Chartering a Public Library in New York State
IMPORTANT: Please contact your library's Regional Consultant at the Division of Library Development and your public library system when considering any charter-related actions.
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Libraries are organized by a board or a group of people who wish to provide services to a community. The first concerns of any organizing library board are to acquire an adequate facility and adequate funding. Once the library is established, a board's responsibilities are to:
- appoint a qualified director (SEE CR90.8); secure and maintain adequate funding; and
- set policy.
However, before applying for a charter, there are numerous things the organizing group needs to consider.
- What area will the library serve? Is there an existing library in that service area?
- How will the library be funded?
If there is an existing library that is not opposed to sharing responsibilities and resources, it may make sense to merge with it in order to avoid creating overlapping service areas.
When a board or group with the resources and the prospect for acquiring adequate facilities decides to form a library, their first point of contact should be the public library system. There are 23 public library systems in New York State. The New York State Library's Division of Library Development in the State Education Department also assists local communities that wish to establish a library. The staff of Library Development works in partnership with System staff to provide assistance with the establishment and chartering processes.
Law Pamphlet 9, issued by the State Education Department's Office of Counsel, is the authority for information about charter conditions and procedures. The general conditions under which the Regents issue charters are set forth in that publication.
The fee for a provisional charter for a new library is $100. For all other charter actions, the fee is $60. Checks to cover this cost should be made payable to The New York State Education Department. [SEE: Costs of Charter-Related Actions]
A newly established library is usually granted a provisional charter valid for five years. At the expiration of the provisional charter, the charter may either be made absolute or extended for an additional three to five years.
If the trustees of a library holding a provisional charter believe that the library is "educationally sound and stable, and capable of relative permanence" they may apply for an absolute charter. [SEE: Law Pamphlet 9.] A library may demonstrate its relative permanence in several ways: by growth of resources to support the services the library delivers to its public, by growth of collections, staff, services and the use of services, and by the degree to which it has become a fixture in the community it serves. The library should be providing services essentially equivalent to or better than those of other libraries in the same system and area, so that its existence cannot be considered a burden on others. Lack of permanence may be indicated by stagnant collections and programs, loss of staff, inadequate quarters, failure to achieve budget increases, failure to keep pace with other libraries in the system and the like.
At least four months prior to expiration of the provisional charter, the library's board of trustees should complete an application for either an extension of the provisional charter, or for an absolute charter. The application will be reviewed by the regional consultant and a recommendation will be made for either the extension of the provisional charter, or issuance of an absolute charter. [SEE: forms]
Establishing a Library
To establish a public library to serve a county, city, village or town, the following actions are necessary:
- The governing body of the municipality (for example, the town board) passes a resolution to establish a public library to serve the municipality. (Education Law §255.1)
- The same governing body appoints 5-15 trustees to govern the library, except that in cities the trustees are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the common council. No person who is a member of the municipal council or board authorized to appoint trustees is eligible to become a trustee. (Education Law §260.1, 2, 4)
- The municipal governing body makes an appropriation to support the operation of the library.
- The trustees draw lots for terms of office that are staggered so that as nearly as possible one-third or one-fifth expire each year. Thereafter trustees are usually appointed to serve either three-year or five-year terms. (Education Law §260.2) [SEE: Terms of Office of Trustees]
- Within one month after taking office, the first board of trustees must apply to the Board of Regents for a library charter. (Education Law §261) This application should be accompanied by a copy of the library's first year budget.
- Registration. [SEE: Registering a Public Library]
To establish a school district public library in either a central, union free or city school district, the following actions are necessary:
- The board of education receives a petition signed by 25 or more qualified voters of the school district asking that the question of establishing a public library to serve the school district and appropriating with an initial budget of (specified sum) to support the library be put before the voters at the next regular school district meeting, (which is the same as the next school district election) or at a special meeting (election) called for this purpose. (Education Law §255.1).
- The board of education also receives petitions nominating candidates for the library board of trustees. At least 25 qualified voters or 2% of the voters who voted in the last annual election of members of the library board of trustees, whichever number is greater, must sign the petitions. (Education Law §260.8) The Board must be made up of between 5 and 15 trustees. The actual number to be elected must be specified.
- The board of education puts the questions of 1) Establishment and initial budget and 2) Election of trustees before the voters at the next school district election. This may be a regular or special election called in accordance with school district law.
- The board of education certifies the results of the election, showing the number of votes cast for and against 1) the library's establishment with the initial budget of (specified sum) and 2) for each candidate for the library board of trustees. The library trustees are elected in the manner specified in subdivision b of Education Law §2018. [SEE: Terms of Office of Trustees]
- The establishment/budget proposition must receive a favorable vote in order for the library to be created.
- If the establishment/budget proposition is passed, then the elected trustees take office. Within one month after taking office, the library board of trustees must take the oath of office (Public Officers' Law S. 10 "Official Oaths")
- Within one month after taking office the library board must also apply to the Board of Regents for a library charter. (Education Law §261) A copy of the library's first year budget should accompany the library's charter application.
- Within one year, the library must submit an "Application for Library Registration." [SEE: Registering a Public Library]
See also Education Law
(In most cases a library (or libraries) already exists and wishes to change to a special legislative district.)
Special district public libraries are usually established to set specific, municipal or non-municipal boundaries for a library district and to allow the residents of a district to vote on the library's budget and trustees. The special district library is a public library with its own Board. The Board has the powers specified in the enabling legislation as well as those in Education Law.
