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Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State (2023 Edition)

Content from the latest edition of the Trustee Handbook.

Civil Service 101 for Public Library Trustees

Three of the four types of public libraries fall under New York State Civil Service Law:

  • Municipal Public Libraries
  • School District Public Libraries
  • Special/Consolidated District Public Libraries

Association libraries do not fall under Civil Service Law.

What is Civil Service?

Civil Service governs the hiring, promotion and termination of employees. Under New York State Civil Service Law, “appointments and promotions… shall be made according to merit and fitness to be ascertained, as far as practicable, by examination which, as far as practicable, shall be competitive…”  

What is the point of Civil Service?

  • Test for merit and fitness in an objective way.
  • Encourage promotion from within.
  • Provide career ladders for employees.

Who administers Civil Service?

Civil Service is administered by “Commissions or Commissioners” that are geographically located throughout New York State. Each has authority over those practices of institutions within its service area. These are commonly county based though in cities there may be a Civil Service Commission specific to that city. 

What is the Board’s responsibility as it relates to Civil Service?

As noted in the Trustee Handbook, Education Law §226(7) specifies that all personnel actions must be approved by the Board at a legal meeting. This does not suggest that the Board selects staff other than the director. It does mean that the Board creates all positions, establishes salaries and formally appoints the staff upon the recommendation of the director. In other words, the Director selects, the Board appoints. This requires that a Board ensure all appointments are made legally in the eyes of Civil Service laws and procedures. When hiring a Library Director, a designated spokesperson from the board will be dealing directly with the local Civil Service Commission, but for all other positions, the Library Director or designated staff person will be the liaison. 

Does Civil Service dictate the salaries a board may approve for staff?


What are the “classes” of positions?

New York State Civil Service has established the following “classes”:

  • Unclassified Service: This class of job positions encompasses largely elected and appointed positions, heads of government agencies, teachers, employees of the legislature and a few others.
  • Classified Service: This class of job positions is broken down into 4 additional categories of job classes: competitive, non-competitive, exempt and labor.
    • Competitive Positions: These are positions that require examination. Holders of these titles have due process protection regarding disciplinary actions under Civil Service Law §75.
    • Exempt Positions: These are positions for which competitive or non-competitive examinations or other qualification requirements are not practical and in which the incumbent serves at the pleasure of his/her appointing authority. Library Treasurer and Clerk to the Board are two examples.
    • Labor Positions: These are positions in which the incumbent is mainly engaged in manual labor. Cleaner, Van Driver and Page are examples.
    • Non-Competitive Positions: These are positions that are not in the exempt class or the labor class and for which examination has been determined to not be practicable. Library titles include Story Teller and Library Aide.

Is there a residency requirement for candidates to be eligible?

Possibly. You will need to check with your local Civil Service Commission. 

What is the “Rule of Three” or the “Rule of One of Three”?

The implementation of the rule of three is a common source of confusion for candidates, administrators, and anyone responsible for hiring under civil service rules.

In summary, an appointing authority may select from among those candidates whose score/rating in the examination is equal to or higher than the score/rating of the third highest ranking candidate on the list.

This seems simple but can be quite complicated in practice.  The size of the candidate pool is dynamic and is likely to change based on the responses of the candidates based on a letter soliciting interest in the position (canvass letter).

Please contact your local Civil Service Commission for questions about the implementation of the Rule of Three.

What job protections are offered to employees under Civil Service Law in New York?

Section 75 of the Civil Service Law provides due process in removal and other disciplinary actions to every post-probationary permanent employee. Due process will include a hearing at which the employee must be proved guilty of misconduct or incompetence. Library collective bargaining agreements may modify these procedures. 

Do all Library Director positions fall under Civil Service?

Public Library Directors all fall under Civil Service regulations. But there are significant variations throughout the state. Library Directors are “classified” differently by each of the over 100 civil service jurisdictions in New York and so it is critical for each Library Board to reach out to their local Civil Service Commission and follow the appropriate procedures in place.

What if there is no eligible list?

If there is no eligible list to hire from, a library’s first step will be to contact the local Civil Service Commission to find out when the next exam will be offered to gauge the timeframe for your process:

  • If an appropriate examination will be offered within an acceptable time span to meet your needs, advertise the exam opportunity along with your job opening to encourage candidates to become eligible. 
  • If an exam will not be offered within an acceptable time span you can provisionally appoint a qualified candidate of your choice with the understanding that once the exam is offered this person must take the exam and score high enough to be reachable to keep their job. 

Please note: The exam for directors is not a traditional “exam” as you may envision it. It is generally a “training and experience” exam that asks questions about a candidate’s education and experience relevant to the job specifications. 

A word about Library Director position classifications:

  • Most Library Director positions are Competitive and require a training and experience examination administered by Civil Service and follow standard testing and hiring rules. Your board will need the assistance of the local Civil Service Commission to identify eligible candidates and for advice along the way in case there are not enough eligible candidates on the Civil Service List.
  • There are cases in New York State where Library Director positions have been classified as Non-Competitive or Exempt under Civil Service law and have different hiring procedures.  Please work closely with the local Civil Service Commission in these cases.

For more information:

Thanks to Ron Kirsop, Executive Director of the OWWL Library System and Chair of the New York Library Association’s Civil Service Task Force; Geoffrey Kirkpatrick, Director of the Bethlehem Public Library; and Tracey McShane, Personnel Administrator for the Bethlehem Public Library for their assistance with this appendix.