The Public Libraries Act (PLA) outlines how public libraries are established, administered and funded.

For legal advice on your library’s particular circumstances, you must consult with your own legal advisors.

Library service

Providing library services

Under the PLA, municipalities can provide library service in several ways. They may:

  • establish a public library to serve their own municipality
  • agree to establish a union public library with one or more other municipalities

When at least two-thirds of the municipalities in a county request it, a county can establish a county library to serve those municipalities. Instead of establishing its own library board, a municipality can enter into an agreement with another library board to provide library service.

Providing library services in an unincorporated area

Local services boards may establish a library themselves, or may sign a contract with a public, union, or county library board.

The ability of local services boards to establish libraries is found in the Schedule to the Northern Services Boards Act.

Public library boards

Establishing public libraries

Municipal councils establish public libraries by passing a bylaw under subsection 3(1) of the PLA. When the bylaw is passed, the clerk is required to deliver a copy of it to the minister.

Composition of public library boards

A public library board:

  • is appointed by municipal council
  • must have at least five members

The number of council members on a public library board is limited to one less than a majority of the board. For example, if a municipality establishes a seven-member board, the board can include no more than three members of municipal council.

Union public library boards

Establishing union public libraries

Councils of two or more municipalities can establish a union public library by entering into an agreement.

The agreement specifies the proportion of the cost of establishing, operating and maintaining the union public library that each municipality pays. This includes the cost of operating and maintaining existing libraries.

Establishing a union board dissolves any existing public library boards in the affected municipalities. The assets and liabilities of those boards are vested in and assumed by the union board unless the agreement provides otherwise.

Notifying the ministry when a establishing a union public library

When municipalities agree to establish a union public library, the clerk of the municipality that has the greatest population must provide the minister with a copy of the agreement.

Composition of union public library boards

A public library board:

  • is appointed by the councils of the affected municipalities
  • must have at least five members

The proportion of members from each municipality, and the manner in which they are appointed, is laid out in the agreement that established the union public library.

The number of council members on a union public library board is limited to one less than a majority. For example, if a union library has a seven-member board, the board can include no more than three members of the affected municipal councils combined. In other words, a seven-member union library board must include at least four members who are not municipal councillors.

County libraries

Establishing a county library

A county can pass a bylaw to establish a county library if at least two-thirds of the municipalities in the county ask council to do so. When the county library system is established, not all municipalities are required to take part.

Composition of county library boards

A county library board:

  • is appointed by county council
  • must have at least five members

The number of council members on a county library board is limited to a bare majority of the board. For example, if a county library has a seven-member board, the board can include no more than four members of county council.

Ongoing participation of a municipality in a county library

The PLA is silent on whether municipalities can leave a county library system. Libraries are advised to seek legal advice should questions on this subject arise.

County library boards with fewer than two-thirds of municipalities

Section 7(1) of the PLA requires that at least two-thirds of a county’s municipalities ask council to pass a bylaw to establish a county library. However, the act has no similar requirement that at least two-thirds of the county’s municipalities must participate for the county library to operate.

County library branch locations

Section 21 of the PLA requires a county library board to operate a branch in each municipality that operated a public library before that municipality became part of the county library system, unless the county and municipal councils agree otherwise.

Contracting for library service

Municipalities that haven’t established a library service

Under PLA subsection 29 (1), a municipality may enter into a contract for library service with a public library board, union board or county library board, instead of establishing its own library.

Charging fees to residents of contracting municipalities

Subsection 30(2) of the PLA and Regulation 976 do not permit a library to charge fees to residents of a municipality that contracts services from the library.

Similarly, municipalities that contract for library service receive operating funding from the province and are not permitted to charge residents a fee.


The PLA gives municipalities the power to establish public library boards, which once established, are governed specifically by the PLA. Since they are municipal boards and corporations, the general legislation that applies to municipal boards and corporations also applies. In cases of an inconsistency between the general legislation and the PLA, the PLA takes precedence, unless the general legislation indicates otherwise (for example, where the legislation states that it operates "despite any other Act").

Library governance

How libraries are governed

Public libraries are governed by public library boards, which are corporations established under the PLA.

Library board appointments

Council appoints the library board at its first meeting in each term. If the council fails to make the appointments at its first meeting, it must do so at any regular or special meeting held within 60 days after its first meeting. The existing library board continues until the new appointments are made.

Qualifications for appointment to a library board

The following individuals are qualified for appointment to a library board under the PLA:

  • a person who is a member of the appointing council (the qualifications for which are found in the Municipal Act)
  • a person who is at least eighteen years old, is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada within the meaning of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (Canada), and is any of the following:
    • a resident of the municipality for which the board is established, or the area served by the board in the case of a county library cooperative board and is not employed by the board or the municipality
    • a resident of the municipality or Local Services Board area that has a contract with the board for service
    • a member of an Indian Band that has a contract with the board for service
    • a person who is a member of a second board that has entered into a contract with the board to purchase library services for the residents of the second board

Ex officio board members

An “ex officio” member of a board is a member by virtue of his or her office. For example, if the mayor had ex officio status on a library board, the person who filled the office of mayor each term would automatically be a member of that board.

An ex officio board member has full board member privileges, including the right to vote. They are also subject to all the duties and liabilities of a board member unless otherwise restricted by the board’s corporate articles or bylaws, or by an applicable statute.

Disqualifying a member of a library board

A library board member is disqualified under section 13 of the PLA if they:

  • are convicted of an indictable offence
  • become incapacitated
  • are absent from the meetings of the board for three consecutive months without being authorized by a board resolution
  • cease to be qualified for membership under the PLA
  • otherwise forfeits their seat

Honorariums for board members

The PLA is silent on the receipt of honorariums.

