Category Archives: Field Services

The Basics of Mills and Home Rule

Have you heard your Library Development Specialist say that you’re a “Home Rule City” and didn’t have any idea what that meant? You’re not alone. 88% of public libraries in North Dakota reside in a city or county with a home rule charter. Let’s break it down—

Typically, city and county governments need to follow the basics of state law, but if the municipality has passed a home rule charter, they are given freedom to implement ordinances in regards to finances, property taxes, and other taxes as laid out in NDCC 40-05.1-06. This means that, if specified in the home rule charter, a municipality may levy more than 4 mills for library service. (The 4 mill levy limit is prescribed in NDCC 57-15-06.7 and 57-15-10. There are additional constraints if you are funded by both a city and a county or a multi-city agreement.)

Regardless of home rule status, if you want to increase your mill levy for the library, you need to follow the process laid out in NDCC 40-38-02 #5. This includes either a motion of the governing body or a petition of residents to move the issue to a vote. In order to pass, 60% of qualified electors need to vote in favor of increasing the levy for public library service.

For a quick rundown of what a mill is and how it is calculated, check out the ND Association of Counties’ article Understanding Property Taxes.

As always, please remember that all cities and counties handle their money a little bit differently, and ND State Library staff are not lawyers. Any questions regarding interpretation of Century Code or mills should be addressed to your municipality’s attorney or auditor respectively.

Acquiring 501(c)(3) Status

Friends of the Library and Library Foundations are excellent groups to help raise money for your library. In order for these organizations to function optimally and to assist with the procurement of grants, it is encouraged for them to obtain a 501(c)(3) status. This means that they are viewed as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization that qualifies as a public charity under IRS Code, Section 501(c)(3). Please seek the aid of an attorney or CPA to assist in the process of obtaining 501(c)(3) status as laws and common practices are subject to change.

The process to achieve 501(c)(3) status can take over 6 months to complete. The IRS has created a guide outlining the Life Cycle of a Public Charity that can help lead you through this process. In order to achieve 501(c)(3) status, the group must do the following:

  1. Create an organizing document that contains the following provisions. More information and sample documents can be found here.
    • Limit the organization’s purpose to one of the exempt purposes listed in Section 501(c)(3) of the Code.
    • State that the organization cannot engage in activities that don’t advance the exempt purpose.
    • State that the assets of the organization (money, property, etc.), will be dedicated permanently to the exempt purpose listed.
  2. Establish a Board of Directors and create bylaws for the group.
  3. Once the organization is legally established (see page 9 of IRS Publication 4220), obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS online, by mail, or by phone (1-800-829-4933). Applying for an EIN triggers filing requirements, so do not complete this step until you are prepared to move forward with your other forms.
  4. File Articles of Incorporation for the group with the State of North Dakota as per NDCC 10-33. The paperwork can be found here. There is a $40 filing fee that must accompany the completed form. The ND Secretary of State Office and other state agencies created a guide to beginning and maintaining a nonprofit corporation in ND that can be found here.
  5. Submit the IRS Form 1023-EZ or Form 1023 depending on your eligibility. Eligibility can be determined using the worksheet in the 1023-EZ directions. Directions for the forms can be found here (1023-EZ) or here (1023).

**You may be exempt from this requirement if your organization has gross receipts in each taxable year that are normally not more than $5,000. Please see for more details.**

  1. Before the group can solicit contributions, it may need to be registered as a charitable organization through the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office as per NDCC 50-22. That process can be found here.
  2. The organization will need to follow the tax-code for a 501(c)(3) during the time that their application is in processing. See the IRS page “Tax Law Compliance before Exempt Status is Recognized” for more information. All bank accounts, books, and records for the group need to be separate from the library’s records.


Once the group has acquired 501(c)(3) status, they will need to follow all state and federal filing guidelines to maintain that status. This includes the annual filing of Form 990 and other, unrelated income tax filings, state filings, charitable solicitations reporting, donation substantiation reporting, etc. Additionally, records should be kept for things such as executive compensation, transactions with board members, sources of revenue, accomplishments, expense allocations, details of investments, and organization structure. These things help assure that the group will maintain annual compliance. Most records of the 501(c)(3) group will be subject to public disclosure requirements.


Helpful Links:

Surveys, Valuable and Annoying

SurveyThe other morning National Public Radio had a story about customer surveys, which seem to be everywhere. In the library world, as well most other worlds (business, education, government, sports, etc.) surveys are extensively used to find out why people do what they do, and what they want.

On one hand, surveys have value. We even have a book club survey posted on our “Field Notes” blog. But on the other hand, surveys can be one of the banes of modern society. Occasionally I will fill out a survey, if it isn’t too long and if it relates to my experience. I’ve created surveys. Most times though when a survey pops up on a webpage, I close it or say, “No thanks.”

Online surveys are everywhere because they are inexpensive, immediate, easy to create, and have value for discerning what customers are thinking. Institutions and companies find surveys to be worth the risk of annoyance. So, if you see value in a survey, take it.

“Add a few drops of venom to a half truth and you have an absolute truth.” — Eric Hoffer

Strategic Planning for Your Library

While your friendly Field Services librarians aren’t out visiting you or doing cool things like preparing book clubs and technology kits, we’re busy planning a day-long colloquium on, well, planning. During it, we’ll cover a panoply of important topics, like writing your mission statement, assessing your community, surveying your users, making sense of the data you’ve gathered, writing your goals and objectives, and what to do once you have a plan.

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Strategy for the masses!

We encourage all library directors and library board members to attend this excellent and eminently practical event!

The Colloquium will run from 10am-4pm and it will be held in six locations during the month of August:

August 5              Bismarck Public Library
August 7              Dickinson Public Library
August 8              Minot Public Library
August 13            Grand Forks Public Library
August 14            Leach Public Library (Wahpeton)
August 16            Alfred Dickey Public Library (Jamestown)

There is no cost to attend, but you must register. Choose the date and location that works best for you:

Here are a couple helpful resources we prepared to whet your whistle with:

A Community Assessment Tool for North Dakota libraries.

A Strategic Planning Template to help you with the writing process.

Tech Toolkits Now Available from the ND State Library

Do you have an e-reader or tablet you love, but have interest in learning about others?

Are you thinking about offering e-book or e-reader lending at your library but want some hands-on experience with different devices before starting your program?

Are you currently offering e-book lending, but would like more experience for yourself or your staff in using the service with different types of devices?

Have you been hearing about e-readers and tablets, and are simply wondering what all the fuss is about?

Then look no further – we’re here to help!

The NDSL Field Services Department is happy to introduce its Tech Toolkit lending program. The Tech Toolkit will be loaned to libraries in ND, free of charge, for a three-week period. During your checkout, library staff members will have the opportunity to explore, learn, and gain valuable hands-on experience with a variety of the e-reader and tablet devices people in your community are using. So what’s in the kit? The Tech Toolkit contains the following devices, along with visual step-by-step tutorials to guide you through the basics:

  • Apple iPad
  • Google Nexus 7 tablet
  • Kindle Fire HD
  • Kindle Paperwhite
  • Nook SimpleTouch
  • Apple iPod Touch

The Tech Toolkit is a great resource for libraries currently offering e-book lending. Having hands-on access to the most common devices over a period of time allows library staff to become more familiar with how the devices work and how the e-book download process works with each. The devices can also be used during the checkout period to demonstrate the e-book checkout and download process for patrons, and to help introduce them to the service.

For libraries not currently offering e-book lending, the Tech Toolkit gives staff members the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience with utilizing e-reader and tablet devices. Many of our patrons are using these devices and asking us questions about them, and having hands-on access to them is the best way to learn about these technologies, what the devices do, and how they are changing the way we read and access information. For those libraries thinking about lending e-reader devices to patrons, or thinking about getting involved in lending e-books, this is a great chance to test drive some of the devices beforehand to help in making an informed decision for future services.

