RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Board of Trustees notes retention - 03/09/2022
I am a Trustee on the Board of our library. I also serve as the Secretary to the Board. As such, I...
Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2022 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

I am a Trustee on the Board of our library. I also serve as the Secretary to the Board. As such, I do the note-taking and draft the meeting minutes for every board meeting. Do I need to retain my handwritten notes, once I have transcribed them into document format? If so, how long must they be kept and where? FYI, the minutes are drafted, approved by the Board, then uploaded to the library website where they are available to the public.

Thanks for your consideration. Much appreciated.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This question comes to "Ask the Lawyer" from a public library.

As quasi-governmental entities, public libraries must follow a precise array of law, regulations, and rules for record-keeping.  We'll delve into that for those factors to answer this question.

What does that mean for association libraries, who can be a bit more free-wheeling in their records management?  This answer doesn't (quite) apply to you, but stick around, we'll make it worth plowing through the next few paragraphs.

Governments and "quasi-governmental"[1] entities, like public libraries, are subject to the requirements of Article 57-A of the New York "Arts and Cultural Affairs Law" ("57-A") which requires officers to "maintain records to adequately document the transaction of public business and the services and programs for which such officer is responsible."

57-A also gives the NY Commissioner of Education the right (and obligation) to set the period of retention for different types of records.  The current collection of these retention periods is the LGS-1, on which "Ask the Lawyer" has written admiringly[2] before.

The LGS-1 does have a specific section for libraries and library systems (rules #590-603, which every public library should be following), but it is silent on the topic of board meeting materials, which means that the more generic section 48, "Meeting files of governing body or board or agency, commission or committee thereof, including agendas, background materials and other records used at meetings" applies.

Rule 48 states that the retention period for "[t]emporary drafts or personal notes that were not circulated, reviewed, or used to make decisions or complete transactions" is ZERO "after no longer needed."

So: as long as the hand-written notes are considered a "temporary draft" or "personal notes" as part of the creation of the actual draft minutes (the retention of which is "PERMANENT" per Rule 47), they may be shredded after the draft minutes are typed up as described by the question.

BUT, I offer caution: if the hand-written draft minutes are used for any purpose other than to create an exact typescript version, including but not limited to interim decision-making before the next board meeting, or to inform the process of passing the official minutes, then they are transformed into something different than personal or temporary notes, and I advise they be retained together with the other permanently retained public library board meeting materials...which also makes them subject to FOIL.

Sounds complicated, right?  Below is a poem to help you remember (association libraries, the last four lines are for you, too...I told you it would be worth sticking around):

A public library's records must stay

At the library per A and C Law 57-A;

The retention of those library records is done

For a period set by the LGS-1;

And the public can demand to see

Those records by asking for a FOIL copy.

Chartered libraries of any kind

The Open Meetings Law must mind

And the docs the board will see

Must be shared with the community.[3]

In all of this, personal notes

turned into minutes per trustee votes

When no longer needed, can be disposed

...so long as notes were all they posed.

Hmm.   Maybe it's just easier to read the law and rules?  Just in case, I have put them below.

Thanks for a great question, and thank you for your service as a conscientious trustee and officer!

The law:

§ 57.25. Records retention and disposition

1. It shall be the responsibility of every local officer to maintain records to adequately document the transaction of public business and the services and programs for which such officer is responsible; to retain and have custody of such records for so long as the records are needed for the conduct of the business of the office; to adequately protect such records; to cooperate with the local government’s records management officer on programs for the orderly and efficient management of records including identification and management of inactive records and identification and preservation of records of enduring value; to dispose of records in accordance with legal requirements; and to pass on to his successor records needed for the continuing conduct of business of the office. In towns, records no longer needed for the conduct of the business of the office shall be transferred to the custody of the town clerk for their safekeeping and ultimate disposal.

