RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Protecting Against Misconduct - 10/14/2020
In light of recent accusations of alleged misconduct by community organization volunteers utilizin...
Posted: Wednesday, October 14, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

In light of recent accusations of alleged misconduct by community organization volunteers utilizing public library facilities, how should libraries protect themselves moving forward?

Many of our libraries have community rooms that are reserved at no cost, or minimal cost, for service organizations, community groups, or private events. Typically these events are not monitored by library staff, and often occur outside of normal library operating hours. Although community room use by the public may be limited based on scheduling and other parameters, discrimination based on the type of program/service is generally prohibited.

What best practice measures should libraries implement to reduce liability? Is there particular language that we should include in our community room rental agreements or policies?

On a related note, what about other library visitors that make use of library common space on a regular basis for tutoring or counseling that doesn't constitute a library sponsored program or group? Library staff cannot always monitor what occurs out of view of staff workstations, and cameras don't typically capture every secluded space within the building.

Finally, what about staff who often work alone in the library, or alone in the children’s' room? Even with policies regarding unattended children under a particular age, those age limits are often well below adulthood and library staff are in a one-on-one situation for extended periods of time.

This concern is primarily related to accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse of minors, but could apply to anyone, at any time, for any reason.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

In 2012, I was an in-house attorney at a university when the "Penn State Scandal"[1] broke.  Along with the nation, I was horrified to learn about the serial sexual abuse of children by a powerful coach in an NCAA Division I football program--and just as critically, the system that allowed the abuse to go unchecked for so long.

If I hadn't been before, at that point I became acutely aware of the responsibility of an institution to safeguard the vulnerable populations it serves—even when only hosting or renting a part of its facility.[2]  I looked to the law and other guidance for solutions, and spent time working on contracts, policies, and trainings for safeguarding minors--and avoid liability for failing to do so.

As the member's questions point out, in a busy, community-oriented library, that liability can enter the scene in many ways.  Let's tackle their questions one-by-one.

Member question: Many of our libraries have community rooms that are reserved at no cost, or minimal cost, for service organizations, community groups, or private events. What best practice measures should libraries implement to reduce liability? Is there particular language that we should include in our community room rental agreements or policies?
I have spent a lot of time over the last four years[3] reviewing various library policies.  And if there is one thing I have learned, it's that almost every library governs the use of its space by outside organizations differently. 

This makes a uniform approach to this question difficult, but I think I can give you some good initial food for thought by providing two answers:

ANSWER #1: adopt a “Protection of Minors” addendum to written policies and (ahem[4]) "handshake procedures" for allowing use of your facilities for one-time (or very rare) use by outside groups.

Thank you for using the ABC Library for your gathering! 

At the ABC Library, our mission is based on service to the community, and that includes a commitment to practices that keep our community safe.

Therefore, a representative of your organization must fill out this "Assurance Regarding Minors" before granting you permission to use the space.

1.  Will your event include minors (children under the age of 18)?  YES     NO

If "NO", we're all set, please sign and date below.

If "YES", please continue

2.  Will your event require the guardian or parent of any minors attending to be present?

YES     NO

If "YES", we're all set, please sign and date below.

If "NO", please continue

3.  If minors unaccompanied by a parent or guardian will be at your event, please list the adults responsible for the well-being of the minors, and how your organization has confirmed they do not pose a risk to the minors.

Name

Role in your organization

Method of risk assessment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for filling out this assurance.

DATE: ________________

 

SIGNATURE: _______________________

PRINT NAME: ________________________

ADDRESS: ____________________________

 

WITNESS: _______________________

PRINT NAME: ________________________

ADDRESS: ____________________________

 

ANSWER #2: Add a "Protection of Minors" provision to the standard contract your library uses  to set the terms of regular/routine use of your facilities by outside groups.

