Administrative Read Reference

Public Libraries and the Law

Types of Public Libraries

More than 600 public libraries operate in Illinois. Each type of library is governed by a section of the Illinois Compiled Statutes. Public libraries fall into three basic statutory categories:

  • Local libraries, which include city, village, and township libraries [75 ILCS 5/]
  • County libraries (none presently exist in Illinois) [55 ILCS 5/]
  • Public library districts [75 ILCS 16/]

Public libraries are also governed by various specific provisions of other general local government statutes on topics ranging from open meetings, public contracting, conflicts of interest, and so forth. While all public libraries possess similar powers and limitations, they also feature many differences.

Local Libraries

Local libraries are semi-autonomous municipal corporations organized under the Local Library Act [75 ILCS 5/1-1 et seq.]. The Act creates distinctions among local libraries depending on the type of governmental unit in which they are located.

The Act also lists different procedures for establishing the library and selecting its trustees and terms of office.

  • City libraries
    • Cities may organize a public library solely by the action of the city council.
    • City libraries are governed by a board of library trustees, appointed by the city mayor with city council approval, and comprised of 9 residents of the city.
    • Not more than one member of the city council can serve on the library board at any one time.
    • City library board trustees hold office for three years.
  • Village, towns, or township libraries
    • Village, towns, or township libraries require elections to establish a local library.
    • Village, towns, or township library board members are elected at the consolidated election and must be residents of the incorporated village, town, or township.
    • Village, towns, or township library boards consist of 7 members.
    • Village, towns, or township library board trustees hold office for 6 years unless the board adopts a resolution that the terms of the trustees shall be 4 years.
    • Village, towns, or township libraries are required to elect a president and secretary. Other officers may be elected, such as a treasurer and a vice president.

District Libraries

Public library districts are wholly independent local government units, sometimes referred to as a "special taxing district," organized under the Library District Act [75 ILCS 16/1-1 et seq.].

  • Public library districts are created by an election or a conversion of a pre-existing library.
  • Public library district board trustees are elected at the consolidated election and consist of 7 trustees.
  • Public library district board trustees hold office for 6 years unless the board adopts a resolution that the terms of its trustees shall be 4 years.
  • Public library districts are required to elect a president, a treasurer, and a secretary.

County Libraries

County libraries can be organized to provide for public county library service as agencies of the county government.

  • County libraries are created by an election.
  • County library board members consist of 5 members approved by the county board and serve five-year terms.

Comparison of District Libraries and Local Libraries

Similarities for all types of public libraries:

  • The authority to adopt bylaws, rules, and regulations.
  • The exclusive control of expenditures of money collected for the library.
  • The supervision of new, remodeling, and reconstruction of buildings and maintenance of all space used for library purposes.
  • Authorized to hire a qualified librarian.
  • Authorized to retain legal counsel.
  • Authority to enter into contracts.*
  • Authority to take title to property.*
  • Authority to exercise the power of eminent domain.*
  • Authority to borrow money, execute a mortgage, and acquire, lease, or sell real or personal property.*
  • Authority to participate in support of a historical museum or other services under the intergovernmental cooperation provisions of the Illinois constitution.
  • Subject to constraints of the First Amendment.
  • Must comply with Illinois and federal law and regulations as appropriate.
  • Required to file an annual report with the State Librarian.
  • Authorized to raise money through the levy of taxes for public library taxes.

*Local libraries require certain approval of corporate authorities for these actions.

Differences between local libraries and district libraries:

  • District libraries are wholly independent units of local government; local libraries are not.
  • Appropriation for a district library is made solely on its own; local library appropriation is made through the corporate authority's appropriation.
  • The levy for district libraries is enacted by the district; local libraries' levy is included with the corporate authority's levy.
  • District libraries may issue tax anticipation warrants; local libraries cannot unless issued by the corporate authority.
  • District libraries issue their own bonds; local libraries can only issue bonds with permission of corporate authority.
  • District libraries have no specific statutory debt limit; local libraries may have a debt limit depending on the type of corporate authority.
  • District libraries enter into independent collective bargaining agreements; local libraries may be required to participate in the bargaining agreement of its corporate authority.
  • District libraries may annex additional territory through referendum, consent of property owner, or other means; local libraries cannot exceed the boundaries of their corporate authority.