What is a Public Library District?

School District Public Libraries and Special Legislative District Public Libraries are the most common types of public library districts. However, the Board of Regents has acknowledged that other organizational models, such as the Association Library District model, may share the primary attributes of a public library district. As defined by the New York State Education Department, a public library district is a public library which has a process that requires: (a) public election of its trustees; (b) the library to secure 60 percent or more of its operating revenue through a public budget vote; and (c) the library to ensure financial accountability by presenting annually to appropriate funding agencies, and the public, a written budget which would enable the library to meet or exceed the minimum standards (see 90.2) and to carry out its long-range plan of service.

This guide explains the various types of public library districts and related models and provides information on the steps necessary for creating public library districts. Chart showing the differences in the types of public libraries chartered by the New York State Board of Regents.

For existing libraries, find your current organization type below and follow the links to view your options for becoming a public library district.

Association Libraries

An Association Library is an independent, “private” organization chartered by the New York State Board of Regents that is not part of a municipality or a school district. Because they are not public entities, Association Libraries are not subject to civil service or municipal finance laws.

Historically, Association Libraries have provided library services to their chartered service areas under the terms of a contract with one or more municipalities and have received operating funds through those contracts. Trustees of Association Libraries are usually elected by members of the Association, which in some cases are defined as being all library-card holders. In other cases, the Association is composed of people who elect to join by paying a small annual fee. In still other cases, the board of trustees of the library acts as the Association. The Association and the process for electing trustees are usually defined in the library’s charter or in the official bylaws. More than half of the 754 public libraries in New York State are Association Libraries.

An Association Library can become a public library district by re-chartering as a School District Public Library or a Special Legislative District Public Library. In addition, Association Libraries that choose to retain their “private” status may consider the Association Library District model. To find a more thorough description of these three models, click on the appropriate link above for each one.

Municipal Libraries

A municipal pubic library is one that is formed by a municipal entity such as a village, town, city, or county. Traditionally, municipal libraries receive their funding through an appropriation by the municipality in which they are located. The appropriation shows up as a line item in the village, town, city, or county budget. Trustees of municipal public libraries are normally appointed by the local village or town board, the city council, or the county legislature. Although municipal public libraries may place funding propositions on a municipal ballot (Chapter 414) or a school district ballot, they usually have no mechanism for trustee elections. Therefore, municipal public libraries do not normally qualify as public library districts.

A municipal library can become a public library district by re-chartering as a School District Public Library or as a Special Legislative District Public Library.

Last Updated: July 13, 2009 -- asm [created January 27, 2005]; for questions or comments, contact us