FAQ: Policy & Procedures

Recently I was told by a librarian that they have never heard a compelling reason to work on policy. And we’ve all heard some librarian say (or said ourselves) we want practical solutions, not more theory. Some libraries don’t even have a procedures manual, because they think they can just figure things out as they go along–and of course, all the library’s personnel are on the same page, and implement policy equitably, right?

But policy, procedures, & theory are interconnected and all utterly necessary to public library practice.

Policy is not only cover-your-ass legalese considering the worst possible outcomes, but is also a statement of what you are doing and why. It is your first (and 2nd and 3rd…) line of defense against challenges, an outline of your goals and visions, and a map to the services you provide.  It should reveal your hopes and dreams for your community and your library’s place in it.

All of this rests on theory.

You want to make your community better and stronger, right? (I’m going to assume you do, because NO ONE goes into public libraries for the money!) Well, you have some theories on how you can accommodate this desire, which may involve literacies, or making things, or balanced collections, or storytimes, or a caring staff engaged in community affairs. These theories evolve into services and collections through practice and policy.

  • First, you decide x is the thing to do to make the world a better place (this is the theory).
  • Second, you write the roadmap for getting you there (this is the policy).
  • Finally, you follow the map, hopefully in an equitable and helpful way (these are the procedures).

Without a coherent set of policies, grounded in a strong mission statement, and elaborated in a comprehensive set of procedures, it is all too easy for public libraries to get their reputation for fussy, arbitrary, power-grabs. All too often a lack of coherent and visionary policies and procedures reads as “because I said so” bureaucratic bullshit. One staffer will require one set of behaviors, while another staffer allows another. And the rules don’t seem connected to the sense of welcoming, even revolutionary free open-access and social engagement that public libraries are actually about (in my opinion).

In light of public library makerspaces, many people are fumbling around with creating policies and procedures. I have been asked about policies and procedures a lot. I have spoken about the excellent East Troy Library’s makerspace policy, in a previous post.

Now, I’ve revised that policy to something that would have worked well in the library where I was a director, included some of the policies and procedures I created there, and offer you this sample Policy & Procedure Manual.

My goal is to ensure that creative spaces in libraries are socially just. This means that all people should have access to tools and information that they can use to pursue whichever dreams, visions, or ideas they deem fit. This should happen in an environment that is collaborative and supportive, so not only the education, job-skills, or even creative needs of the community are met, but also social and emotional needs, such as confidence, resilience, friendship, wonder, and plain old happiness.

I engineer these goals (my theories!) into the policies and procedures by trying to balance the needs of the many and the needs of the few, ensuring as many uses as possible are enabled, and that all sorts of social-emotional-creative needs are able to be met, instead o simply focusing on “don’t burn yourself on the extruder” types of policy/procedures.

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