To establish a special district public library the following actions are necessary:
- Write and pass the enabling legislation in cooperation with the State Legislators.
- Current library board investigates the concept and process.
- Current library board defines the desired service area of the library, based on the residence of library users.
- Analyze registration and/or usage patterns of the area.
- Develop alternatives for allocating costs among constituent municipalities.
- Contact neighboring libraries, the public library system, and the New York State Library's Division of Library Development regarding the action the Board wishes to take.
- Communicate with affected municipalities.
- Current library board votes to proceed.
- Current library board develops and plans a timetable for the overall process.
- Current library board develops budget for the first year of operation for the special district public library.
- Current library board identifies and contacts Legislator to introduce bill in the Legislature.
- Current library board seeks support for the enabling legislation and vote. A letter of home rule may be needed from affected municipalities. A letter of home rule is the sign off of the local municipality to allow the library board to go forward with seeking the legislation it needs to establish the district.
- Work with the New York State Legislator(s) sponsoring the bill and his or her staff and aides, the current library board drafts the bill. In drafting the bill current Education Law and other bills for special district public libraries should be consulted for ideas about what should be included in the legislation. Allow enough time before the vote to inform the public about the purpose of this action and what the vote is about.
- The bill is introduced in the Legislature. Sponsor elicits co-sponsors.
- When the bill passes, the Governor signs it into law as Chapter "XXX", Laws of 20__". This enabling legislation gives the locality(ies) the right to hold a referendum to create the library district, as specified in the bill. The legislation does not create the district nor does it charter the library.
- Establishing the District.
- The date of the referendum is set in the enabling legislation. The election must be conducted as called for in the legislation and following specific election requirements.
- Persons must be solicited to run for the trustee positions. Proper petitions must be filed.
- The voters must pass two propositions:
- the establishment of the library district with an initial budget
- the election of trustees
- Applying for a Charter . If the vote is successful, within 30 days the newly elected trustees must apply to the Board of Regents for a charter as a special district public library. This application must be accompanied by the required forms.
IMPORTANT: Contact your library’s Regional Consultant at the Division of Library Development and your public library system to determine the appropriate forms to use.
4. Dissolution and Transfer of Assets to Newly Formed Special Library District. After the new special district public library board applies for a charter, the board of the former library must take action to dissolve the charter of that library and transfer its assets to the newly formed special district public library.
5. Registration. Finally, once the new special district public library receives its charter, it must apply for registration. (CR90.2, CR90.8) [SEE: Registering a Public Library]
Education Law defines an association library as "a library established and controlled, in whole or in part, by a group of private individuals operating as an association, close corporation or as trustees under the provisions of a will or deed of trust." An association library is such a library "maintained for the benefit and free use on equal terms of all the people of the community in which the library is located." (Education Law §253.2)
To establish an association library, the following actions are necessary:
- The association passes a resolution to establish a library and defines the area the library will serve.
- The association elects 5-25 trustees to govern the library. See Education Law §226 (1).
- The trustees draw lots for terms of office that are staggered so that as nearly as possible an equal number expires each year. Thereafter trustees are elected or appointed for full terms of three or five years.
- The board of trustees must seek and obtain funds to operate the library. An appropriation from a municipality or school district may be available through a contract for service. See Education Law §256.
- The first board of trustees must apply to the Board of Regents for a library charter within 30 days. This application should be accompanied by a copy of the library's first-year budget.
- Registration. [SEE: Registering a Public Library]
To establish an Indian library to serve an Indian reservation the following actions are necessary:
- The tribal government by majority vote or by request, establishes a library to serve the reservation. (Education Law §255.4)
- Five to fifteen trustees are elected at a general tribal election, or designated by the chiefs or head men of the Indian tribe, to govern the library. (Education Law §260.1,2)
- The trustees draw lots for terms of office that are staggered so that as nearly as possible one fifth expire each year. Thereafter trustees are elected or designated to serve 3-year or 5-year terms. (Education Law §260.2)
- The first board of trustees must apply to the Board of Regents for a library charter. (Education Law §261) This application should be accompanied by a copy of the library's first year budget.
Additional Charter Information
A library’s provisional or absolute charter may be amended. Frequent reasons for amendments are:
- to change the number or terms of trustees
- to change the library’s corporate name
- to change the chartered service area of the library
- to add the 501(c)(3) dissolution clause required by the Internal Revenue Service for tax exempt status
- to designate the Commissioner of Education as agent of the corporation against whom process may be served
See also Amendment of Charter (Petition and Resolution)
Type of Action:
- Provisional Charter application to establish a library: $100
- Absolute Charter application: $60
- Charter Amendment or Charter Extension: $60
- Charter Dissolution: $60
Checks are made out to: New York State Education Department
New York State Library / Division of Library Development
Cultural Education Center
Albany, NY 12230
Friends of the Library organizations and private libraries, which are not required to be registered, may be incorporated by either the Secretary of State or the Board of Regents by issuance of a Certificate of Incorporation. See Law Pamphlet 9 for incorporation by the Board of Regents.
No official application form is available. The petition should follow the outline of the petition for a provisional charter provided in Law Pamphlet 9. See also Certificate of Incorporation [Petition].
The Regents fee for a Certificate of Incorporation is $100, payable to The New York State Education Department.
See also Costs..
Chartering a Public Library, tri-fold brochure [80k]