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North Dakota Library Law: Establishment of a Public Library


To establish a public library for a city or county, a community will need to follow the guidelines laid out in NDCC §40-38-01.

"The governing body...upon petition of not less than fifty-one percent of the qualified electors...or upon a majority vote...shall establish and maintain public library service within its geographic limits by means of a public library and reading room...Such question shall be submitted to the qualified electors upon resolution of the governing body or upon the petition of not less than twenty-five percent of that number of qualified electors...filed with the governing body not less than ninety days before the next regular election."

Once established, the creation of a library fund, the library board, reading room, and more need to be considered. Please contact the State Library for guidance.

Joint and Contract Libraries

Some libraries serve both their city and county. This can be done in two different ways:

  1. Joint Library Service:
    • In a joint library system, the library receives funding from both the city and the county after following the establishment procedures outlined in §40-38-01. If a city and county library already exists, this is sometimes called "merging" the libraries into a new library.
    • The mill structure for the libraries will need to follow the guidelines in §40-38-02. More information about mills and home-rule charters can be found here.
    • Further guidelines about joint library systems including governing body representation on the board can be found in §40-38-11 and on this LibGuide.
    • ND libraries with joint city-county service: Bowman Regional Public Library, Eddy-New Rockford Public Library, South Central Area Library, Griggs County Public Library, Heart of America Library, James River Valley Library System, Morton Mandan Public Library, Valley City Barnes County Public Library, and Williston Community Library
  2. Contracted Library Service
    • ​​A city library can contract for library services with the county to serve all residents of the county. The mill structure for the libraries will need to follow the guidelines in §40-38-02. More information about mills and home-rule charters can be found here.
    • The library board structure will not need to change if the county is contracting for service.
    • Many libraries in ND contract with other cities and counties to provide library services. Some examples are Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library, Dickinson Area Public Library, Grand Forks Public Library, Lake Region Public Library, and Ward County Public Library.

With a larger service area comes larger responsibilities. Before merging or contracting to expand library services, consider the following:

  • More funding for the library comes with the expectation that the library will serve all residents of the county. This may come in the form of extending hours on nights and weekends, adding programs, and adding staff.
  • Offering library service to other municipalities will result in more library cardholders and less non-resident library fees.
  • If there are multiple city libraries within a county, there can be extra hoops to jump through during the establishment process. Consult with your local taxing authority and discuss options with the other libraries in the area.
  • Expanding the service area and the library's funding may have implications for State Aid to Public Libraries. Contact the State Library with questions.


According to the ND Secretary of State's Office, libraries attempting to petition for establishment will need to work with their local city or county legal counsel to choose the wording of the petition. Once the petition is drafted, it needs to be approved by the city or county, and then it can move forward to obtain signatures. 

Discontinuation of Service

A community may choose to discontinue library service due to a lack of interest, lack of funds, or difficulties hiring a librarian or equivalent volunteer. To formally cease funding the library, the city must follow the protocol laid out in NDCC §40-38-01:

"Library service may be discontinued within any city or county by any of the methods by which library services may be established, except that once established, such service shall not be discontinued until after it has been in operation for at least five years from the date of establishment."