[NOTE: A "Facility Use Agreement" should name the organization in the contract,[5] set out the rules for use, confirm if the use is paid, bar use for political purposes,[6] and—critically—if there is a heightened risk to the activity,[7] require insurance.  What I have set out below is just the provision related to minors.  A template facility use agreement is on "Ask the Lawyer" at https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/167.]

Protection of Minors

The ABC Library expressly forbids abuse or sexual abuse of minors on its premises. 

As a condition of using space in the Library, ORGANIZATION represents and warrants:

a.  ORGANIZATION has verified, and shall verify every six months, that all employees and volunteers who will be at the Library per this Facility Use Agreement are not listed on the New York State Sex Offender Registry.

b.  ORGANIZATION maintains a policy barring sexual abuse within its operations, and requires all employees and volunteers to report instances of sexual abuse to law enforcement within 24 hours of observation or receiving a report of sexual abuse; a copy of the policy is attached.

c.  The indemnification and insurance provisions in this agreement expressly include indemnification and coverage of the Library, its trustees, officers, employees, volunteers and agents for any complaint, claim, or cause of action related to alleged sexual abuse.

 

Next member question: On a related note, what about other library visitors that make use of library common space on a regular basis for tutoring or counseling that doesn't constitute a library sponsored program or group?

This is a very tough one, because the risk will vary based on the design and capacity of your library.

Libraries with space in wide-open areas near circulation and reference desks obviously have an advantage in this regard: there is lots of space for people to meet as described in the question, without the seclusion that can provide protective cover for illegal behavior. 

That said, libraries also provide secluded areas so people have places for quiet contemplation.  Quiet contemplation being one of the things we need more of in this world, I imagine most libraries are not considering totally getting rid of it any time soon.

There is no perfect solution to this issue, but here is the best input I can offer: once every few years (at least), a library should review its floorplan, policies, and any and all safety-related concerns with the library's insurance carrier.  They will be in a position to help the library assess its unique position in this regard.

 

Finally, what about staff who often work alone in the library, or alone in the children's room? Even with policies regarding unattended children under a particular age, those age limits are often well below adulthood and library staff are in a one-on-one situation for extended periods of time.
At least once a year, staff—especially staff who work alone or in isolated areas—should be trained on practices to keep themselves and others safe.  This should include:

  • Security protocols
  • Emergency response plan
  • Recognizing warning signs and preventing violence in the workplace
  • Appropriate boundaries in the workplace
  • Addressing and responding to medical emergencies (including mental health emergencies)
  • Enforcing the Code of Conduct
  • Generating documentation of incidents

For some libraries, this training will draw on a large collection of formal policies.  For others, it will simply be running through a series of standard operating procedures.

The goal of such training--and the answer to the member's question--is to develop and enforce good boundaries (set by written policy or a well-articulated "standard operating procedure"[8] or "SOP") that includes a clear set of rules[9] for how to interact with minors, and every person and co-worker in the library.  By developing such rules/procedures while focusing on the entire spectrum of how a library keeps its employees and patrons safe, the energy spent on training and thinking about safety-related best practices will be maximized.

  • Requiring groups routinely using library space to give critical assurances and supply insurance;[10]
  • Requiring less routine users to at least give written assurance as to how they ensure safety;[11]
  • Training employees regularly to be aware of and ready to enforce policies related to safety;

...positions a library to both diminish the risk of child abuse at its premises, and to have the documentation to show the library did the best it could to diminish that risk.  This reduces both the likelihood of harm, and liability.

And as always when it comes to managing risk and liability, as often as is practical, invite your attorney and your insurance carrier to participate in these efforts--they are critical partners in such initiatives. 

Thank you for a very important set of questions.



[1] I am sure you can Google it, but here is a link to a thorough summary: https://www.chronicle.com/package/penn-state-scandal/

[2] I am also a parent. However, you'll only get the cool, rational lawyer part of my brain for this answer, since the "parent" part of my brain does not think about this issue either coolly or rationally. 

[3] That's right, "Ask the Lawyer" has been around for almost four years! 

[4] Since COVID has killed the handshake, we'll just call these "unwritten policies."

