Federal Laws

Numerous federal laws affect public libraries. A selection of these laws of particular interest to trustees includes the following.

Americans with Disabilities Act

It is not unusual for Boards to have questions about the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This major piece of civil rights legislation made it illegal to discriminate against people with physical, mental or emotional disabilities. It requires public facilities, such as public libraries, to make reasonable modifications to ensure equal access to these individuals.

Boards that choose not to modify the library to make it physically accessible must be able to demonstrate that people who do not have access to the building can receive substantially the same services as those who can enter the building.

Employment Laws

Libraries must abide by federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination in relation to hiring, promotion and all other working conditions of employment. It is illegal to discriminate against qualified applicants on the basis of sex, race, creed, color, religion, age, country of national origin, individual life style or physical or mental disability. Stated policies should demonstrate that the library Board makes every effort not to discriminate.

Most library employees also fall under minimum wage and fair labor standards laws. Boards should consult with city or county attorneys regarding how these and other federal laws affect the library. The U.S. Department of Labor's Employment Law Guide - Laws, Regulations, and Technical Assistance might be helpful.

Library Services and Technology Act

In 1996, the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) replaced the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA), which had been in operation since the 1950s. LSTA, which is administered by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), helps states develop electronic networks among libraries. These networks make it possible for libraries to share information resources as well as provide library services to users with special needs.

LSTA funds are awarded annually and administered by the State Library Commission. These funds are used for State Library programs, such as the Talking Book Library and Library Development Department, as well as statewide projects such as the MontanaLibrary2Go and Montana Shared Catalog. 

Telecommunications Act of 1996 (E-Rate)

In 1997 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Universal Service Order implementing the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The order is designed to ensure that all eligible schools and libraries have affordable access to modern telecommunications and information services. Each year, up to $2.25 billion is available to provide eligible schools and libraries with discounts on authorized services. These discounts are often referred to as the "E-Rate." 

Services covered by E-Rate range from basic local and long-distance phone services to Internet access services. Acquisition and installation of equipment to provide networked access to these services can also be covered for libraries whose discount rates are high enough.

To apply for E-Rate discounts, a library must meet the Montana Public Library Standards. For any services beyond basic telecommunications and Internet, a library must develop, submit and receive approval of a technology plan to ensure that the library has the ability to use the discounted services once they are purchased. (For more information on technology plans, see Additional Planning). Some E-Rate eligible services also require CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act) compliance.

Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA)

Libraries that wish to receive federal funding for services classified as "Internet Access" and "Internal Connections" must comply with both CIPA and the Neighborhood Children's Internet Protection Act (NCIPA). CIPA requires use of a technology protection measure (often referred to as a filter) on any computer that can access the Internet, including staff computers. Any public library using E-Rate or LSTA funds for certain purposes must comply with the filtering requirements. Filtering is not required when a library receives funding for telecommunications only (i.e., telephone or data circuits).

Although filters must be installed on every computer that can access the Internet, adult users can request that the filter be removed. Therefore, the State Library recommends that libraries purchase filters that can be disabled.

Neighborhood Children's Internet Protection Act (NCIPA)

Libraries receiving federal funding for "Internet Access" services are required to put in place measures that protect children using the Internet. The main focus of NCIPA is Internet use policies. To comply with NCIPA, policies must address the following:

Access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet and the Web.

The safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms and other forms of direct electronic communications.

Unauthorized access, including so-called hacking, and other unlawful activities by minors online.

Unauthorized disclosure, use and dissemination of personal identification information regarding minors.

Measures designed to restrict minors' access to materials deemed harmful to minors.

Adapted from Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction materials.

Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA Patriot Act )

Enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Patriot Act broadens the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice. Among its provisions, the act allows the FBI to seek the library records of any patron suspected of terrorist activities without first obtaining a search warrant or showing probable cause. The agency simply has to state that the agency believes the records are related to an ongoing investigation linked to terrorism. Once the patron's records are requested, the library is under a gag order and prevented from speaking about the search, meaning that the librarian cannot inform the patron that the FBI has obtained his or her records.

Changes were made to the Patriot Act when it was reauthorized in March 2006, including the following:

The standards under which the FBI can obtain library records in the course of an investigation are now slightly more stringent.

The librarian can now disclose receipt of the request order, called a Section 215 order, to "any person to whom disclosure is necessary to comply with such order." In addition, the new wording explicitly allows the recipient of the order to consult with an attorney and to obtain legal advice or assistance "with respect to the production of things in response to the order" and disclosure to "other persons as permitted" by the FBI director or the director's designee.

The recipient is now allowed to challenge the Section 215 order but only in a special court.

The recipient is now allowed to challenge the gag order within certain circumstances.

The Patriot Act remains quite complicated. Libraries across the country are dealing with the provisions of the act that affect them in different ways. You can learn more about the law and what your library needs to consider from the American Library Association.