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.



Library Creativity Study

I’m seeking people who have used libraries to do something creative–as part of a program, in a makerspace or other creative space, or whatever. If you are interested, here are the details:

Have you ever:

  • Used a library makerspace or media lab equipment (like a 3D printer or video equipment)?
  • Participated in creative programs at any library (such as cooking or crafting)?
  • And are you 12 or older?
  • And willing to spend 1 or more hours furthering research?

This study involves participants audiorecording or writing a short history of their creative lives and how they have/have not intersected with libraries. All information is anonymized and participant identity kept entirely confidential.

This study looks at makerspaces and media labs in public libraries and how they might impact users.
Study by Principal Investigator Joyce Latham, PhD & Shannon Crawford Barniskis, doctoral student, UW Milwaukee School of Information Studies.
IRB# 13.332

Research PARTICIPANTs wanted creative spaces_revised

Contact me, Shannon, at crawfo55 at uwm dot edu if you’d like to be involved. I appreciate you even considering it!

medialab update

Six people came to my “convert VHS to DVD” class yesterday, four of whom I’d never seen before. A few teens are using the medialab stuff. Slowly, slowly people become aware of the stuff being offered in the library. It’s not quite “build it and they will come” unfortunately. Somehow I need to make people aware that this stuff is here, and that it’s fun/useful to use it.

I’m working on a grant right now to get more makerspacey stuff: 3d printer, sewing machine, screen printing machine and painting supplies. I hope I can get this moving.

As for the older teens in my town: WTF? Are you telling me there’s SO MUCH to do in this tiny town, that you never even consider using the library? Hellooooooo, anyone out there? Why can I not get anyone over the age of 15 in the library? Do you flee the town as soon as you get your licenses?

(Can’t say I blame you, I was a teen in a small rural town–but mine didn’t have an awesome library filled with cool tech toys and rad programs.)

Didn’t-Even-Graduate-High-School-I-Was-So-Desperate-To-Leave, Illinois

Makerspace, the BD edition

I’m about to go to Rhode Island to talk about content creation in libraries at a conference, so I’ve been whipping up a powerpoint. A couple of days ago I simply googled “makerspace” so I could loot images from unsuspecting websites* and right there, halfway through the second page of hits was this:

This is exactly why I’ve been harping on this subject to anyone I could corner for years now: If libraries don’t get off their collective asses, some enterprising person will create a for-profit version of what we SHOULD be.

This makerspace will be cool for those with the money to join, but probably once again widen the have/have-not divide in tech & information. I mean, it will be wonderful for middle-class white geeks like my family, who can throw down some cash for a few hours at the Arduino workbench (yeah, I don’t actually know what that is, either.)

See, I’m thrilled about this potential makerspace right in my hometown of 16,000. But HOW STUPID are we (librarians) not to already be all over this bandwagon? So I guess I’m more thrillgusted than entirely thrilled, or entirely disgusted with my own colleagues (who seem to worry more about how many “shades of grey” they should or should not buy).

We (the city) have a perfectly good library building ideally situated for makerspace activities in downtown BD, with a fairly empty basement (I think) but I can’t see this library forming a makerspace partnership anytime soon. They’re pretty anti-crazyfunstuff at the BD library.

So. Free shared resource potential, probably down the tubes. I hope I’m wrong! I hope I’m all cranky for no good reason, and a brilliant and amazing makerspace partnership happens with the BD library.  Note to all my librarian friends: If a (I’m sorry, I even live here) fairly lame-o, conservative, small town like BD is looking at building a makerspace, than this production revolution is REAL, not a fad or another chance for librarians to do our ostrich thing, then pout when we’re left out of the loop, a la ebooks.

By the way,  I just ordered a Canopus VHS converter and a Canon slide/photo scanner, so my library’s digital media lab will hopefully be luring the older members of my library community to the Lomira >EnterCorporateSponsorNameHere< Community Library. Hopefully. And at least I’m trying to LOCATE the bandwagon, right?

And by the “by the way” (or post-post-script) was finding the BeaverDamMakerspace website this evidence of creepy Google knowing from whence I was searching? I don’t think so–I have all sorts of ‘track-me-not’ stuff running on my browser, and there were results from all over the country before this one. I just honestly think Beaver Dam, WI is THAT happening and cool (or, OK, some of the inhabitants are, like Mr. Jason Gullikson, who is the ringleader on this excellent project).

*I do add photo credits and aim for cc licensed works, but this ppt is for educational use and I am totally claiming fair use.