2. No local officer shall destroy, sell or otherwise dispose of any public record without the consent of the commissioner of education. The commissioner of education shall, after consultation with other state agencies and with local government officers, determine the minimum length of time that records need to be retained. Such commissioner is authorized to develop, adopt by regulation, issue and distribute to local governments records retention and disposition schedules establishing minimum legal retention periods. The issuance of such schedules shall constitute formal consent by the commissioner of education to the disposition of records that have been maintained in excess of the retention periods set forth in the schedules. Such schedules shall be reviewed and adopted by formal resolution of the governing body of a local government prior to the disposition of any records. If any law specifically provides a retention period longer than that established by the records retention and disposition schedule established herein the retention period established by such law shall govern.

The "Meetings/Hearings"  provisions  from LGS-1

47 CO2 1, MU1 1, ED1 1, MI1

1 Official minutes and hearing transcripts of governing body or board, commission or committee thereof, including all records accepted as part of minutes: RETENTION: PERMANENT

48 CO2 3, MU1 3, ED1 3, MI1

Meeting files of governing body or board or agency, commission or committee thereof, including agendas, background materials and other records used at meetings

NOTE: Appraise these records for continuing administrative or historical value prior to disposition. Agendas may have continuing administrative value and may be useful for accessing information in unindexed minutes and for indexing those minutes. Other records prepared for or used at meetings may have administrative or historical value for documenting issues discussed at the meetings and referenced in the minutes.

See item no. 47, above, for records which are accepted as part of the minutes.

a Records not accepted as part of the minutes, including agendas, background materials and other records used at meetings: RETENTION: 1 year

b Temporary drafts or personal notes that were not circulated, reviewed, or used to make decisions or complete transactions: RETENTION: 0 after no longer needed



[1] I use "quasi-governmental" because public libraries fall into (and out of) different categories of "government" or "public" law depending on the legal issue.   For instance, public libraries are subject to the Freedom of Information Law ("FOIL"), which is part of the Public Officers Law, but the board of trustees must also abide by the NY Not-For-Profit Corporation Law.  There are good reasons for this, but it can make things complicated.

[2] Some people are fans of opera, or sports teams.  I am a fan of meticulously categorized retention periods.

[3] For more on the application of the Open Meetings Law and the new(ish) requirements regarding board meeting materials, see "Ask the Lawyer" https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/238.

Tags: Board of Trustees, FOIA/FOIL, Legal Poems, LGS-1, Open Meetings Law, Public Officers Law, Record Retention

Topic: Book Challenges and Records Retention - 02/11/2022
In a local school district, multiple books have been challenged recently. This week, the School Bo...
Posted: Friday, February 11, 2022 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

In a local school district, multiple books have been challenged recently. This week, the School Board received an email from a community member referencing record keeping for library materials and electronic records retention. The district Superintendent wants to make sure that the district is keeping the right kind of library records, and that they are keeping them for the legal amount of time. Attached are two documents to review. In the first document titled District Records, under #15, it advised that districts should keep a list of book lists and school library reports. With this, should the district have kept a list of all books in their libraries in any given year?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

In speaking to different libraries about being prepared for book challenges, I have repeatedly stressed one very important element: have your policies ready.

This question shows the depth of consideration that goes into that simple requirement.

In this case, that "depth" is found in the rocky chasm of the LGS-1, New York's end-all, be-all rules for public document management.  Need to know how long to keep records for a bingo game authorized by a village?[1]  Or how long to keep a record of exhumation?[2]  Or how long we hang onto bridge inspection records?[3] It's all in the LGS-1.

The documents the member references are sections of the LGS-1.

They look like this:

Screenshot of Local Government Schedule (LGS-1) referring to School District Records.  Please refer to links in the footnotes for a text based copy of the schedule.

and

Screenshot of Local Government Schedule (LGS-1) referring to School District Records.  Please refer to links in the footnotes for a text based copy of the schedule.

Looking at these requirements, the member's question is: "[S]hould the district have kept a list of all books in their libraries in any given year?"

The answer is: MAYBE, but not DEFINITELY.

Here is why:

The first section referenced by the member, at first blush, looks like it requires the retention of "book lists" for six years.  But examining that precise section, you will see the requirement is limited to records submitted prior to the "consolidation of school districts." 