[5] In the sample language, I am calling the organization using the library's room "ORGANIZATION."

[6] For more on this political issue, see https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/95.

[7] Like learning how to make stained glass (which can lead to nasty palm cuts), and leading a group of minors (which requires consideration of how an organization guards against abuse).

[8] Like, for instance, not having physical contact with patrons (no matter what their age).  Of course, such a protocol is a lot easier to enforce in COVID-times.

[9] If I ran your library, those rules would be: no physical contact with patrons (regardless of age), no unaccompanied minors under 16 allowed if the library only has one employee on staff, no leaving the circulation desk when patrons are in the library if there is only one employee on hand, no being in a room alone with an unaccompanied minor.  It would also be a rule that these rules are consistently applied.

[10] Answer #2.

[11] Answer #1.

Tags: COVID-19, Meeting Room Policy, Template, Behavioral misconduct

Topic: Friends and Library Cooperation Agreement
There are so many ways the relationship between a library and their Friends can get "complica...
Posted: Wednesday, September 30, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

There are so many ways the relationship between a library and their Friends can get "complicated."

Can you provide a template for an agreement between a library and their Friends?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

NOTE: As a primer to this answer, which mostly consists of the requested template, I suggest reviewing the materials in the ever-excellent "NYLA Handbook for Library Trustees,"[1] particularly the guidance and links on page 85.

"Ask the Lawyer" has addressed the issue of "Friends" relationships before.[2] This question presents a chance to address some common areas of concern pro-actively.

Of course, since an agreement is only as good as the lines of communication between the parties who are in it, aside from reviewing this template in advance of discussing it with your Friends, get ready to spend some time on this.  A good agreement is the product of a lot of discussion, back-and forth, and work for clarity—not the other way around.  And if you can, invite your lawyer to the table.

That said, a simple template can be a handy way to frame the discussion.  So with that, here it is:

 

TEMPLATE Cooperation Agreement

_____________ Library

and the

Friends of the ______________ Library

 

This agreement (the "Agreement") between the _________________ Library (the "Library") and the Friends of the  _____________ Library, Inc. (the "Friends") is intended to further the mission of the Library and the mission of the Friends by clarifying the mission-driven collaboration, shared commitments, and terms for collaboration between the two institutions ("Collaboration").

Mission-driven Collaboration

In all matters involving the Collaboration, the Library and the Friends shall be guided by their missions.

The mission of the Library is:

INSERT

 

The mission of the Friends is:

INSERT

 

In furtherance of their missions, the Parties set forth the below "Shared Commitments."

Shared Commitments of the Library and the Friends

Shared Commitment to Ethics

In all matters involving the Collaboration, the Library and the Friends shall be guided by the ethics of their institutions, including the American Library Code of Ethics, the Library Board's Code of Ethics, the oaths of office of the Library Board Members, and the Friends Board's Code of Ethics, and each parties' Conflict of Interest policy.

Shared Commitment to Legal Compliance and Transparency

As not-for-profit institutions governed by a variety of federal and state laws and regulations, the Parties operate under an array of legal obligations, and hereby commit to model compliance and all appropriate transparency in their stewardship of Library and Friend's resources.

Shared Commitment to the Success of the Library

The Parties agree that the very purpose of the creation of the Friends is the continued viability and growth of the Library, and all their Collaboration shall be to that end.

 

In furtherance of their shared commitments, the Parties set forth the below "Collaboration Terms."

Collaboration Terms

Use of Name

In consideration of the support enabled by this Agreement, the _________________ Library consents to the use of the Library's name in the name of the Friends.

Distinguishing the Entities

Although the Friends are allowed, by this Agreement, to incorporate the name of the Library into their name, each party agrees to exert extreme care to consistently distinguish one entity from the other, and to use their respective EIN's, proper corporate names, when relevant proper Charities Bureau number and corporate identification number, at all times to distinguish one from the other.   

