Local 1321 Files Lawsuit against Queens Public Library
October 25, 2012
By Marc Bussanich
The Board of Trustees of the Queens Borough Public Library has refused to make the minutes of their meetings available to the public since January 2008. In response, members of DC 37 Local 1321 and the public have joined together to file a lawsuit pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. The Library’s council claims that they are not bound by law to provide the minutes, but the Committee on Open Government says the library is required to make the minutes available.
John Hyslop, President, Queens Library Guild Local 1321, which represents nearly 800 members at QBPL who work as librarians, clerical staff, custodians, computer specialists and drivers, said that union members have filed a lawsuit because the union wants transparency.
“The trustees conduct a lot of business at their meetings and we’re hoping that the minutes will enlighten us to what they’re doing, and according to New York State law, we have a right to the minutes,” said Hyslop.
Hyslop noted that the local and the library work together every year to ensure that the city allocates out of the annual budget the critical dollars required to support public libraries (the library received more than $84 million in funds for FY 2012 from the city).
“Every cycle we have to fight for our budget; we have to convince the City Council and the Mayor that libraries are important and in that advocacy we work together,” Hyslop said.
But then relations between the local and the library’s administration soured when, after working very hard together to stave off budget cuts in 2010, the administration did an about-face and laid-off 44 members, which is one reason why the local is requesting the minutes.
“We’ve gone through a lot of changes that the staff are not happy about, including the 2010 layoffs, which we still question,” noted Hyslop.
According to the union, the library, as a New York State Association Library, is subject to the state’s Education Law (Section 260-a) and the state Public Officers Law (the Open Meeting Law).
A copy of the lawsuit reveals when Hyslop requested in January the minutes of the trustees’ meetings, a library representative, while acknowledging in an email that the trustees’ minutes should be made available in compliance with the Open Meeting Law, wrote that the library was not subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Law and therefore would not comply with the request.
In turn, the state’s Committee on Open Government replied that the minutes of the Board of Trustees “fall within the coverage of the Freedom of Information Law.”
The library’s counsel then cited in a letter, to deny the plaintiff’s request for minutes, a COG opinion that did not directly concern the disclosure of minutes, prompting the COG to clarify that “If the [library] is at some point determined to be an associate library, it is subject to the Open Meeting Law and not the Freedom of Information Law, it would remain our opinion that it would be required to maintain minutes of all of its public meetings…”
Hyslop hopes the library’s administration comes to their senses and avoids a court challenge because that can be very expensive. But he and his colleagues are prepared to do so because they’ve been trying since January to get the minutes.
“As librarians we like giving out information and we like learning things, so it would be nice to know what’s going on. We just want transparency, and the public has the right to know. The money the library receives from the city is our tax dollars and we should know how it is being spent,” Hyslop said.