Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Public Library Annual Report: A Legal Duty of the Board

Due date of March 1 is the law; failure to comply has consequences

Wisconsin Public Libraries have been required to compile annual reports since the first public library law in the Wisconsin Statutes of 1872 , and reports had to be submitted to the state since the Free Library Commission was first established in the 1890s. The following, the first article from the inaugural issue of the Wisconsin Library Bulletin in 1905, reflects on both growth in the number of public libraries and the increase in their circulation of books over the first decade of the Commission's work:

"Library Progress in Wisconsin" article from WI Library Bulletin 1905 showing libraries and their circulation
First article from Vol 1, no 1 issue of the Wisconsin Library Bulletin, demonstrating
the increase in number of libraries and their circulation since 1895
(from pages 1 & 2 of the 1905 Wisconsin Library Bulletin, scanned by Google Books)

 Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines...

Logo for the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, Madison WIS, depicting a person sewing seeds in a field
For many years, two annual reports were required of public libraries-- one was due to the municipality or county within 30 days of the end of the fiscal year, and another to the Free Library Commission on or before August 1 of each year (a month following the end of the state fiscal year). When Wisconsin library law underwent a major overhaul with the advent of Public Library Systems, public library boards were still required to file the reports with the Division for Library Services, and the report bore a new importance-- it was used to compile a factor in the formula used for calculation of the state aid to public library systems. 

By the new millennium, the public library annual report took on still more importance to libraries, counties, as well as public library systems. Provisions of 1997 Act 150 required counties to pay libraries for use by residents of its municipalities that did not maintain public libraries of their own. Since the calculation of the county payment requires three factors (total prior year expenditures, total checkouts, and number of checkouts to residents of municipalities not maintaining public libraries), the timeliness of the annual reports carried added importance, since claims for county payments had to be submitted to counties no later than July 1 of each year. In addition, until 2012 municipalities that maintained public libraries had to provide funding at a "maintenance of effort" level, at an appropriation equal or exceeding the average of the prior three years (that requirement was removed from Wisconsin Statutes in the 2011-13 biennial budget process).

Because the Division for Libraries and Technology has to compile, verify, and audit expenditures for the calculation of public library system aid, as well as submit a subset of the data to the Institute for Library and Museum Services (IMLS), the statutory due date of "within 60 days of the conclusion of the fiscal year" is critical for the required timeline. In fact, that timeline was compressed after Act 150, because that legislation extended the amount of time from 30 to 60 days for public library boards to submit their annual reports.

Public library directors, on behalf of their boards, have asked the Division for exceptions to the annual report required filing deadline. However, neither the Division nor the State Superintendent have authority to extend or overlook the deadline, and adhering to the requirement is important for a public library to maintain its eligibility for membership in a public library system. In addition, the annual report helps to provide validation that the public library is operated according to state law and conforms to minimum requirements for system membership. Those include:
  • That the library is legally established and operating under Chapter 43;
  • Is located in a county that participates in the system (and that the county maintains its plan under s. 43.11 to reflect state law and has a written agreement with the system board to participate in its activities);
  • Has the approval of the municipality or, in the case of joint libraries, the municipalities and/or county to participate in the system;
  • That the library board has a written agreement with the library system board (reflecting current state law and the current composition of the system) " participate in the system and its activities, to participate in interlibrary loan of materials with other system libraries, and to provide, to any resident of the system area, the same services, on the same terms, that are provided to the residents of the municipality or county that established the member library...."; 
  • Employs a library director who is certified at the proper level by the Division, "...and whose employment requires that he or she be present in the library for at least 10 hours of each week that the library is open to the public, less leave time."
  • That the library is annually open to the public a minimum of 20 hours per week
  • That the library annually spends at least $2,500 on library materials.
    [Wis. Stats. 43.15(4)(c)

    Just do it!

    Keep in mind that, however inconvenient the public library annual report is at the beginning of each year, it has very tangible legal reasons that it be completed on time. The report is, technically, the responsibility of the library board, not the municipality. And because the library board, under s. 43.58(1), has exclusive control of all funds expended by the library, the board should also know, month to month throughout the year, how much has been spent and how much is available. The common excuse that "the [city, village, county, or town] has not completed its annual audit, so the [clerk/treasurer/financial officer] has not closed the books" is immaterial to the legal requirement that the library board complete and file the annual report by the deadline (usually March 1 of each year). In addition, the certification of compliance with library system membership as well as the statement of system effectiveness are both due by that deadline as well, and the board should have ample time before March 1 to determine whether, in its opinion, the system provided effective leadership. [required by s. 43.58(6)(c)]

    See also yesterday's blog post about the Statement of System Effectiveness, the post about LibPAS, the annual report, and the relationship to funding from late December, and information on our website on the Funding Framework and its relationship to public library system compliance. If you have questions in completing your annual report, contact your public library system or send an email to: 

    Written by John DeBacher,
    Public Library Development Team