RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Association Library Meeting Room Fees and Private Use - 10/05/2022
My association library is updating our meeting room policy. I've read Ask the Lawyer's pre...
Posted: Wednesday, October 5, 2022 Permalink


My association library is updating our meeting room policy. I've read Ask the Lawyer's previous advice on meeting rooms, as well as ALA's guidance. I have two questions that I can't find guidance on:

1. Private Use: We have only one meeting space that's used for library programs and by outside groups. It's adjacent to office space and a kitchen, so staff may need to walk through the meeting room at any time. When people reserve the room, we do tell them that it's not completely private for that reason so they know what to expect.

Our current policy states that the room "may not be used for private social functions, such as showers, birthday parties, wedding receptions, etc. unless permission is granted by the board of trustees." In practice, we have groups of card players, knitters or private meetings (local businesses, homeowners associations) regularly at no charge. If someone rented the room for a party, we would charge. I see those private meetings or activities as different from parties. Are we able to differentiate between types of private uses of the space?

2. Different fees for residents: If we charge fees, can we have different charges for people in our service area vs. people from out of town? We do live in a tourist area, and people will meet here as a destination. If a local non-profit reserves the room, I'd like it to be free, but if a non-profit that's not located in or serving our area wants to book it, I'd want to charge them. For out-of-town profit-making entities, I'd want to charge more. Can we set whatever fee structure we want?

For context, our chartered to serve area is our town, but we receive a tax levy from a larger area (our school district). We'd consider school district residents local.



As the member points out, there have been a few other "Ask the Lawyer" RAQ's on room use, so for those who want to do some background reading, here are the RAQ's the member refers to:

And with that, we'll jump right to the questions:

Are we able to differentiate between types of private uses of the space?

My guidance on this is NOT to differentiate between types of private uses. Here is why:

  • it necessitates inquiry and assessment of a person or organization's basis for using the room;
  • it invites debate;
  • it opens the door to assertions of unfair treatment;
  • it risks accusations of enabling forbidden benefits to for-profit ventures and individuals.[1]

As an alternative to "renting" or "giving" room spaced based on different types of users and uses, in a recent RAQ,[2] I suggested that rooms could be "checked out" just like other library resources, using a uniform set of rules (enforced through the Code of Conduct) to keep the room in good shape and ready for use by others.

I prefer this approach, because it enables libraries to grant access to card holders without having to ask questions about what the person will be doing, while also enforcing rules such as:

  • no food;
  • limited capacity;
  • no audible sound outside the room;
  • no assurance of privacy;
  • no more than one reservation per card holder per week.

...basically, rules to keep the space clean, to regulate the time any one person can have it, and make sure the use is not disruptive to others in the library (rules that will, coincidentally, also bar most people's definition of a "party").[3]

I am not saying the approach of barring use based on user type and type of activity isn't workable...but as I write, it invites a hassle. So as your library revises its policy, it's worth considering this approach.[4]

Okay! Onto the next question:

If we charge fees, can we have different charges for people in our service area vs. people from out of town?

Unless something says otherwise,[5] yes, this could be done...again by tying use of the resource (the room) to a person's library card (presumably, most people in town for a short spot of tourism will not have a card).

Using this approach, the room could be available to card holders for a nominal charge (related to cleaning, perhaps, or to a budget line for carpet replacement,[6] etc.), while for non-card holders, it could be available for a higher rate, per a facility use contract.

The trick in this is to ensure the price doesn't "price out" card holders who may most need the room (perhaps someone without a lot of resources, hoping to meet with a potential client and start a small business), while setting a "reasonable" price for out-of-towners (based on wear and tear and used to keep up the space), that doesn't turn into "unrelated business income."[7]

So yes, hit those out-of-towners with the non-resident cost for using the room!

In closing, I want to note: I know for many it is odd to think that it could be okay for a person to "check out" a room at the local library for a business meeting. But here is a list of business uses of library resources...which ones are forbidden, and which ones are okay?

  • A local lawyer is writing an advice column and wants to sit in the library for a change of scene;
  • A catering company is using the library's old yearbooks to scout out former class presidents to pitch catering reunion events to;
  • A tutor is meeting with a student at a table once a week, for a small hourly fee;
  • A person is drafting their business plan and designing their website on the library's computers;
  • A designer is creating prototypes on the 3-D printer;
  • A professional genealogist is visiting the library to research family histories.

All of these are "commercial" uses of library resources. So, if a room is just another library resource, it can be used the same way.

Just make sure the rules protect the finite resource, and specify that no one gets to advertise that their office is "in the library"!

I hope this is helpful. I wish you productive drafting as you revise the policy.


[1] This is one of the "big" considerations in room use; for more on the tax and regulatory considerations in NY on that, see this RAQ: https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/268.

[3] Of course, one person's party is another person's meeting. If a person wants to use the room for 1 hour to have a "silent disco" party, and everyone is dancing gently (and silently) in headphones, the event might be less disruptive than some of the more rowdy knitting parties I have attended.

[4] We linked this above, but I'll mention again that there is a template policy for this approach in this ATL: https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/167.

[5] This is another issue that's discussed in an ATL: https://www.wnylrc.org/ask-the-lawyer/raqs/260. Basically, when setting rules for library space, libraries need to ensure there is no restrictive covenant, lease, local law, policy, etc. that will impact the library's approach.

[6] Basically, using this approach, you want the charge "rationally related" to the use (wear and tear), not based on market rate or to turn a profit.

[7] More on that in Economic Barriers to Information Access: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights found here: https://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/economicbarriers.


Tags: Association Libraries, Fees and Fines, Meeting Room Policy, Policy

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.