A&A: Access to public library records under Public Records Act

Q: I have been trying to obtain records of withdrawn items from my public library over the past 10 years. When I made my first request, they only provided records covering the last 2 years and 10 months, and they informed me that previous records do not exist – however, I have obtained information that confirms the existence of these records. Other attempts to obtain previous records have been unsuccessful. Does the Public Records Act protect my access these records?

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A: The Public Records Act is not a records retention act, and is therefore silent on this front.  There are several other statutes and ordinances that govern various agencies’ duty to retain records.  Unfortunately, I cannot find a statue governing how long a library must retain records of books.

Article XXIII, Section 2300 of the City Code states:  “Notwithstanding any express or implied records retention provisions of this Charter to the contrary, officers and employees of the City are not required to keep, maintain or preserve any City records or writings of any kind or character in excess of the period prescribed by the general law of the State of California.”

Additionally, “library…materials made or acquired and presented solely for reference…purposes” are exempt from the Public Records Act. Cal. Gov’t Code § 6254(j).

Notwithstanding the above, you may want to send the library a formal letter renewing your public records request, informing them that you know the records are available, and citing to the evidence you found. Here’s a link to more information about how to submit a Public Records Act request, including a sample letter.

Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.