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Nebraska Library Board Manual

 CHAPTER CONTENTS Legally Establishing a Public Library Community Cooperation Founding of Public Libraries Public Library's Legal Basis Legal Responsibilities of Trustees How Are Trustees Chosen? Trustee Duties Laws That Govern Board Meetings Nebraska Laws to Know

This chapter offers information on the legal establishment of public libraries in Nebraska. It also alerts board members to some common legal issues that occur in libraries and summarizes some sections of the state statutes with which trustees should be familiar. It does not, however, offer legal advice. Board members with specific legal questions should contact the library's attorney or the municipality's or county's attorney.

  How is a Public Library Legally Established?

A city council, village board of trustees or the electors of a township may establish a public library by resolution or by ordinance. A county board also may establish a county library, provided that the voters of the county have approved such action at a general election.
Laws on establishing libraries:
  • For any city, incorporated village, county, or township: Neb. Rev. Stat. § 51-201
  • For cities of the first class (more than five thousand and not more than one hundred thousand inhabitants): Neb. Rev. Stat. § 16-251
  • For cities of the primary class (cities having more than one hundred thousand and less than three hundred thousand inhabitants): Neb. Rev. Stat. § 15-230
  • For cities of the metropolitan class (cities having more than 300,000 inhabitants): § 14-102(27)


  Community Cooperation

Can a community cooperate with other institutions, agencies, or entities to provide library services?  The Interlocal Cooperation Act. Neb. Rev. Stat. (§§13-801 - 13-807) permits all Nebraska local government subdivisions to provide any services jointly which they are legally authorized to provide alone. In other words, all villages, cities, townships and/or counties may cooperate to provide public library services in any combination. See also the Public Facilities Construction and Finance Act (Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 72-2301 to 72-2308.)

In addition, public libraries also are empowered to contract for the provision of library services to school districts (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 51-208; Neb. Rev. Stat. § 51-217.) For other methods for cooperation, see the Joint Public Agency Act (Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-2501 to 13-2550.)


  How Have Public Libraries Been Founded?

The earliest public libraries in Nebraska were established as privately-funded service activities, often founded as community projects by local Women's Clubs. Later, those libraries were legally established as publicly-operated and funded libraries. Eventually, public libraries were often established as tax-supported governmental services.


  What is a Public Library's Legal Basis?

Local government units (villages, cities, townships and counties) derive their legal authority from the Nebraska Constitution and Statutes. Public libraries are established and governed according to those statutes, and according to the local ordinances approved by the local governing bodies within their statutory authority. Every Nebraska public library is part of a local government unit. Legislation regarding public libraries in Nebraska is permissive: that is, every local government unit has the authority to either establish, or not establish, a public library.


  Legal Responsibilities and Liabilities of the Trustees

A trustee of a public library is a public officer who holds the public trust in regard to the operation of the library. The citizens and taxpayers of the government unit are the recipients of that trust. The law imposes high standards. Managing funds is one of the highest legal obligations of a board, particularly when the funds are from taxes. Other duties include obeying the laws governing libraries, accepting the duties and responsibilities of the office, and diligence in serving as a trustee.


  How are Trustees Chosen?

The city council decides whether members of the board will be appointed (by the city council) or elected. The law requires that boards have at least five members. The city council determines the length of terms and decides how many members the board will have. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 51-202.


  How Can Trustees Fulfill Their Duties in a Responsible Manner?

All public library trustees should recognize and accept their legal positions as governing agents of their libraries. (See also Chapter 13 “Advisory Boards” for more information.) Board members should be aware of general legal requirements in order to carry out duties required by state law. These include, but are not limited to: 
  • Making policies for the library. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 51-205.
  • Controlling library expenditures. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 51-207.
  • Hiring the library director. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 51-207.
  • Reporting to the city council or village board “before the second Monday in February in each year.” Neb. Rev. Stat. § 51-213.


  What Laws Govern Board Meetings?

Regular and special meetings are subject to the requirements of the Nebraska Open Meetings Act [Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 84-1407 — 84-1414.]
  • Library board meetings must be open to the public and news media. The community "owns" the library, and trustees govern on behalf of the citizens. Public awareness of the library’s operation, its plans and problems can be very beneficial.
  • Minutes for all meetings must be in writing and open for public inspection within 10 days of each meeting’s adjournment.
  • Announcement of the meeting and the basic agenda must be publicized with “reasonable advance” notice. An announcement could be placed in the local newspaper. A copy of the meeting notice should be posted at the library or wherever the meeting will be held.
  • The board needs to post at least one current copy of the Open Meetings Act [Nebraska Revised Statutes sections 84-1407—84-1414] in the meeting room, so that it is accessible to the public. The chair of the board also needs to inform the public about the location of the posted information about the Law.
  • If the board enters into an executive or closed session, no formal action may be taken in that session. All decisions must be formally adopted in an open board meeting in order to be legally binding. Notification of closed sessions needs to be posted just as the regular agenda is posted.
    • There are reasons to have closed sessions. When voting to go into closed session, the motion should identify the subject matter and the specific reason. The board might go into closed session as necessary for the protection of the public interest or for the protection of the reputation of an individual, unless that individual requests an open meeting.


  Nebraska Laws to Know:

Cooperation among local governments, institutions & entities: Funds:
  • For cities of the metropolitan class--population of three hundred thousand inhabitants or more:
  • For cities of the primary class--population of more than one hundred thousand and less than three hundred thousand inhabitants:
  • For cities of the first--population more than five thousand and not more than one hundred--and second class, and all villages:
  • For cities of the second class--population more than eight hundred and not more than five thousand inhabitants:
Libraries & Museums: Public Records:
  • Records which may be withheld from the public. Nebraska Revised Statutes § 84-712.05 (11)
Obscenity; certain library exceptions: Open Meetings Act:


NCompass Live: Nebraska Public Library Laws: Chapter 51 and Beyond

While Nebraska public libraries are agencies of local government, the laws that specifically deal with the formation and governance of those libraries are state laws. Library directors and board members should be familar with library specific laws, as well as other statutes not specifically aimed at libraries, but which may affect libraries. Watch this webinar to learn the essentials of Nebraska State Statutes that affect Nebraska Public Libraries. Presenters: Scott Childers and Christa Porter (2023)


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created 2006; rev. 7/2015                                                        For more information, contact Holli Duggan

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