The development of Czech public libraries in the 20th century was significantly influenced by two library acts.
The first - the General Public Libraries Act 430 of July 22, 1919 - was enormously progressive for its time both by European and world standards. The act was passed by the Czechoslovak Parliament, following the formation of the independent Czechoslovak Republic on October 28, 1918. It imposed an obligation on each of the political municipalities to set up a public library within one or two years, equipped with lending facilities, a reading room, and reference materials. In localities with national minorities, the local authorities were further obliged to establish either an independent minority library or at least a special minority department. The act also determined a minimum fee for maintaining and extending the libraries on a per capita basis. Based on the act, library boards endowed with significant authority were created, and in municipalities of over 10,000 inhabitants, the libraries had to be managed by professional librarians. Thanks to this first Czechoslovak act, a dense network of one public library per 813 inhabitants was created within the first decade of the existence of the Republic. By 1929, virtually every locality had its own public library.
The second - the Unified System of Libraries Act 53 of July 1959, approved by parliament during the period under the communist regime, was primarily focused on the strengthening of centralised control over libraries by the setting up of a unified system of libraries, comprising separate networks of libraries - public, school, scientific, university, medical, etc. Each network was headed by a main library that provided methodological assistance to "its libraries". The State Library of the Czechoslovak Republic, presently the National Library, occupied a special position within the system, as did the Central Library Board. The idea of a unified system of libraries was never completely realised; nevertheless, this overtly "ideological" act significantly strengthened the practical co-operation of libraries of different types. It is paradoxical that it remained valid for more than ten years after the political and social changes of November 1989.
After many years of effort and "struggles" for a new act, the library community finally got what it was waiting for. On 29 June 2001, Law No. 257/2001 Coll. of 29 June 2001 on Libraries and Terms of Operating Public Library and Information Services (Library Act) was passed by the Czech Parliament.This, the third act in the history of Czech librarianship, deals with the issue of public library and information services, especially public libraries. It does not, however, exclude libraries of different kinds from joining the "system", provided they offer services to the public. The earlier 1959 act on the unified system of libraries applied to all the libraries operating in what was then Czechoslovakia.The new act determines the conditions under which a particular library can become a part of the "system of libraries" within the spirit of the act. There are two general points:
- The operator of the library has to ensure equal access for all to public library and information services and other services provided by the library.
- The operator has to enlist the library in the register of libraries kept by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic.
The Ministry of Culture manages the register of libraries as a public access information system. At present, more than 6000 libraries are registered. Many libraries that do not provide public services (e.g. most school libraries) or have not joined are not a part of the system of libraries to which the library act applies.
Basic library services such as book and periodical lending, verbal information, provision of information from public sources, are all free of charge. Libraries can, however, charge fees for other services. The act states that all libraries should be connected to the Internet by the end of 2006.
Libraries covered by this act can obtain state benefits (e.g. in the form of targeted subsidies), and they enjoy an exclusive position as to other related laws and legislative standards (e.g. the copyright act, accounting act).
The library act is linked up with other regulations and recommendations which regulate certain areas of library activities such as inter-library loan services, rules for providing financial subsidies, and standards for providing public library services.
Special regulations also relate to submitting deposit copies. A nationwide deposit copy of all publications is kept by the National Library (2 copies), the Moravian Library in Brno, and the Scientific Library in Olomouc. Regional libraries receive deposit copies of non-periodical publications only from those publishers that are located in their region. A compulsory nationwide deposit copy of periodicals is kept by the regional libraries and some special libraries.