Utah May Begin Requiring Employee Background Checks in Public Libraries
Across the country, public libraries provide a huge array of very valuable services to communities in both urban and rural settings. The library of today is more than a storehouse of books to explore and check out for reading at home. In some communities, it is the only opportunity the less privileged or under-served may have to access the internet. Some libraries give away seeds for fruits and vegetables for home gardens, while others are important hubs for the community. Considering that they attract so many different people of all age groups, are libraries using employee background checks?
The answer is not always "yes," especially when many libraries operate on a volunteer basis in small rural communities. Unfortunately, despite their considerable value to their communities, many library systems need help with financial challenges stemming from low or inconsistent funding. Additional expenses can threaten a library's ability to stay open or offer the same breadth of services it typically does. These pressures ultimately led to the 2022 failure of a bill before a Utahn legislative committee that aimed to mandate library employee background checks.
As a state with only a few major urban areas and many more rural spaces, there were serious concerns about the burden the new process could create. Utah has a robust network of libraries. In some areas, employees might need to drive an hour or two away from home to reach a facility where they could submit an acceptable background check. These travel requirements and the need for rural libraries to stretch budgets to pay for the checks proved fatal to the bill’s first version.
However, the 2023 session of the Utah legislature has revived the bill in committee after a year of coordination with library groups to improve the language of the proposed law. Under the new version, the state would earmark some funds to support libraries in the state's most rural counties by subsidizing the background check process. Some advocates say these changes still need to go farther and continue to push for an expansion of financial support to other rural counties, too.
Whether the bill will become law remains to be seen, but its goal is simple and conventional: make public libraries safer for the vulnerable. In the same way that criminal background checks for schools can prevent potential bad actors from interacting with children, libraries can also take steps to protect themselves and their patrons. Librarians in Utah agree, provided the financial implications of the new requirements don't threaten their ability to carry out their daily work.
It's unclear if the bill in Utah will undergo an additional revision to add another "fiscal note" to fund employee background checks for rural libraries. Such an addition is necessary for the bill to avoid strong headwinds again as it tries to exit the committee. However, with increasing support, Utah looks set to expand this important safety net into the library system—and employers should take note of these changing regulations.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments