Montana Laws

The Constitution of Montana (Article X, Education and Public Lands, 1(3)) directs the Legislature to "provide a basic system of free quality public elementary and secondary schools" and "other such educational institutions, public libraries and educational programs as it deems desirable."

Laws specific to libraries are contained in the Montana Code Annotated (MCA). In addition, there are a number of Administrative Rules of Montana (ARM) that concern library operation and funding mandates.

A selection of state laws and rules you should be familiar with as a library trustee include the following.

Free Public Libraries

The stated purpose of this law is "to encourage the establishment, adequate financing, and effective administration of free public libraries. in this state to give the people of Montana the fullest opportunity to enrich and inform themselves through reading."

The following items are addressed in this MCA chapter.

Creation of a legal public library:

Mill levies, special library funds and bonds 

Authorization, allocations and investment of a library depreciation reserve fund

Trustee appointment, compensation and term length

Board size, vacancies and election of Board chair powers and duties of trustees

Board appointment of and compensation for the library director and staff

Exclusion and extension of library use privileges

Assumption of county library functions by a city:

County commission may contract with city library Board to provide countywide public library services.

County commission may use county library fund to cover costs of this contract.

Joint city-county libraries, Boards and funding:

Governing bodies may establish and maintain a joint library by contract.

County may levy special tax for operation of library.

Another section of Free Public Libraries is the Information Access Montana Act, which provides state aid to public libraries which is administered by the Montana State Library Commission. Two aid provisions in this act include the following:

Statewide Interlibrary Resource Sharing Program

The purpose of the program is to administer funds appropriated by the legislature to support and facilitate resource-sharing among libraries in Montana. Currently this funding is used to reduce the costs of OCLC software (used to provide interlibrary loans) and to reduce the ongoing costs of the Montana Shared Catalog (MSC.) The MSC is a consortium that encourages sharing of materials between libraries by making it possible for patrons at one library to see and place holds on the items at another library. In addition, the collaboration of the MSC allows its member libraries to have more robust software so they can take advantage of new technologies that provide convenient access for their patrons.

Direct State Aid to Public Libraries for Per Capita

The per capita portion of the direct state aid to public libraries is distributed annually and is based on a formula using the library's service area size and population.

District Libraries

Under a law passed by the 2001 Montana Legislature and revised in 2005, communities can establish a library by forming a public library district. These districts must contain at least $5 million of property valuation. Electors create the district and set the initial tax levy in an election. Electors also elect members of the library board of trustees, who have similar powers as those of city or county library boards. Because district boards are not under the direct control of local city or county governments, they have greater autonomy than other types of library boards. For more information on forming a library district, contact the State Library or read the Public Library District Handbook on the State Library web site.

Multijurisdictional Service Districts

This law allows municipalities and counties to form multijurisdictional service districts to improve and expand library services. As far as practical, the boundaries of the service district follow precinct, school district, municipal and county lines. These districts are formed by a resolution from the governing body, petitioners initiating the creation of a special district or by referendum.

The district is administered and operated by either the governing body or by a separate elected or appointed board as determined by the governing body. A special district created by a combination of local governments must be administered according to an interlocal agreement.

Local governments are authorized to make assessments or impose fees for the costs and expenses of the special district.

Library Records Confidentiality Act

This act mandates no person may release or disclose any portion of a library record that identifies a person as having requested, used or borrowed library materials except in response to a written request from the person identified in that record, court order or National Security letter (see Federal Laws). The law applies to all library users, including children. Confidentiality protection for library records is waived when materials are overdue or lost.

Library Federations

This group of laws discusses library federations which attempt to pool resources and avoid duplication of effort. Public libraries that participate in federations are eligible for state aid monies that are awarded through the federation. Details include establishment of a federation, participants, benefits, governing board, resolution of disagreements, and administration of federation appropriations. (More information about federations can be found here .)

The Big Bill, H.B. 124

In 2001, the Montana Legislature significantly changed state law relating to local government and taxation with passage of House Bill (H.B.) 124. Specifically as it relates to libraries, H.B. 124, referred to as "the Big Bill," amended MCA 22-1-304 to delete reference to a five-mill levy cap for cities and seven-mill for counties. As amended, the statute authorizes the city or county to simply levy mills for support of the library, making no reference to the number of mills to be levied, provided that the budget fits within the restrictions of MCA 15-10-420.

In place of the numeric levies formerly found in MCA 22-1-304 and other statutes, MCA 15-10-420 was amended to allow a city or county to levy sufficient mills to raise an amount equal to the property tax raised in previous years with an upward adjustment to account for inflation. MCA 15-10-420 includes the formula for determining the authorized maximum. As a result, with passage of the Big Bill, local government officials can raise mills up to the maximum authorized without going through the election process. Your local city and/or county clerk can provide you with more information about the Big Bill and its affect on the library.

The final change the Big Bill made was more significant than those listed above. Prior to the Big Bill the library board was seen as the final authority on the bottom line of the library's budget as well as the line items within the budget. Current Attorney General Opinion has brought to light that the Big Bill changed this. Library boards are still the final authority on individual line items, but the local governing bodies have control over the bottom line of the budget. For more information about this particular Attorney General Opinion please see our informational page which includes an FAQ for 54 Op. Att'y Gen No. 7.

Open Meetings

The Open Meeting Law requires that meetings of public or governmental bodies-including boards, bureaus and commissions-must be open to the public. The Montana Legislature revised the law in 2006. A summary of the changes to Section MCA 2-3-203 include the following requirements:

Each agency (in this case, the Library Board of Trustees) shall develop procedures for permitting and encouraging the public to participate in agency decisions that are of significant interest to the public.

The procedures must ensure adequate notice and assist public participation before a final agency action is taken that is of significant interest to the public.

The agenda for a meeting must include notice of action and must allow for public comment on any public matter, which is noticed for action.

No action can be taken unless it has been noticed.

Public comment must be incorporated into the official minutes of the meeting.

Generally, Boards who have followed MCA 2-3-202 and MCA 2-3-203 in the past will not have a problem complying with the revisions.

The Open Meeting Law continues to allow the presiding officer to close portions of the meeting if he or she determines that the demands of individual privacy clearly exceed the merits of public disclosure. However it should be noted that the individual involved does have a say in whether or not the meeting is closed.

Code of Ethics

The code of ethics is designed to prohibit conflict between public duty and private interest by specifying rules of conduct for public officers, which includes library trustees. The rules cover confidential information, gifts and other economic benefits or compensations.

Montana State Library Commission

This law establishes the State Library Commission. The Commission is composed of the State Superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction, or a designee; five governor appointees, who serve staggered terms of three years each; and a librarian from the Montana university system, appointed by the Commissioner of Higher Education.

Montana State Library

The State Library Commission maintains and operates the Montana State Library, located in Helena. This law addresses the role of the library in providing library services and support to state government, the library federations and local libraries. 

Public Library Standards

These administrative rules detail standards for public libraries and the process libraries must follow to meet those standards. To receive state financial aid public libraries must meet the essential standards under each category.

Other State Laws and Local Ordinances

Many state and local laws not specific to public libraries will also be of interest to trustees. For instance, local zoning laws, parking restrictions, building codes and safety restrictions need to be considered. Questions about these and other laws can be directed to the city or county attorney.