Public Libraries

Question

I have always been under the impression that it is illegal for public libraries to fundraise on their own, aside from 2 book sales per year. If a school district public library no longer has a Friends Group, can it host fundraisers? For example, could the library itself host a bingo night and raise money? Can a school district public library send out a fundraising letter?

Answer

There are a lot of questions packed into this submission!

Let's take them one at a time.

First question: "I have always been under the impression that it is illegal for public libraries to fundraise on their own, aside from 2 book sales per year." [1]


Question

The [NAME REDACTED] Public Library has a materials selection policy in place. When recently updating the policy, trustees had questions about the "responsibility" section which states:

Answer

What an insightful question.

Here is my answer: no, "delegate" is not quite the right word in this context.  A more suitable phrase could be:

"Per library policy, the Director, or an employee designated by the Director, has authority and responsibility for the selection of library resources."

Here is why:


Question

A local artist has asked for us to become a fiscal sponsor (act as a “pass-through” organization). Is this something a public library can do?

Answer

A "pass-through" is when a 501(c)(3) organization agrees to let a non-501(c)(3) use its tax status to accept grant money.  It’s a not uncommon arrangement; in fact, some 501(c)(3)’s are actually set up to do it so smaller and less established organizations can benefit from grant money.


Question

[This question is a quasi-fictional mash-up of some questions we got from some town libraries and a cooperative library system.]

Answer

First: I'd like to thank the libraries and the library system who brought up this issue.  The questions raised in this submission only materialized because they were committed to careful reading of the law and to doing the right thing.

Second: before answering, I have to set out two caveats.


Question

A school district public library is considering installing closed-circuit cameras and thinking of enabling sound recordings, too. Is it legal to record sound, thinking it is a violation of patron privacy? Can board members review the tapes?

Answer

The answer to these highly specific questions will assume readers have reviewed the ALA's excellent general guidance at https://www.ala.org/advocacy/privacy/guidelines/videosurveillance and the "Ask the Lawyer" guidance here: https://wnylrc.org/raq/patron-pr


Question

The library is chartered as a school district public library and thus exempt from NYS sales tax. Due to a mold issue we ended up having our HVAC contractor rent two humidifiers for us, the contractor made the arrangements and we paid for the rental via the contractor. The contractor told the renting business that we were tax exempt. The renting business refuses to remove the sales tax.

Answer

Short answer: You can't find anything to verify that claim because what is claimed is wrong.

Long answer:  The rental business may be wrong, but I can't blame them the way I can blame someone for parking in a "No Parking" zone.[1]


Question

Does a contractor have to comply with FOIL request if they are contracted to a county government?

Answer

New York's Freedom of Information Law, or “FOIL”, applies to government agencies (including public libraries) but cannot be used to compel private companies (or individuals) to allow inspection or copying or records.


Question

The NYS law requiring people to demonstrate a reason to conceal carry a weapon has been overturned by the Supreme Court. What this means for libraries. Is there anything we can do to prevent guns in the library?

Answer

When New York’s "proper-cause requirement" for obtaining an unrestricted license to carry a concealed firearm was struck down by the United States Supreme Court on June 23, 2022[1], the New York State Legislature--in a state still reeling from fatal gun violence in Buffalo just weeks before--swiftly passed laws to replace it.[2


Question

There are reports of first amendment audits happening in rural towns and villages. Public libraries are limited public forums - how can we stop the filming, as quietly as possible without causing a social media frenzy.

Answer

For a person who hasn't run into this concept yet, a so-called "First Amendment audit" is an increasingly popular trend where people visit government buildings and demand access to information--along with the privilege to film on site--all in the name of the law, democracy and transparency.

As a lawyer and U.S. citizen, I am all for the law, democracy, and transparency.


Question

We are beginning our long-range planning process and are asking patrons to fill out a community survey to assess what the community wants to see in the library now and in the future. Thinking it was a good idea to raffle off gift cards to encourage participation, I gave my board trustees a letter requesting a donation of gift cards.

Answer

Following our "do not reinvent the wheel" rule for "Ask the Lawyer," prior to diving into this, we checked the "Trustees Handbook" posted at https://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/trustees/handbook/handbook.pdf.  On page 57, it provides an excellent summation of the concern at play in the issue of trustees and fund-raisin