This obligation shall be especially critical during any marketing, contracting, fund-raising, event-planning, and when either party communicates with the public or any oversight authority.

Inter-organizational Familiarity

To ensure mutual awareness of each other, the boards shall maintain a shared record of the current information for both parties, as it is available:

  • Charter (Library); Certificate of Incorporation (Friends)
  • Bylaws
  • Fiscal policies
  • Conflict of Interest policy
  • Current list of Board members and officers
  • Plan of Service (Library); Strategic Plan (Friends)
  • Social networking addresses
  • Meeting Schedule
  • Event Schedule

Board Participation

By no later than DATE, the Library and the Friends shall create and maintain a "Library-Friends Collaboration Committee," with at least three board members from each organization, for the coordination of any aspect of the Collaboration, and shall invite no less than three Library board members to serve on the committee in a voting capacity. The committee itself may also appoint three additional members, by majority vote, but the total membership shall not exceed nine. 

The Library-Friends Collaboration Committee shall have no authority to bind either the Friends or the Library.

Committee members shall serve one-year, renewable terms, which run from January to December (the Friend’s fiscal year).  The Committee shall be co-chaired by one appointee from each board, as named by the President of that board.

The stated purpose and authority of the committee shall be "To maintain a strong and routine collaboration between the Library and the Friends, to facilitate planning in furtherance of the mission of the Friends, and to ensure clarity in matters of fund-raising, fiscal goals, and specific donations."

The Library-Friends Collaboration Committee shall meet no less than quarterly, in furtherance of the commitments of this Agreement.

Annual Contribution Ratio

The Friends shall aspire to direct no less than INSERT% of their total annual income to the Library.  Any departure from this percentage shall be subject to a vote by both parties, based on the planned need to temporarily direct resources in another way, for the benefit of the library (for example, the Friends contracting with registered fund-raising counsel for a capital campaign).

Annual Planning Sheet

As part of the operations of "Library-Friends Collaboration Committee" the committee shall create for each fiscal year an "Annual Planning Sheet."  This sheet will list the special asks the library has (including but not limited to funding for acquisitions, equipment, programming, board discretionary funds, or a capital campaign), and will be used by the Committee and the Friends to determine fund-raising objectives for the year, and to pre-identify any departure from the annual contribution ratio.

Donations

The Friends will encourage donors to make "unrestricted" donations (donations without conditions).

If a restricted donation is accepted (for instance, a donation that requires a naming right, or a certain work of art be placed in the Library) the conditions of the donations must first be reviewed for consistency with the Library's controlling documents and strategic plan, and then accepted via a majority vote by the Library's board.

It is expected that at all times the Friends shall maintain appropriate records of donations and donor-restricted donations and shall issue, in a timely manner, letters of acknowledgement in furtherance of any tax credit the donor may qualify for.

Grants

The Friends may apply for grants from government and private entities for the benefit of the Library, but prior to applying for the grant, the conditions of the grant must first be reviewed for consistency with the Library's controlling documents and strategic plan, and then accepted via a majority vote by the Library's board.  This is to ensure that the time and resources used to apply for the grant are not wasted.

If the Friends apply for grants from government and private entities for the benefit of the Friends (for instance, to purchase donor management software, or to buy equipment the Friends will use for events), the Library does not need to be consulted.  However, the Friends and the Library will, through the Collaboration Committee, maintain awareness of grant applications, to ensure there are no redundant requests.

Annual Accounting

In MONTH of each year, the Treasurer of the Library, and the Treasurer of the Friends, shall meet to exchange financial reports, and to independently and/or jointly develop any observations or advice they as Treasurers may have for the Committee or their respective boards.

No Library Resources for Fund-Raising

It is understood between the Library and the Friends that no library employees shall staff a Friends' fund-raising event, and no Library resources whatsoever shall be used in furtherance of such event.[3]

Appropriate Boundaries

To avoid any concerns regarding authority and responsibility, no members of the Friends Board shall volunteer at the Library.

