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North Dakota Library Law: Open Records and Open Meetings

Open Records and Open Meetings Laws in North Dakota

"North Dakota has “sunshine laws,” which make all government records and meetings open to the public unless a specific law authorizes a record to be withheld or a meeting to be closed.

These laws apply to all state and local government agencies, rural fire and ambulance districts, public schools, private businesses or non-profit organizations that are supported by or expending public funds, and contractors, if the contractor is providing services in place of a public entity rather than to that entity.

[...] Anyone has the right to attend meetings of a public entity or to access and obtain copies of the entity’s records, regardless of where they live." - ND Attorney General's Website

Open Records

Anyone has the right to view or get a copy of public records, regardless of the reason or where they live. A request for public records can be made in any available medium. Generally, a public entity cannot ask why the records are requested, ask for identification, or require a request be made in writing (or in-person). However, a request must reasonably identify existing records. If a request is unclear, the entity may require written clarification but cannot ask the requester’s motive or identity. The entity can delay taking action until receiving written clarification.

  • A request for information is not a request for records. A public entity does not have to respond to questions about its decisions, duties, functions or operations or to explain the content of its records.

The public entity must respond to a record request within a reasonable time, by either providing the record or explaining the legal authority for denying all or part of the request. What is “reasonable” depends on a number of factors, including the scope and type of records requested.

A public entity may only deny access to or a copy of a record for which there is a specific statute closing all or part of the information. A statute may declare certain records to be exempt or confidential.

If a record is exempt, a public entity has the discretion to release or withhold it. If a record is confidential, it either cannot be released or the confidential information within the record first must be redacted. 

For more information on open records such as charging for services, denying a request, what records are exempt or confidential, and more, read the resources compiled and put forth by the Attorney General's office below:

There are 2 exceptions to open records laws made for libraries:

NDCC §40-38-12. Library records - Open records exception

Any record maintained or received by a library receiving public funds, which provides a library patron's name or information sufficient to identify a patron together with the subject about which the patron requested information, is considered private and is excepted from the public records disclosure requirements of section 44-04-18. These records may be released when required pursuant to a court order or a subpoena.

NDCC §44-04-18.23. Library, archive, and museum collections - Exempt records

A public library, archive, or museum may designate a donated record as an exempt record if the donor of the record requests as a condition of the donation that the record not be released to the public for a specific amount of time, which may not exceed twenty years beyond the death of the donor.

Record Retention Schedule

The North Dakota Association of Counties and League of Cities compiled retention and disposal guidelines for all county and city offices in the state, including libraries. Information including deadlines, how to transfer records to the State Archives, and more can be found on their websites:

While there is not a state-prescribed records retention schedule for libraries, the following are things NDSL recommends your library to retain indefinitely due to North Dakota’s open records and meeting laws:

  • Minutes from library board meetings
  • Annual reports
  • Contracts
  • Legal documentation and correspondence with the City Attorney or other legal advisors regarding the library/library operations
  • Employee salary and job performance records (note: if you have a formally adopted records retention policy at your library, these will only need to be retained in compliance with that; an example would be to retain these until six years after termination)

Documents you should to retain for operational purposes:

  • Library board bylaws
  • Patron registration documentation as per local data retention guidelines
  • Any statistical records your predecessor may have kept documenting library usage since January 1st of this year
  • Records of materials currently on loan
  • Records of materials and equipment held by the library
  • Library policies (most recently approved versions only)
  • Procedure manuals (current versions only)
  • Any current strategic/long-range plans for the library or other planning documents
  • Insurance policies
  • Worker Compensation program records

Financial records you’ll need to retain for audit purposes, if applicable (typically back 3+ years prior to the current fiscal year):

  • Budget documentation
  • Accounts payable and vouchers
  • Journals/ledgers of account descriptions, such as credits, debits, and balances
  • Receipts/cash books
  • Bank statements/deposit records for accounts maintained by the library
  • Records of any revenue generated (from fines, fees, etc.)
  • Tax reporting documentation
  • Payroll reports and files
  • Insurance claims

E-Rate Records:

  • If your library participates in E-rate, the documents follow the federal document retention schedule which is 10 years from the date on the documents.
  • Since the creation of the E-Rate Public Library Consortium in 2016, the only documents the library needs to keep is the Letter of Agency and Form 479.

The following should be purged in accordance with NDCC §40-38-12:

  • Circulation and interlibrary loan records tying individual users to specific library materials (unless there are outstanding fines/fees associate with the loan of those materials). Note that you will want to retain basic circulation statistics for your annual report.
  • Computer use sign-in forms

Open Meetings

According to the ND Constitution art. XI §5, "Unless otherwise provided by law, all meetings of public [...] boards [...] supported in whole or in part by public funds, or expending public funds, shall be open to the public."

A meeting, as defined by the Attorney General's Office is "any gathering of a quorum of the members of a governing body of a public entity regarding public business, and includes committees and subcommittees, informal gatherings or work sessions, and discussions where a quorum of members are participating by phone or any other electronic communication (either at the same time or in a series of individual contacts)."

Emails or text messages between members of a committee or subcommittee regarding public business may constitute a meeting and violate open meeting laws. Training seminars and purely social gatherings attended by a quorum of a public entity are not meetings, however, as soon as the members discuss any public business, it becomes a “meeting.”  

Additional guidelines surrounding open meetings include the need for public notice, the requirement to record meeting minutes, access to the public, and further noticing and agenda requirements for special meetings and closed sessions. Please read resources compiled and put forth by the Attorney General's office below:

§44-04-21: Open voting at public meetings required—Results recorded in minutes.

Unless otherwise specifically provided by law, all votes of whatever kind taken at any public meeting governed by the provisions of section 44-04-19 must be open, public votes, and all nonprocedural votes must be recorded roll call votes, with the votes of each member being made public at the open meeting. Procedural votes must be recorded roll call votes upon the request of any member of a governing body holding a
meeting subject to this section. As used in this section, "nonprocedural" should be broadly interpreted and includes all votes that pertain to the merits of the matter before the governing body.

All libraries keep their minutes a bit differently. Below are some examples of minutes from libraries across the state:

Parliamentary Procedure

To help keep meetings on track, your board may choose to use a parliamentary procedure such as Robert's Rules of Order. Parliamentary procedures help meetings follow an established agenda, keep track of motions and decisions made, and create minutes as records for the meeting.