We recently received 2 questions that raised related issues, so we've merged them in this "Ask the Lawyer Meeting Room Question Mash-Up" RAQ.
Here is question 1:
"Students frequently meet in the library with tutors. This typically happens in the open areas of the library but also in a few small study rooms. These rooms are available to everyone, restricted only by number of people and available for 1 hour on a first come, first served basis. Individuals and groups may stay longer in a particular room if no one else is waiting for the space. Rooms are not available to book ahead of time.
Some of the tutors are likely charging for their time, though many are not (studying with friends or similar). We have always considered the library's service to the students as paramount over any benefit to the tutor but is this an allowable use of library space due to the possible inurement and aid to an individual?"
Here is question 2:
"I've just finished viewing the first amendment audit webinar.... Such a great resource. Thank you!! I was wondering about meeting spaces and the language we can use to protect patrons in areas that they have been reserved for private meetings (scouting group in the meeting room, deposition in a tutoring room, tutoring, tele-med sessions, supervised visits etc.)"
These meeting-room related submissions to "Ask the Lawyer" were inspired by two separate resources: the first one, an "Ask the Lawyer" RAQ on meeting room policies, and the second, an ESLN-sponsored training.
If you've read the questions, you know they will not have the same answer. So, as recent viewers of the new Spider-Man movie may have asked, why the mash-up?
Because the answers share the same foundation: the rules around community access to space.
The first question is based on a concern we addressed in the RAQ on meeting room policies. Here is the part that inspired the question:
"No, there is no legal requirement for public libraries to limit access to space to non-profit organizations.
However, there IS a requirement for any "charitable" entity in New York to not allow any of its assets to “inure” to any one individual, while non-association libraries have to follow an even stricter rule against "aid" to individual people or businesses as set by the NY Constitution (this is why a town library can't use funds to throw a big "bon voyage" party to celebrate a retiring employee, but its not-for-profit "Friends" can)."
The second question is asking for model language, within the framework of what is allowed, to protect the rights of those using the rooms.
So, like a webslinger arcing majestically from issue to issue, let's do this.
The First Question
Is a person using free resources at the library for personal gain violating the law against "inurements"? Most likely: no.
The resources at public libraries can often serve as the first, critical building blocks of a small business. A person wanting to research an idea, create a 3-D printing of a product prototype, select neutral ground to meet a potential investor, or offer compensated services (such as tutoring) can often find what they need--for free--at the library.
The dawn of the co-working space might be changing this for people who can afford to rent space in a co-working facility that will supply desk space, internet, and even a mailing address. But for fledging entrepreneurs on a budget, the free resources and information provided by libraries can be essential.
And why doesn't such use of library resources for a business/personal gain risk tripping the bar on "inurements"?
Because the resource is available to the community equally, per library policy. In the member's scenario, the library is providing first-come, first-served space suitable for, among other things: group work, a political discussion, or tutoring (with or without compensation). The library is providing a place for people to sit and talk, so long as they arrive in time to gain access to a finite resource.
Once people are availing themselves of library services, a library can't set further rules about the relationship between the parties; so long as their interaction remains within library policy (not disruptive, not in excess of established time limits, etc.). In other words, the relationship between the parties, or an activity that fits within authorized use, can't change the otherwise compliant use of the library space.
Where the member's scenario could get out of hand would be if:
In each of the above examples, the service is exceeding the use generally available to any person using the library. This is where the "inurement" can begin, and the use of public library resources for unambiguously private gain would begin. But so long as no one is claiming or actually using the resource in excess of what is generally allowed, there is no issue.
The Second Question
Now that we've reviewed that "what applies to one must apply to all," we can turn to the other question: how can a library designate space used per policy and by reservation as "private," to avoid meeting crashers?
Below this answer is listed a myriad of resources from the ALA on this topic. I urge readers to review these, as each one sets out important considerations on the use of library space. But for now, we're dealing with this single, incremental question in the State of New York.
Once a library policy sets the terms of community access to private meeting space, here is language for signage at the entrance to the meeting space:
When reserved, this space is for designated users only. To reserve this space, or to obtain a copy of the rules and contract for reservation, please visit [INSERT] or [INSERT].
And there we go!
Thanks to both members for their insightful questions.
For those of you who wanting more at the intersection of law, libraries, and meeting rooms, paralegal Klara in the LOSA assembled this list of resources from ALA:
1. Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights
- overview on library meeting rooms, suggestions for policies
- includes standard definitions for terms included in policies
- lists what meeting room policies should cover
3. Guidelines for the Development of Policies and Procedures Regarding User Behavior and Library Usage
4. The Library's Legal Answers for Meeting Rooms and Displays
- an ALA eBook by Mary Minow, Tomas Lipinski, Gretchen McCord
- limited public forum vs. designated public forum vs. nonpublic forum
- lists legal cases relevant to library meeting rooms and exhibit spaces
5. OIF Blog - Library Meeting Rooms for All, by James LaRue (former director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom)
 The answer to the Spider-Man part of this is of course obvious: because it’s a witty convergence of web-slingers. Of course, as a Gen X nerd (b. 1973), I was a target demographic. Well played, Marvel.
Such a policy would be far too overbroad. If a paid babysitter takes the kids to the library regularly, would that be a violation? If an accountant uses a library computer to check the tax code, would that be a violation? If a professional writer uses the reading room every day to write/think/draft, would that be a violation? That said, a policy against the sale or distribution of material items makes sense.
 Including those identifying as "First Amendment auditors"...a term I am loath to use. I am a huge fan of the First Amendment, but those claiming to “audit” for it often demonstrate a less-than-fully developed familiarity with the Constitution. To me, people trying to film in a library while asking questions about budget, etc. are just "people who want to record in the library," and they warrant the same respect, and must follow the same rules, as other people who may want to record in the library.
 ALA is the national go-to for information on library matters, and we try not to replicate materials already available. At "Ask the Lawyer" we deal with the legal nitty-gritty in New York, only.
 For more on that, see that meeting room RAQ at https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/260
 "LOSA" = The Law Office of Stephanie Adams, PLLC.
Tags: Meeting Room Policy, Policy, Privacy, Signage, Templates