Dispute Resolution

To avoid any concerns to the detriment of the Friends or the Library, in the event either party believes the other has violated its mission, formation documents, charitable purpose, applicable laws and regulations, or this Agreement, the concerned party shall notify the other in writing.

If the dispute is not resolved within ten days, the parties shall agree to retain a New York Bar Association-listed mediator to resolve the dispute.  To select the mediator, the Library shall supply a list of 5 qualified candidates, and the Friends shall select the mediator from the list.  As part of their service as a neutral party, the Mediator shall certify that they may serve without a conflict of interest.

If one full-day session of mediation does not resolve the dispute, the concerned party may seek such other relief as appropriate.

Bi-annual Agreement Review and Amendment

This agreement shall continue for so long as the Friends continue activities for the benefit of the ______________ Library.

Every two years, the officers of the Friends and the Library, shall meet to review this Agreement, or refine their practices that are governed by it, as needed.

This Agreement may be amended through a two-thirds vote by both boards within the same two-month period.

Effective Date and Term

The Agreement is effective upon the date of incorporation of the Friends, and shall continue for so long as both parties are in existence.

With this understanding, on ________, the Board of the ___________________ Library passed a resolution to enter this Agreement effective as of _________________, and the Board of the Friends of the  _____________ Library, Inc. passed a resolution to enter this Agreement effective as of ____________, as signified by the signatures below.

[insert signatures, etc.]



[1] Found at: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/trustees/handbook/handbook.pdf

[2] Specifically, here: https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/113

[3] This is to avoid any risk of library resources being used in furtherance of a private organization.

Tags: Friends of the Library, Public Libraries, Template

Topic: Template Facility Use Agreemnet - 9/29/2020
Can you provide a template facility use agreement for renting or allowing community groups to regu...
Posted: Tuesday, September 29, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Can you provide a template facility use agreement for renting or allowing community groups to regularly use space in a public or association library?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Yes, I can!  But first, a few caveats:

  • Any template contract is just a starting point.  Use a lawyer to generate a version of this document customized to your library. 
  • For any Organization that wants to use your library for a high-risk event (sports, concert with stage or sound equipment, large event open to the public, routine presence of children), whenever possible, additional review for insurance concerns and premises liability is wise.
  • When filling this out, always make sure the nature of the Organization is confirmed (individual, DBA, LLC, NFP, corporation, etc.), and you have confirmed they exist as stated. 
  • If the form shows that an activity requiring a professional license is going to happen (haircuts, massage, tax prep, legal clinic) obtain a copy of the insurance coverage for the professional activity and make sure it names your Library.
  • No political events should occur unless it is confirmed the arrangements conform to IRS and NYS Charities guidance.
  • A copy of the signed contract should be kept for 7 years (because the statute of limitations to sue on a contract is 6 years). 

 

ABC Library

FACILITY USE CONTRACT

This contract for facility use is between the ABC Library (the "Library") and INSERT NAME ("Organization") an [insert type organization/individual] ("Organization") with an address of [INSERT], for temporary use of [INSERT ROOM# or Description] in the Library (the "Space").

Details of Temporary Use

 

Date(s) and time(s) of use

 

 

NOTE:  If use is routine ("Every Monday in 2020") note the routine

 

 

 

Purpose of use (the "Event/s").  Please describe the activity to be conducted while you are using the Space.

 

 

 

 

 

Estimated maximum attendees

 

 

 

Will you bring in any contractors or third parties under contract for this event?

 

If so, you must provide the Library with a copy of the contract and they must name the Library on their certificate of insurance.

 

 

 

Please list any special details

 

 

 

Person from Organization who will oversee Organization's use of the Space (must be present at all times) and their back-up person

 

Name:

Cell number:

E-mail:

 

Name:

Cell number:

E-mail:

 

[If applicable]

 

Rental Fee on a per-use basis

 

NOTE:  If the use is charitable and the fee is to be waived, the use must not involve any political activity as defined by the IRS.

