)
An excellent compilation of the laws, regulations and pertinent legal opinions
affecting the public libraries in New York State is available at:
http://nyla.org/images/nyla/files/Public_Library_Law.pdf
Handbook for Library Trustees___________________________2015 Edition; Revised 10.16
9
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 at:
http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/excerpts/index.html.
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 governance of the library
to clearly understand their particular configuration. For a detailed comparison chart
see: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/libs/pltypes.htm
An association library is a private corporation established by the members of the
association. 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-forprofit
education 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 transparency and accountability in mind as they make decisions. In addition
to Education Law such libraries are subject to some aspects of the New York State
Not-for-Profit Corporation Law.
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. The library is an independent corporate entity and not
dependent upon the municipal government. However, the board of trustees is
appointed by the municipality, which is responsible for the appropriate funding of
the library. The library 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). Typically the library
board is elected by the district residents. The library and the library board are
Handbook for Library Trustees___________________________2015 Edition; Revised 10.16
10
independent of the school district and the school board. However, 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 § 260 (7)-(11).
A special legislative district library is created by a special act of the State
Legislature and a local public vote to serve all or part of one or more municipalities
or districts as defined by its enabling legislation. Each of these libraries is
somewhat unique but all are considered “public” insofar as adherence to state law.
Tax exempt status: Every association library should obtain federal tax-exempt
status under Section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This exemption
allows the library to avoid federal tax liability and also to be eligible to receive taxdeductible
gifts. A library that has such an exemption is required to file Form 990
annually with the Internal Revenue Service. (http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-NonProfits/Charitable-Organizations).

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.
Failure to file three years in a row will result in the revocation of the library’s
501(c) (3) status. Federal law requires that the library’s completed Form 990 must
be on file at the library and available for public inspection upon request. In
addition to the federal tax exemption, each library should also obtain a state sales
tax exemption certificate.
Public libraries (municipal, school district and special legislative district) are, by
definition, a government entity under IRS code, and therefore tax exempt and not
501(c) (3) corporations. However, public libraries may receive a confirmation of
tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service to use with grant makers and
businesses. (http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/libs/pldtools/guide/1taxxmpt.htm).
Transparency: As noted in the chapter on Board Organization, each library
board is required by the Open Meetings Law and Education Law §260a to conduct
Handbook for Library Trustees___________________________2015 Edition; Revised 10.16
11
its business in public with only a few very limited exceptions. All municipal,
school district and special legislative district libraries must also conform to the
requirements of the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL)
(http://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/index.html).
Although 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
and are often subject to public scrutiny.
Every library board is also required to approve and file an annual State Report with
the New York State Library 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 and
local funding and ultimately to the closing of the library.

  • By Education Department Regulations (8 NYCRR) § 90.2, the Commissioner of
    Education has established minimum standards for public and association libraries.
    A public library is required to have:
     Written bylaws;
     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.
    Handbook for Library Trustees___________________________2015 Edition; Revised 10.16
    12
    The minimum education qualifications for library director as established in
    Commissioner’s Regulation § 90.8 are as follows:
    Chartered Population Education Qualification
    2,500 – 4,999 Two years of college study
    5,000 – 7,499 Bachelor’s degree
    7,500+ Master’s degree in Library Science (MLS) and
    NYS public librarian’s professional certificate
    A library in New York State must meet these Minimum Standards in order to be
    registered to receive public funds. The library board is ultimately responsible for
    ensuring these minimum standards are met. A practical explanation of these
    standards is available at: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/helpful.htm
    In addition, NYS General Municipal Law § 30 requires each public library to file
    an annual report of financial transactions with the Office of the State Comptroller
    (OSC).

Resources:

Related Documents and Policies:

  • Annual Report to the Community
  • Library Charter/Enabling Legislation
  • Long Range/Strategic Plan
  • Public Access to Records (FOIL) Policy