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Policy Frequently Asked Questions

Modified on 2020/12/04 11:27 by Jeremy Stroud Categorized as FAQ, Policy
Do operational policies and procedures require board approval?
No. Operational documents do not require board approval because they are based on board-approved policy statements.
May public libraries allow the display of campaign materials on their premises?
As stated in PDC Interpretation 91-03 from the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC):
It is a normal and regular function of a public library to obtain and provide public access to campaign brochures, fact sheets, voters and candidates pamphlets and similar documents which provide information regarding election campaigns.

Any library which chooses to display campaign material must provide equal opportunity to both proponents and opponents of any ballot measure or to all candidates. Preferential treatment may not be provided to one side over another or to one candidate or political group.

If supporters of one side of an issue or a candidate ask that material be displayed, library employees must make a good faith effort to obtain material from opposing or competing groups and make those materials available in library facilities.

There is no obligation on the part of libraries to serve as a distribution point for campaign materials.

May public libraries allow their meeting rooms to be used for political activities?
Although RCW 42.17A.555 prohibits the use of public facilities to support or oppose a ballot measure or an election campaign, it also provides for exceptions including those “[a]ctivities which are part of the normal and regular conduct of the office or agency.”

Further clarification is provided by WAC 390-05-271, which states that:

RCW 42.17A.555 does not prevent a public office or agency from (a) making facilities available on a nondiscriminatory, equal access basis for political uses or (b) making an objective and fair presentation of facts relevant to a ballot proposition, if such action is part of the normal and regular conduct of the office or agency.”

Additional information may be found in the following sources:

Is there a process outlined in state law to determine if a book is obscene?

In response to this question, a legal consultant from MRSC stated:

There is nothing in the state obscenity laws that determines the process for declaring library materials obscene.  However, there is a legal process that can be used to determine if material is erotic. “Erotic material" means printed material, photographs, pictures, motion pictures, sound recordings, and other material the dominant theme of which taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest of minors in sex; which is patently offensive because it affronts contemporary community standards relating to the description or representation of sexual matters or sado-masochistic abuse; and is utterly without redeeming social value. (See RCW 9.68.050).

"Erotic material" — Determination by court — Labeling — Penalties. (RCW 9.68.060)

  1. When it appears that material which may be deemed erotic is being sold, distributed, or exhibited in this state, the prosecuting attorney of the county in which the sale, distribution, or exhibition is taking place may apply to the superior court for a hearing to determine the character of the material with respect to whether it is erotic material.
  2. Notice of the hearing shall immediately be served upon the dealer, distributor, or exhibitor selling or otherwise distributing or exhibiting the alleged erotic material. The superior court shall hold a hearing not later than five days from the service of notice to determine whether the subject matter is erotic material within the meaning of RCW 9.68.050.
  3. If the superior court rules that the subject material is erotic material, then, following such adjudication:
    1. If the subject material is written or printed, or is a sound recording, the court shall issue an order requiring that an "adults only" label be placed on the publication or sound recording, if such publication or sound recording is going to continue to be distributed. Whenever the superior court orders a publication or sound recording to have an "adults only" label placed thereon, such label shall be impressed on the front cover of all copies of such erotic publication or sound recording sold or otherwise distributed in the state of Washington. Such labels shall be in forty-eight point bold face type located in a conspicuous place on the front cover of the publication or sound recording. All dealers and distributors are hereby prohibited from displaying erotic publications or sound recordings in their store windows, on outside newsstands on public thoroughfares, or in any other manner so as to make an erotic publication or the contents of an erotic sound recording readily accessible to minors.
    2. If the subject material is a motion picture, the court shall issue an order requiring that such motion picture shall be labeled "adults only". The exhibitor shall prominently display a sign saying "adults only" at the place of exhibition, and any advertising of the motion picture shall contain a statement that it is for adults only. Such exhibitor shall also display a sign at the place where admission tickets are sold stating that it is unlawful for minors to misrepresent their age.
  4. Failure to comply with a court order issued under the provisions of this section shall subject the dealer, distributor, or exhibitor to contempt proceedings.
  5. Any person who, after the court determines material to be erotic, sells, distributes, or exhibits the erotic material to a minor shall be guilty of violating RCW 9.68.050 through 9.68.120, such violation to carry the following penalties:
    1. For the first offense a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars, or imprisoned in the county jail not more than six months;
    2. For the second offense a gross misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not more than one thousand dollars, or imprisoned for up to three hundred sixty-four days;
    3. For all subsequent offenses a class B felony and upon conviction shall be fined not more than five thousand dollars, or imprisoned not less than one year.

Note, however, that the “erotic materials” statutes exclude public libraries from prosecution:

Exceptions to RCW 9.68.050 through 9.68.120. (RCW 9.68.100)

Nothing in RCW 9.68.050 through 9.68.120 shall apply to the circulation of any such material by any recognized historical society or museum, the state law library, any county law library, the state library, the public library, any library of any college or university, or to any archive or library under the supervision and control of the state, county, municipality, or other political subdivision.

That leaves the question of how someone would challenge material in a library.  Generally, they first would take the matter to the library board.  After that there would be a challenge in county superior court.  However, since banning books raises First Amendment issues, it is possible that the challenging party could attempt to bring in action in federal district court.  Both state and federal courts may have jurisdiction. 

