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Public Library District Toolkit: Strategies to Assure your Library’s Legal and Financial Stability

Public Library Service to the Smithtown Community: A Fact Sheet on Special Library District

(Issued February 2001)

Background: The Smithtown Library, as the largest municipal library in New York State, serves approximately 115,000 people. As a municipal library it is chartered to serve the residents of the Town and is governed by a Board of Trustees appointed by the Town Board. The Town Board also determines the annual operating budget of the library and is responsible for the maintenance and capital improvements of the four library buildings. In recent months the Library’s ability to properly serve the residents of Smithtown has come into question. In effect, the Library Board, Cooperative Library System and State Education Department have determined that the Library’s facilities are inadequate to serve a community of this size and do not meet the minimum standards for public libraries in New York State.

As part of the process to obtain a temporary waiver from these standards the State Education Department has requested the community consider the creation of a Special Library District instead of the present structure as a Municipal Library. Such a district would be governed by an elected Board of Trustees and have its operating and capital budget subject to public vote. The Board of Regents of the State of New York, the governing body of all educational organizations in the state, has determined that all public libraries should conform to this model. The Town Board, in cooperation with the Library Board and Smithtown’s state legislators, has expressed its willingness to explore the possibilities of a special library district. A series of community meetings will be held in the winter of 2001 to solicit input from Smithtown residents.

Below are some frequently asked questions.

What is a “Special Library District”?

A Special Library District is created by the State Legislature to serve a particular geographic area other than an existing school district or municipality. A vote of the residents of this district is also required for its establishment.

Why does the State Education Department want a special library district in Smithtown?

In 1998 the Board of Regents appointed a statewide Commission on Library Services to develop a comprehensive set of policy recommendations to improve library service for all New Yorkers. The Commission’s Report, presented last July, determined that public libraries which are directly accountable to the community they serve through public voting on budgets and trustees offer superior library service. A special library district is one of the public library models adopted by the Board of Regents as a mechanism to provide better service to every resident.

Who is responsible for library operations?

A Board of Trustees, elected by the residents of the district, is responsible for the provision of public library services. This includes hiring qualified staff, developing an annual budget and planning for quality library services and capital projects.

Who determines the library’s budget?

The Board of Trustees must present the annual operating budget to the public for their approval. Taxes may be raised for library purposes only with the consent of the qualified voters of the district. The same is true before funds may be raised for any significant capital improvement or expansion of library facilities.

How can Smithtown become a Special District Library?

Your state legislators have agreed to draft and introduce the appropriate legislation. At this time the Town Board has agreed to consider supporting such a bill. Should this law be passed the voters of the district will be asked to approve the creation of the special district.

What happens to the library buildings?

The Library Board will request the Town Board to transfer the title of these facilities to the new library district. Such a process would be outlined in the enabling legislation.

What happens to the library budget?

The vote to establish the new library district will also contain a proposition to approve the annual operating budget of the library. If successful, library operating and capital expenses would no longer be a part of the Town budget.

Who will be the trustees?

Any qualified voter of the district would be eligible to run for election as Library Trustee. This, too, will be determined at the Special Library District vote.

Where can I get more information?

Information is available on The Smithtown Library website or you may contact Smithtown Library Director Peter Ward at 265-2072 x. 201 (e-mail: or SCLS Director Jerry Nichols at 286-1600 x. 1304 (e-mail: You may also contact Steven Moll, Aide to Assemblyman Robert Wertz at 724-2929 (e-mail: