Free Direct Access

November 28, 1997


TO: The Honorable the Members of the Board of Regents Committee on Cultural Education

SUBJECT: Free Direct Access to Libraries

Attached are our recommendations to the Board of Regents to deal with the issue of free direct access to library services by all residents of a public library system. At your Committee meeting in December, Janet Welch will be reviewing these recommendations with you and recommending the Full Board’s approval to release these recommendations for public comment.

I recommend that the Regents take the following action:

VOTED: That the Committee forward the recommendations to the Full Board and recommend that the Board of Regents approve the release of the recommendations for the purpose of public comment.

VOTED: That the Board of Regents approve the recommendations for the purpose of release to the public for comment.

Respectfully submitted,

(signed Carole F. Huxley)

Carole F. Huxley

Approved: (signed Richard T. Mills)

Date: (dated December 1, 1997)


To New York State Board of Regents on


Commissioner’s Regulation 90.3(b), in providing for free direct access to all libraries within a library system to holders of a library card of any member library or system, was intended to promote the sharing of resources between libraries in a system. While in general it has served this purpose admirably across the State, in some localities it has created hardships for individual libraries; these hardships were documented in the Task Force Report on Free Direct Access, dated September, 1997. Most apparent are the problems of unserved areas, in which residents must rely on neighboring communities for library services and disparate levels of library support, which lead to overuse of very good libraries by people in nearby municipalities that have inadequate library services and facilities. This disparity of funding seldom correlates to the ability of a municipality to support a library; some of the poorest communities in valuation per person are doing an excellent job, while adjacent communities with very high valuations have no libraries or poor ones.

The basic irony of the present situation is that free direct access, intended to provide equal access to libraries for all New Yorkers, can act as a disincentive for a community to establish a library or adequately support its library if good library services are readily available nearby.

The Task Force concluded that:

  • one single solution to these local hardships will not work statewide;
  • no library service is without cost; and
  • adequate local funding, regardless of the size of the community, is required for quality library service.

Recommendations: It is recommended that the following short- and long-range strategies to improve the effectiveness of free direct access.

Reaffirm the commitment of New York State to universal library service for all New Yorkers: The first priority of the Board of Regents should be to reaffirm its commitment to ensure that all residents of New York have access to high-quality, convenient library services that are provided at no direct cost. All the concerns discussed in the Task Force Report on Free Direct Access are artifacts of the inequities that currently exist in library services in New York State: the 1.3 million New Yorkers who live in areas unserved by chartered libraries, and even more who are living in areas that are underserved.

The following recommendations seek to relieve the local hardships described in the Task Force Report on Free Direct Access. These recommendations will require changes to Commissioner’s Regulation 90.3(b) to implement the procedures listed below:

Change in procedures for amending a library system’s Plan of Service regarding Free Direct Access: Local hardships do exist in certain library systems due to current inequities. The Task Force report provides a valuable resource in understanding and deciding the merits of applications for relief from regulation as follows:

  • Applications for amendment to modify unrestricted, free, direct use for the conditions enumerated in Regulation 90.3(b) (2) will require approval only at the system level. Amendments that are approved by a two-thirds vote of the members of a public library system will be filed with the system’s Plan of Service with the State Education Department. Only requests for remedies outside those listed in Regulation 90.c(b)(2) will require approval of the Commissioner.
  • Applications for amendment of a Plan of Service must be endorsed by the system. As is current practice, the Commissioner will accept applications only through systems. Libraries that make applications for relief from free direct access regulations must apply through their public library system and their applications be approved by a two-thirds vote of the members of the system.
  • Application for amendment must include a recommendation for remedying the underlying inequity. The request for relief from regulation must specify a fixed time period for the relief, after which reapplication will be permitted.
  • Public library systems must address the underserved and unserved in their service areas in their Plan of Service. All public library systems will include the following in their Plan of Service: an analysis of the unserved and underserved in their service area; a definition of the deficiencies; recommended actions that will provide acceptable library service to those populations; a timetable for taking action; and, assignment of responsibility for providing service. These plans may include recommendations for action by other parties, e.g., the Commissioner of Education.

Commission on Libraries: The Commission on Libraries, already approved by the Regents, will provide a powerful vehicle for advancing the goal of universal library services to all New Yorkers. Among the many tasks with which the Commission will be charged, one of the most fundamental will be to examine and develop recommendations to address the underlying inequities in library service and remedy the hardships described in the Task Force Report on Free Direct Access :

  • Mandate public library service for all residents of New York State: Provide mandated library service to all New Yorkers through chartered libraries or contracts for services, just as free elementary and secondary education have long been mandates of the State.
  • Incentives for municipalities to provide library services: To encourage localities that provide no library services to establish a library or contract with another municipality for library services.
  • Examine existing systems and networks: To strengthen their ability to promote cooperation and collaboration and provide leadership within their service area.
  • Consider funding options: Recommend those most likely to further the goal of chartered library service for all New Yorkers, such as grants for new chartered service, incentives for sharing services, reimbursement aid, incentives for merger and contract services.

The goal of the Regents Commission on Library Services will be to ensure that all communities within New York State have quality library service. The Task Force Report on Free Direct Access documents the inequities in library service across the State and provides an invaluable resource in understanding and evaluating those inequities. Those local hardships caused by free direct access are best addressed by finding the means to overcome those inequities and delivering universal, quality library services to every community in the State -–a permanent solution to the problem of unequal access to libraries and library services.

Last Updated: July 9, 2009