Library Support Group Disagrees with City Library Background Check Policy

By Michael Klazema on 8/15/2012

Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Friends of the Helmerich Library nonprofit group has decided to withdraw their support of the Tulsa City County Library system due to concerns that their nonprofit status would be impacted by changes in the library’s background check policy. The group will no longer collect books from the public for fundraising purposes and is not allowed to participate in activities sponsored or promoted by the library. The dispute arose after a vote by the library commission earlier this year requiring background checks for all the officers of foundations that support the library. The Friends group disagrees with the requirement, saying that rules from the IRS disallow third-parties from having authority over policies or activities of a 501c3 nonprofit. They also counter that the officers of the Helmerich Friends group are not library volunteers. The group has suggested they provide results of their own background checks or change their name, according to Friends of the Helmerich Library board president Connie Largess.

According to Gary Shaffer, CEO of the Tulsa Library, the policy is there in order for children to be protected. He said the practice is “a small price to pay” to ensure children’s safety. Library policy requires all employees and volunteers to submit to a criminal background check. However, Largess said the Helmerich foundation does not supply volunteers to the library, nor do their officers act as volunteers. According to Largess, the group simply “provide[s] financial support” and has “no interaction with children.” She said that since many of the group’s members have volunteered for and undergone criminal checks for other organizations that they could provide the results of those to the library. She added that since they are an independent nonprofit, the Helmerich Friends group is not subject to oversight from the library system. Other members of the nonprofit are concerned that by agreeing to the background checks policy, the group is opening itself up to further oversight by library administrators.

Shaffer contends that even board members of groups affiliated with the library are considered volunteers, and all volunteers are subject to complete background checks. Shaffer said the library is currently negotiating with the nonprofit to find a way to complete the checks while alleviating their concerns at the same time. However, he said that the library is prepared to go on without the support of the Helmerich Friends group.

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