So, outside of a district consolidation, section LGS-1 15, does not require compiling a list of books.

The next sections, LGS-1 598 and 599, refer to a school district maintaining records related to a "Catalog of holdings" and "Individual title purchase requisition," respectively.

We'll tackle 598 first.

598 requires that a "Manuscript or published catalog" of "holdings" must be retained "permanently."  It then requires that a "Continuously updated catalog" be retained until it is "superseded" or "obsolete."

This means that a district library's "catalog of holdings" that exists in a static form (like a print or PDF list) must be retained permanently, but a list of holdings that is ever-changing (like an ILS) is only retained until it changes form--or that form stops being useful.[4]

In practical terms, this does mean that if the library produces a static list (in print or electronic form), it must be retained forever.  That obligation, however, does not obligate the library to create such a list in the first place.  Meaning, in other words: if the library only uses an ever-changing catalog, it doesn't need to retain any particular copy.

This brings us to 599, which requires that an "[i]ndividual title purchase requisition" (the documentation showing a school library bought a book) must be retained for one year.

Again, in practical terms: while per 598, a school library is not obligated to compile a printed list showing that "Not All Boys are Blue" is in its library's collection, per 599, it does have to retain (and produce, if not otherwise accessible through FOIL) a school’s requisition to purchase "Not All Boys are Blue" if requested.

This gets more interesting as one considers that LGS-1 600 (also seen in the purple-bordered excerpt above), regarding "Records documenting selection of books" sets no minimum retention period.  Meanwhile, LGS-1 601, regarding "Library material censorship and complaint records" mandates such records be retained for at least six years (and encourages considering saving them for much longer, which strikes me as a good idea).

The upshot of these various rules creates a regime where a district is empowered to pick and choose, to some degree, what records it wants to create...but once created, imposes a very particular set of parameters for retaining, purging, and disclosing them.  This is why my answer to the member's question must be so ambiguous.

It is also why it is very important that a district have a well-developed policy on this issue.

Below are some examples of what, depending on the records a district elects to create, a district can say in answer to the question: "I want to make sure I approve of all the books my taxes paid for this year.  Can I have a list of all the books?"

[If the library maintains a published list and wants to be friendly.] "Sure thing.  We compile and publish a list of books in our collection every year as of the first Monday of September.  Do you want the one showing all the books in one particular library, or all the books in the district?"

[If the library doesn't maintain a published list, but has a continuously updated catalog, feels friendly, and allows access to library computers.] "No, we don't publish such a list.  But we do have a continuously updated catalog you can search on this terminal."

[If the library doesn't maintain a published list, has a continuously updated catalog, doesn't allow just anybody access to its computers, but feels somewhat helpful.] "No, we don't publish such a list.  But we do have a continuously updated catalog you can request a copy of."

[If the library doesn't maintain a published list, doesn't allow access to computers, and doesn't feel helpful, but does feel puckish.] "No, but if requested, we can supply you with a copy of every book requisitioned last year."[5]

[If the library doesn't maintain a published list, and doesn't want to offer alternative ways to share the information.] "No, we don't have that."

[If the library doesn't maintain a published list, and is okay risking a spat.]

"No."

Optional rider to all the above answers: "Here is a copy of our FOIL policy so you know the process for requesting our public records through our FOIL officer, and can be aware of our copying charges and the process for requesting electronic copies."

Now, as any veteran of public relations battles over school district policy knows, there's a time to be helpful, and there's a time to say "no."  I am not endorsing any particular answer, but based on a district's policy, it should know what records it keeps (and doesn't keep), and how people can access them.

From my perspective, if there isn't a need to compile information, it shouldn't be compiled.  Further, FOIL does not create the obligation to compile information if it is not already compiled.  On the other hand, waffling and appearing to dodge the question when concerned citizens are on the hunt for "objectionable material" might not be the best way to fight the battle for intellectual freedom.  "We don't have a list but we have a continuously updated database" strikes me as a glove-slap; it invites a fight...but nevertheless, if accurate, might be a perfectly valid response.

