June 19, 1995
Mr. Stan Wertheimer
Library Committee Tax Pac, Inc.
P.O. Box 188
Greenlawn, NY 11740-0188
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Mr. Wertheimer:
I have received your letter of May 30 and the correspondence attached to it.
You have questioned the ability of the Director of the Harborfields Public Library to permit only one person to examine voter registration forms. In addition, you were informed that no list of associate members of the Library exists, but you have contended that such a list could be generated by the Library's computer. Associate members do not live in the Library District, but pay a fee for a District library card.
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, it appears that the ability of the Library to limit inspection of records to one person at a time involves balancing the public's rights and the Library's need to carry out its responsibilities effectively. In a case in which a village adopted a similar restriction by means of rules and regulations promulgated under the Freedom of Information Law, the restriction was found to be valid in view of the small size of the Village's staff, a limitation of space (all contact with the public necessarily occurred in one location), and in view of the applicant's failure to demonstrate that the regulations were arbitrary or represented an abuse of discretion [Murtha v. Leonard, Supreme Court, Nassau County, June 16, 1993; modified on other grounds, 620 NYS 2d 101, ___ AD 2d ___ (1994)]. Based on the foregoing, the validity of the limitation in question would in my view be dependent upon the kinds of factors described in Murtha.
Second, as a general matter, the Freedom of Information Law is based upon a presumption of access. Stated differently, all records of an agency are available, except to the extent that records or portions thereof fall within one or more grounds for denial appearing in §87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law. Relevant with respect to your request regarding associate members is §87(2)(a). That provision pertains to records that "are specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal statute. One such statute is §4509 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules, which states that:
"Library records, which contain names or other personally identifying details regarding the users of public, free association, school, college and university libraries and library systems of this state, including but not limited to records related to the circulation of library materials, computer database searches, interlibrary loan transactions, reference queries, requests for photocopies of library materials, title reserve requests, or the use of audio-visual materials, films or records, shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed except that such records may be disclosed to the extent necessary for the proper operation of such library and shall be disclosed upon request or consent of the user or pursuant to subpoena, court order or where otherwise required by statute."
Based on the foregoing, records identifiable to the users of libraries, such as those who hold library cards, are confidential.
I hope that the foregoing serves to enhance your understanding of the matter and that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Paul Elsener