Contact your Field Services representative to schedule your Tech Toolkit loan. We will deliver the kit and help you get started, and will return to pick up the kit at the end of your three-week loan period. If you are interested in holding a hands-on device training session for the public in conjunction with your Tech Toolkit loan, just let us know. We would be happy to facilitate that session as well. We’re looking forward to hearing from you soon!

Library Director Orientation in Mott with Kimberly Herring

I had the pleasure of visiting the Mott Public Library this Wednesday to meet their new director, learn of her plans for the library, and take her through the very first Library Director Orientation training that NDSL Field Services has offered.

The town of Mott is lucky to have Kimberly–she’s very enthusiastic about the library and impressively dedicated to it (as was their last librarian, who’s now serving as the City Auditor right next door). She’s already got plans underway to update the Children’s area, carve out a YA area, and boost adult circulation through more prominent displays of new material close to the entrance. She’s also preparing to start public movie screenings (licensed, of course!) and has been seriously thinking about options for gaming in the library as another way to bring in the young folks. Huzzah! Beyond that, she’s continuing the cataloging retro-conversion that her predecessor began, and constantly posting updates to the Library’s website and Facebook page. Oh, did I mention that she’s planning various Gnome-related Summer Reading events to tie-in to the Dig Into Reading theme?

Photo of Mott Public Library Director Kimberly Herring holding two gnomes

Kimberly Herring, Mott Public Library Director, with two friendly gnomes

For the first such orientation I’ve done, I must say that it went great! Kimberly and I covered an impressive checklist of topics, including services offered by the State Library, planning, library policies, board and director responsibilities, online library resources, library friends groups and foundations, weeding, technology, library law, and statistics. We wrapped up just as school was letting out, and she encouraged me to flee before the place was overrun.

A snapshot of part of the checklist of things covered during the orientation, including State Library services, public library statistics, library board and director responsibilities, library law...

Just some of the topics covered

Kimberly did note that she really wants a book drop for the library, so if anyone has any ideas on how to scrounge one (or if you have a spare!) please let us know.

Finally, if you’d like a refresher on any of these topics, don’t hesitate to contact your friendly Field Services librarian. We’re always happy to pay you visit!

The Joys of Winter Travel in North Dakota

I’ll admit it – when thinking about traveling around North Dakota in the middle of winter, Joy is not the first feeling that comes to mind. Apprehension and Dread are more like it. After checking and rechecking the weather forecast and ND Dept. of Transportation road conditions map dozens of times over the preceding days and packing my winter emergency gear, I ventured out on the road last Thursday, making stops at the Carrington City Library, Lakota City Library, and Lake Region Public Library in Devils Lake. I was happy to have the company of Michele from our administrative office on this trip – it was really  nice to not be traveling alone for a change! All in all, it was a productive, but very long day, and other than a few icy patches and some pretty serious fog on the return trip, the going was pretty easy, for February in North Dakota, anyway. Many thanks to Lenore, Geri, and Jim for your time and hospitality!

Elizabeth with Lenore Franchuk, Carrington City Librarian

Elizabeth with Lenore Franchuk, Carrington City Librarian

Lakota City Library presented annual report award

Michele & Elizabeth presented an award to Geri Wagness, Lakota City Librarian, in recognition of being the first to complete this year’s public library annual report. Also present was library board member Peggy Wheeler. Congratulations!

Welcome to Field Notes!

The North Dakota State Library Field Services Department is excited to launch its Field Notes blog! Check in with us often find out about all the great things happening in North Dakota libraries, get the latest news, information, and ideas from NDSL and the wider library community, and to find out what’s new with your Field Services representatives. Your comments are welcome and encouraged – feel free to join the conversation and share your thoughts and ideas!