From my high horse over here in law-law land, a district should proceed from the presumption that if a book is in a school library's catalog, it belongs there; this is the stance that supports intellectual freedom, while also setting a good example for the students (but I am not the one who has to deal with angry community members storming a school board meeting).

Regardless of my personal thoughts on the diplomatic aspects of this issue, from the perspective of intellectual freedom, information access, education law, the LGS-1, and the First Amendment, here is what's important: have a sound policy governing 1) how library books are selected; 2) how library books are cataloged;[6] 3) how library books are challenged; and 4) how library books are removed, and follow that policy.

If, as part of that policy, a district has the desire and capacity to create an annual (or decennial, or whatever time span it wants) list of books in the school library catalog, great, but if such a list is created, it must be kept forever.  And if the district only uses a continuously updated library catalog, it should be clear from the policy who can access it, and how (at the school?  By appointment?  Remotely?).  And all of this turns on the district having a designated FOIL officer and process for timely responding to, assessing, and meeting FOIL requests.

So, there is my answer...and I know it rests on a dangerous triangle of law, practicality, diplomacy.   This stuff isn't easy.

I wish you a clear head, a steady heart, and a ready wit as you face whatever challenges come your way.



[1] 8 NYCRR §185.15 (2020); see schedule items 562-564.

[2] 8 NYCRR §185.15 (2020); see schedule item 136.

[3] 8 NYCRR §185.15 (2020); see schedule item 1085.   By the way, it's "6 years after structure no longer in use or inspected features have been replaced," which I find rather terrifying.

[4] Kind of whimsically sad notion: "You are needed, until you change or you aren't needed."  I would love to meet the person who wrote this part of the LGS-1; they had to be a philosophy major.

[5] I don't advise using this one.

[6] Including having a published list, or simply having a continuously updated database.

Tags: First Amendment, LGS-1, Policy, Record Retention, School Libraries, Book challenges

Topic: School library records retention - 01/21/2021
We got a question regarding how the new rules for records retention (the "LGS-1") impact...
Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

We got a question regarding how the new rules for records retention (the "LGS-1") impacts the retention of school library borrowing records.

Under the new LGS-1, how long must school library borrowing records be retained?  How does that impact BOCES, district, and school library records purging? 


 

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Thank you for this question.  The LGS-1 is one of my favorite rabbit holes to explore.

I took a look at Schedule Item 596, which applies to "Borrowing or loaning records."  I have put a screenshot of the section, as it appears in the schedule as displayed on the NY State Archives web site: http://www.archives.nysed.gov/common/archives/files/lgs1.pdf

Screenshot of Schedule Item 596 on

As you can see in the screenshot, 596 fixes the retention period for borrowing or loaning records for school libraries as "0 years after no longer needed."

"No longer needed" is one of those phrases in the LGS-1 that renders the retention period variable.  This flexibility can be both helpful and frustrating, since a district, BOCES, or school library must determine, via policy, what "needed" means.

This can vary from place to place, but in all instances should be based on a determination of what is meant (for the district/BOCES/or school library) by "need," and then confirmed in a policy.

After that, best practice is always to purge records once their retention period is over, and for something as deeply connected to ethics, compliance and privacy as library records,[1] that is doubly true.  For school libraries, that retention period is zero, once the records are no longer needed.

Therefore: determining how long student library borrowing records are "needed" (something that may vary from library to library, district to district, BOCES to BOCES), and then purging the record as soon as possible,[2] is a good way to use the LGS-1 to enhance an institution's commitment to privacy.

 

Thanks to the member for bringing up this nuance.  These issues are at the crossroads of ethics, compliance and automation, and require continuous and careful attention to detail and resulting policy.

 

 



[1] Please see "Ask the Lawyer" here for a discussion of school library records, CPLR 4509, and FERPA.

[2] The LGS-1 encourages, but does not require, "the systematic disposal of unneeded records."

Tags: , Privacy, Records Management, Record Retention, School Libraries, LGS-1

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