Apr 17 2011

California State Librarian Discourages Free Library Access

Oakland Public LibraryCalifornia’s State Librarian Stacey Aldrich takes the position that California public libraries may not provide free library access to all California residents under Education Codes 18960 and 18961.  While asserting her position is supported by a legal opinion, a legal opinion was not provided and the attorney writing the opinion was left unnamed.  The State Librarian’s position appears inconsistent with the purpose of State Public Library Fund grants and the current policy of library systems in Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara and the Bay Area to provide free access to all residents of the State of California.  This includes Oakland and City and County of San Francisco libraries in this area.

The Librarian’s email cites two codes sections:

  • Education Code Section 18960 Every library established pursuant to this chapter shall be forever free to the inhabitants and nonresident taxpayers of the municipality, subject always to such rules, regulations, and bylaws as may be made by boards of library trustees.  Any person who violates any rule, regulations, or bylaw may be fined or excluded from the privileges of the library.
  • Education Code Section 18961 The board of library trustees and the legislative body of any neighboring municipality or the board of supervisors of the county in which the public library is situated, may contract for lending the books of the library to residents of the county or neighboring municipality, upon a reasonable compensation to be paid by the county or neighboring municipality.

Education Code Section 18731 establishes a minimum standard for public access: it states that public libraries “may not exclude the residents of any jurisdiction maintaining a public library”.  However, this code section does not appear to prohibit libraries from providing greater access.  Many library systems in California publicly offer free library access to all residents of the State of California – this includes the Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, the City of Oakland, Alameda County, and San Francisco library systems.

Education Code Section 18731. Universal borrowing. Any California public library may participate in universal borrowing. Public libraries participating in universal borrowing may not exclude the residents of any jurisdiction maintaining a public library. Public libraries that incur a net imbalance shall be reimbursed for the handling costs of the net loans according to the allocation formula developed pursuant to subdivision (f) of Section 18724. Reimbursement shall be incurred only for imbalances between:
(a) System member libraries and independent public libraries.
(b) Independent public libraries with each other.
(c) Member libraries of one system with member libraries of other systems.

In addition, the State of California funds a Public Library Foundation (PLF) which provides annual grants to local public libraries.  The purpose of the program is:

“. . . to embody the state’s interest in the general diffusion of information and knowledge through free public libraries. . . . The funds assure the availability to every resident of the state an adequate level of public library service regardless of the taxable wealth of the local jurisdiction providing the service. Funds are appropriated annually in the State budget to support the program.”  This legislative purpose is stated in California Education Code Section 18012. (law.justia.com/codes/california/2009/edc/18010-18013.html)

Oakland’s most recent grant from the PLF was in the amount $154,661 for FY 2010-2011. The PLF program appears to encourage, if not require, libraries to offer access to all state residents.

Aldrich’s statement was emailed to Tam Hege, the President of Piedmont’s League of Women Voters,  on April 11, 2011.  Staff Report, including State Librarian’s email (see p. 20)

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