Free Direct Access



The Board of Regents today reaffirmed its commitment to free direct access to public libraries for all New Yorkers when it approved an amendment to public library system regulations at its meeting in Albany.

The amendment increases regional flexibility and includes a way to limit overuse of community libraries by residents of neighboring communities that pay little or no taxes to support library services. At the same time, the amendment clearly prohibits libraries from charging individuals and families for library cards.

Regents Chancellor Carl T. Hayden noted that the change is an interim step to help relieve the pressures on local libraries of overuse by nonresidents while the Regents Commission on Library Services identifies and addresses the fundamental causes of the problem. "We want to ensure the broadest access to information for all, not just those who can afford to buy a library card," said Hayden.

State Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills said, "Access to library services for all is critical if we are to raise the educational standards and achievement for New Yorkers. This decision takes us another step toward achieving that goal."

"The amended regulations permit public library systems to develop policies and procedures that will allow their member libraries to ease undue burdens resulting from direct access requirements", said State Librarian and Assistant Commissioner for Libraries Janet Martin Welch. "For example, a library might limit borrowing in popular areas like bestsellers, videos and books on tape, but it cannot charge individuals for cards. Libraries must continue to provide free access to the educational and informational resources New Yorkers need."

Based on a 1997 survey, the State Education Department estimated that approximately 90% of libraries were providing nonresidents with free library cards. Most of the libraries that charge for library cards are located on Long Island with others scattered throughout the state. The amendment, which goes into effect January 29, 1999, will require each of the state's 23 public library systems to include in its service plan a provision guaranteeing free use of library resources to people residing within the system's boundaries. In order for the system to receive State aid, the State Education Department must approve its plan of service.

The Regents Commission on Library Services was appointed by the Board of Regents in June 1998 to develop a plan to provide the greatest access to information for all New Yorkers and develop a comprehensive set of policy recommendations to improve library services in New York State in the next century. The Commission includes 17 appointed members. Honorary Members from the public and private sectors will be appointed to advise the Commission. The Commission is examining issues including:

  • Equitable library service for all New Yorkers,
  • Organization and relationship of libraries and library systems,
  • Financial support for libraries and library systems,
  • Projections of service needs in the 21st century,
  • Role of the New York State Library in leading and supporting new directions for library services,
  • Visibility and public awareness of libraries and library systems as a source of lifelong learning and enrichment.

The final report of the Regents Commission on Library Services will be presented to the Regents in June 2000.


Last Updated: August 9, 2019