From my review of cases, most of the challenges to books are for school libraries.  The big topic now for public libraries is internet access to allegedly-obscene materials.

What process must a city or town use to accept a donation?

MRSC posts the following response:

“Every city and town in the state has the authority to accept donations. There is no specific process set out in state law, and a public hearing is not required before the donation can be accepted.

RCW 35.21.100 provides:

Every city and town by ordinance may accept any money or property donated, devised, or bequeathed to it and carry out the terms of the donation, devise, or bequest, if within the powers granted by law. If no terms or conditions are attached to the donation, devise, or bequest, the city or town may expend or use it for any municipal purpose.

Although this language can reasonably be interpreted to mean that a city must pass an ordinance to accept each and every donation it receives, many cities interpret it to mean that the city must establish by ordinance a procedure for accepting donations. Some cities authorize a particular city official, such as a clerk-treasurer or city manager/administrator, to accept donations on behalf of the city. Others provide that the council will do so, and, unless specified, that could be done by motion or resolution.

In the absence of a delegation of authority to accept donations, we recommend, at a minimum, that the city council pass a motion or resolution accepting the donation.”

May a public library charge user fees for the services provided by the library?

According to AG Opinion AGO 2005 No. 5, “Existing statutory law prohibits public libraries from charging fees for traditional library services, such as borrowing books or reviewing materials at the library. Libraries may charge fees for services which are beyond the traditional purposes of a library and are provided as a convenience for the public.”

This Opinion reaffirms AGO 1992 No. 31, which notes that the library can charge a fee to nonresidents.

Does a public library operated by a city organized under the Optional Municipal Code (RCW 35A) have authority to charge fines for overdue books and other library materials?

According to AG Opinion AGO 2005 No. 5, “[p]ublic libraries have authority to impose and collect fines for keeping library materials beyond their due date or otherwise abusing the right of free access to the library.”

Can a library charge user fees for services provided to non-residents?
MRSC posts the following response:
Reviewed: 08/11

Yes. AGO 1992 No. 31 reviews this issue, noting that basic library services must be provided free of charge to residents of the political jurisdiction which supports the library through taxation. The corollary is that public libraries can charge user fees to those who do not live within the jurisdiction which provides the tax revenues to pay for the library. In fact, if a public library provides services to non-residents without charging a fee, an argument can be made that the library is violating the "gift clause" of the state constitution [ Article 8, section 7 ] . Libraries can charge for ancillary services such as copying machines, phones, fax machines, etc. - that issue is also covered in the AGO.

What options are available for patrons who do not wish to have their addresses disclosed (such as for library card access) due to being a victim of domestic violence?

If a patron registering for a card does not want to give us their address on the grounds that they are victims of domestic violence, you may refer them to the Address Confidentiality Program for Victims of Domestic Violence in the State of Washington.

Under the auspices of the Office of the Secretary of State in Olympia, the ACP can help keep such a person's home, work, or school address secret (to satisfy the patron's desires) and give them a substitute mailing address and forward first-class mail from that address (to satisfy the library's needs).

  1. Refer the patron to the ACP (if they wish to take advantage of this program):
    Washington State Address Confidentiality Program
    PO Box 257
    Olympia, WA 98507-0069
  2. Issue a library card when the patron presents the laminated ACP card with the substitute address.
May a damaged book belonging to a public library be donated to a patron after that patron has paid for the book’s replacement?

An informal AGO Opinion issued 1/26/1967, signed by Assistant Attorney General Arthur W. Verharen and addressed to Maryan E. Reynolds, states:

"While a library board's ability to sell real property is questionable, a board does possess the power to transfer title to personal property… There is no legal impediment preventing a library from giving a damaged book to a library patron after the patron has paid for the book's replacement especially in view of the broad powers vested in a library board by RCW 27.12.210."
Is a County Prosecuting Attorney either required or authorized to provide legal advice and representation to a rural library district or a regional library composed of a rural library district and a city library?

An informal AGO Opinion issued 11/12/1976, signed by Deputy Attorney General Philip H. Austin and addressed to Jeffrey C. Sullivan, states:

“Your question is answered in the negative… This office [has] characterized a rural county library district as an independent political subdivision rather than, merely, a county agency… We concluded that the prosecuting attorney was required to provide legal representation [to] county agencies rather than independent municipal corporations… Those duties and functions do not include that of providing legal counsel and representation to a library district.”
Do state agencies have the authority to spend public funds in order to lobby on their own behalf?

An informal AGO Opinion issued 11/19/1979, signed by Assistant Attorney General Robert E. Mack and addressed to Gary Strong, states:

"RCW 42.17.190 appears to authorize state agencies, which are not otherwise expressly authorized by law to do so, to expend public funds for lobbying activities."

RCW 42.17.190 was recodified by Wash. Sess. Laws 2010 c 204 § 808 as RCW 42.17A.635. RCW 42.17A.635 provides more detail:

“Any agency, not otherwise expressly authorized by law, may expend public funds for lobbying, but such lobbying activity shall be limited to (a) providing information or communicating on matters pertaining to official agency business to any elected official or officer or employee of any agency or (b) advocating the official position or interests of the agency to any elected official or officer or employee of any agency. Public funds may not be expended as a direct or indirect gift or campaign contribution to any elected official or officer or employee of any agency.”

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Always consult legal counsel for specific concerns.

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