Section 18 of the PLA states the following about board members' expenses:

A board may reimburse its members for proper travelling and other expenses incurred in carrying out their duties as members. R.S.O. 1990, c. P.44, s. 18.

Library boards seeking guidance on the issue of honorariums may wish to consult with their own legal counsel.

Library board appointments and residency

Definition of “resident”

The PLA does not define "resident" and therefore the word is to be interpreted according to its ordinary and normal meaning. This means that a resident is someone who normally resides in the jurisdiction.

Appointing a non-resident to the library board

A non-resident may be appointed to a library board if they are either:

  • a resident of a municipality that has a contract with the board for service
  • a resident of a local services board area that has a contract with the board for service
  • a member of an Indian band that has a contract with the board for service
  • a member of a second board that has entered into a contract with the board to purchase library services for the residents of the second board

Eligibility of non-resident local business owners

People who are not residents of a local community, but who operate a business in that community, cannot serve on that community’s library board. Residency is required.

Conflict of interest and library boards

Board members married to library employees

A board member married to a library employee is not a conflict of interest.

The board member would have to declare a conflict if a matter arose that would impact the employee or board member.

For example, if the library board member was the library CEO's spouse, and the board was deciding whether to increase the CEO's salary, the board member would have to declare the conflict of interest and withdraw from any discussion or vote on the matter.

Library board members recommended by a school board

The PLA is silent on reporting relationships between a library board member whose appointment was recommended to council by a school board and the school board that made the recommendation.

Once a library board member is appointed, their role is as member of the library board — not a spokesperson for the school board.

Library finance and administration

Chief Executive Officer

A Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is required under subsection 15(2) of the PLA. The CEO:

  • has general supervision and direction of the operations of the public library and its staff
  • attends all board meetings
  • has other powers and duties that the board assigns

Carrying out administrative functions through the municipality

Public library boards may enter into an agreement with their municipality to have the municipality carry out administrative functions.

Several library boards and their municipalities already carry out administrative functions in this way. Where such administrative financial agreements exist, directions regarding disbursing library funds remain up to the library board.

Reserve funds

The PLA is silent about reserve funds.

While it is common practice for municipalities to hold library reserve funds, library boards do have authority to have reserve funds under the Municipal Act.

Library estimates or budget processes

Library boards submit estimates to their appointing council(s) annually in the form required by the council(s). Library boards must include all amounts they require during the year.

If there is more than one appointing council, the estimates must state the proportion of the estimates to be charged to each municipality.

When approving the board's estimates or at any time at the board's request, council(s) may authorize the board to apply a specified amount or percentage of the money paid to it otherwise than in accordance with the estimates as approved.

Council can authorize a board to apply a specified amount or percentage of the money provided to it.

When approving the estimates, or at any other time at the board’s request, council can authorize that the board allocate a specific amount or percentage of its approved estimate

Library audits

Section 296 of the Municipal Act, 2001 requires municipalities to appoint an auditor licensed under the Public Accounting Act.

Every year, the auditor must audit the accounts and transactions of the municipality and its local boards and express an opinion on the financial statements of these bodies based on the audit.

Including the library audit in the municipal audit

Recipients of library funding under section 30 of the PLA must supply audited financial statements and information to the minister. This includes public library boards as well as First Nation bands, local services boards and municipalities that contract for library service.

A library board may supply its financial information in a consolidated audited financial statement, as long as the financial information on the library board is identified. This could be done in a separate schedule or appendix of the consolidated municipal financial statement.

Bank accounts

Section 15(4) of the PLA requires every library board to appoint a treasure to:

  • receive and account for all the board's money
  • open an account or account in the name of the board in a chartered bank, trust company or credit union approved by the board
  • deposit all money received on the board's behalf to the credit of that account or accounts
  • disburse the money as the board directs

Library fees

Free services under the Public Libraries Act

Subsections 23(1) and (2) of the PLA require that a library must provide the following services to residents free of charge:

  • admission to a public library or in-library use of the library's materials
  • using reference and information services
  • reserving and borrowing any of the following, as prescribed in section 2 of Regulation 976:
    • books with hard, soft and paper covers
    • periodicals
    • newspapers
    • audio materials designed for people with disabilities
    • sound recordings
    • audio and video cassettes
    • tape recordings
    • video discs
    • motion pictures
    • film strips
    • film loops
    • micro materials in all formats
    • computer software
    • multi-media kits

Fees for non-residents

A library may charge non-residents a fee for service, if their municipality, local services board or Indian band council has not contracted for service with the library.

Fees for interlibrary loans

The PLA prevents libraries from charging users for materials borrowed on interlibrary loan, as long as the materials borrowed fall within the classes prescribed in Regulation 976.

The PLA is silent on the issue of one library charging another library to borrow materials on interlibrary loan.

If one library charges another library a fee to borrow materials on interlibrary loan, including an administrative fee, these fees cannot be passed to the library user.

Library funding

Eligibility for funding under the Public Libraries Act

Library operating funding is addressed in section 30 of the PLA. The following organizations are eligible for library operating funding:

  • library boards
  • councils of Indian bands or local services boards that have established public libraries
  • municipalities, local services boards, Indian bands that have a contract for library services under the conditions prescribed in subsection 29 (1) of the PLA

Conditions for library operating funding

Organizations must comply with the PLA and its Regulation to be eligible for provincial public library operating funding.

Libraries and organizations that contract for library service must complete and submit an Annual Survey of Public Libraries. Every organization that contracts for library service must also send a copy of that contract to the ministry.

The Annual Survey of Public Libraries and all library grant program requirements must be submitted by ministry deadlines.

French language services

While the French Language Services Act does not apply to public libraries, Section 20 (b) of the PLA requires libraries to provide services in French, where appropriate.