 

 

 

[If applicable]

 

Fee is payable to [INSERT] and shall be paid by:

 

 

 

Will minors unaccompanied by parents/guardians be attending the event at the Space?

 

If yes: does Organization have a policy barring abuse of minors, and requiring instances of abuse of minors in connection with Organization's programs to be reported to law enforcement within 24 hours?

 

 

 

Is Organization a chapter or affiliate of a larger organization?

 

If so, include larger organization's name.

 

 

 

Will the event involve food or the creation of materials to dispose of?

 

If yes, what time will clean-up, including removal of all trash and recycling generated by the event, be completed?

 

 

 

Organization's Library Contact (the person who will help them with any questions and address any concerns)

 

 

Name:

Email:

Cell:


Library Mission and Terms of Use


The ABC Library's mission is [INSERT].

As part of its mission, the Library requires that all people on Library property abide by all the Library's policies.  In addition, while using the Space, Organization and any person at the Space in affiliation with Organization must at all times follow the below rules, and any reasonable request of any Library representative.

Rules include:

No harassing, abusive, or demeaning activity directed at any person or the Space.

No contact that violates any applicable law or regulation.

In the event of an emergency at the Library, Organization shall abide not only by the reasonable request of any Library representative, but also any first responder assisting with the emergency.

In the event of any injury to any person, or incident of property damage while the Space is in use, Organization will immediately notify the Library Contact listed in the chart above immediately.  In the event of a crime or medical emergency, call 911.

Aside from those attending the event(s) in the Space sponsored by Organization, no filming or taking pictures of any individual in the library (visitor or employee) is allowed, without their express permission.

After use, the Space will be restored to the condition it was in prior to Organization's use, by the Organization, unless otherwise specifically confirmed with the Library Contact.

Organization will not promote the event using the Library/Space as the location until this contract is fully signed and (if applicable) Organization has paid the applicable Rental Fee.

Drafting note: if the Library does not own the building, add any other rules based on requirements in the lease.

Violation of any rules may result in the termination of this Contract with no refund, and denial of future use.

Emergency Cancellation

This Contract guarantees that Library will reserve the Space for Organization as set forth in the "Details" section, above. However, in the event the Library or a related entity experiences an emergency which, in the sole determination of the Library, requires the cancellation of the use (including but not limited to condition at the facility, weather emergency, or event requiring Library's emergency use of the space), Library shall notify Organization as soon as possible, and work with Organization to refund the fee or determine a new date, whichever is preferable.

Indemnification
To the greatest extent allowed by law, Organization hereby agrees to indemnify and defend and hold harmless the Library, its Board of Trustees, employees, agents, and volunteers, from any and all causes of action, complaints, violations, and penalties, and shall pay the cost of defending same, as well as any related fines, penalties, and fees, including reasonable attorneys' fees, related to Organization's use of the Space, including conduct by any third party or contractor present at the Space as part of the Event/s.

Insurance
Organization shall provide insurance meeting the requirements shown in exhibit "A."

Drafting Note/Instruction: the person at the Library organizing the contract will either select the default insurance requirement, which is the conventional insurance demand, or it shall be determined that no insurance is required.  For organizations conducting routine meetings, and especially if children are served by the Organization, the library's lawyer, and/or your insurance carrier will almost always advise insurance be required. 

Person signing for Organization
The person signing on the line below on behalf of organization is at least 18 years of age and has the power to sign for the Organization.
 

Venue for Dispute
This contract and any related action shall be governed according to the laws of the state of New York, and Venue for any dispute shall be INSERT county, New York.

Accepted on behalf of the Library:___________________     on:___________

                              Print name:__________________

 

 

Accepted on behalf of the Organization:___________________          on:___________

                              Print name:________________________
 

Tags: Association Libraries, COVID-19, Emergency Response, Meeting Room Policy, Policy, Public Libraries, Template

The WNYLRC's "Ask the Lawyer" service is available to members of the Western New York Library Resources Council. It is not legal representation of individual members.