Sunday, July 29, 2007

Michigan Supreme Court Answers Right to Library Question

Back in early April, I made note of the lawsuit filed by a Michigan resident who lived in an area of the state that did not have a public library of its own. The man sued the nearest public library because it refused to sell him the "resident permit" that would allow him to use that facility. At the time, I remarked that it should be relatively simple for the library to calculate the tax amount it received from those living in its district and to sell permits for that same amount to those neighboring the district.

However, it is not quite that simple because the non-library district has been negotiating a "blanket rate" for all the people that live there without access to a library of their own. Having some people pay directly for a permit would mean that the library would be, in effect, paid twice for those people. But it is only because the two sides could not agree on that "blanket rate" that anyone might need to pay directly, in the first place. The library did not want to sell permits to individuals because that would cause it to lose some of its negotiating strength. The non-library district did not encourage anyone paying directly because of the "double payment" issue.

The Michigan Supreme Court has now reached a decision in the validity of the lawsuit and has answered the question of whether it is a constitutional right in Michigan to have access to a public library.
Residents not living in a community have no constitutional right to borrow books from its library, a divided Michigan Supreme Court ruled today.

The court voted 4-3 to dismiss the lawsuit of George Goldstone, who sued after Oakland County’s Bloomfield Township Public Library refused to sell him a nonresident library card. Goldstone lives in nearby Bloomfield Hills, which does not have a library.

The township’s residency requirement is “a viable means of establishing and maintaining a local public library,” Justice Stephen Markman wrote for the majority.

He was joined by Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, Maura Corrigan and Robert Young Jr.

The 1963 state constitution says libraries “shall be available” to all Michigan residents but also gives libraries the authority to create rules.
Maybe this will finally get the two sides to complete the stalled negotiation process that would solve this problem in a more common sense way. Let's hope so because I feel for those 4,000 Bloomfield Hills residents who don't have access to a public library at the moment. Their community is probably too small to be able to build a library of its own, but they do need to pay their fair share of the cost of running the Bloomfield Township library.

A relatively simple problem has taken on a life of its own and it's time for the two sides to go back to the negotiating table and get this resolved.


  1. Wow, that's sort of strange. I have cards for three libraries nearish to me, one of which is about 20 miles away, and the other is 35 miles away. They had no problem giving me a card, even though my own town has an excellent library.

  2. Looks like this is untested law that will vary from state to state, Dewey. I don't know exactly how it works in Texas because I'm surrounded by libraries in every direction, all run by the same county system.

  3. That is sad. I can't imagine living somewhere without a library. Maybe the two sides can sit down and come up with a plan. Quite a few years ago, our library system went to a "county wide" set-up. Which connects 34 libraries and solved a lot of problems like this one.

  4. I totally agree, Trav. Some kind of compromise really needs to be reached.

    My library system is a county wide one, too, and it works very well, allowing me access to books at all of those locations...delivered directly to my branch upon request.