My new library is fabulous. Not only is it a gorgeous, people-centered space (as opposed to the book/stuff-centered look of most libraries), but the people who work there and on the board are fabulous. We’re starting work on our medialab, much like the fabulous Skokie Library’s.

So far we have a bamboo tablet, a dozen flip video cameras, a blue yeti microphone and some super cool software, like Autosketch Pro, on our medialab laptop. A couple of tripods. A camera. My goal is to eventually have a medialab space set up–possibly the larger of our two study rooms, and bring on the 3d printers etc. that would take it from a medialab to a makerspace.

Problem is, I can’t seem to sell this to some of my stakeholders. The Friends don’t get the point of this at all. Some patrons think it’s cool, but still don’t see why a library should offer this stuff. The local businesspeople I am trying to sell this stuff to–as a way to create a logo, record a video or podcast, design a webpage, and so on–seem perfectly fine with their non-digital status quo. Luckily the teens are all over this stuff.

Still, I am struggling. I can’t get all the stuff I need to make a full-fledged medialab without some money, and I can’t get the money without the buy-in of the Friends at least, and I can’t get the buy-in without having all the stuff to get people excited and making stuff. Holy Vicious Cycle, Batman. Once one adult business owner makes something cool with our equipment I’m sure the word will get out about its utility. But it’s hard to wait.

As soon as I get one or two more things I’ll host an open house and see if that gets people motivated. For now–anyone want to come play on some cool medialab equipment?

ebooks, free & local

I mentioned recently that one of my goals this year was to participate in Nanowrimo, both personally and at the library. While the “book” I wrote ended up being a 135-page thesis (yeah, ok, that includes a boatload of appendices) and my writer’s group is not yet ready for prime time, I’m really excited about the idea of library-written books. Here’s the thing–I can’t find any instances of library-published Nanowrimo ebooks. It seems like a no-brainer to me to host the ebook files (converted to .azw, .pdf, etc.) on the library website, and make them accessible through the catalog.

Rich Adin discusses the drawbacks and benefits of reading such free literature. Obviously, some free ebooks are not going to be of stellar quantity. But the thrill of discovery has got to be huge when you connect with a book, especially one that is free and probably under-appreciated. I was always that girl who didn’t want anyone else grooving to my obviously superior taste in music (I got over it) and I still feel possessive of “my” little-known writers. (so Patrick Rothfuss isn’t really unknown–he’s local though. Unfortunately I forgot to give my kindle to my daughter, who was to get his ebooks electronically “signed” via annotation this weekend at DaishoCon in Wisconsin Dells–hey Patrick, are you listening? Want to send me an electronic “signature?” Just write “to S-h-a-n-n-o-n, my favorite fan…”)

But consider this idea further. How would it feel to know you were not only discovering a new talent when you read an ebook from your library, but that it was written by a neighbor. In only 30 days. Talk about inspiration.

For those of you who think only garbage is written during Nanowrimo, I just want to say two things: First of all, how amazing is it that regular people are getting off their asses and writing, no matter the quality or even if they ever do it again, or share it?! And two, Sara Gruen’s Like Water for Elephants was written for Nanowrimo. Take that, haters.

Here are some other Nanowrimo babies that have been published traditionally.


Content creation in libraries

OK, so I talk about this ALL the time (did you hear me say that just like Dr. Cox in Scrubs? maybe not) but it cannot be hammered home often enough: Libraries need to be creation spaces, not just warehouses. I had a conversation last night with someone absolutely thrilled with this idea and another who just wanted books. We can have both. In fact, ideally, we can write the books in the library and then make them available through the library.

Right now, I’m teaching a writer’s workshop at my library. My hope was to get it going in the summer, so by Nov. all the writers would be pumped for Nanowrimo, when they would pump out incredible fiction,let us release that fiction freely as e-content, and make it available through our catalog. Well, that didn’t happen. Writer’s workshop began in Sept. No one is ready for Nanowrimo this year. But next year: watch out.

In Madison, WI there is a small business on Lakeside, a community sewing space. There are machines to sew on, classes and one-on-one tutoring available. We need that type of tech in the library. Think how easy it would be to include a sewing machine and serger, ironing board and cutting table in a library lab. And how easy it would be to find a decent seamstress to offer classes. At the Horicon Public Library, the Friends meet once a year to make a quilt, which we raffle off to raise program funds. From there it’s a short step to incorporating sewing into the programming lineup.

What I want for Christmas

Ever since I heard about the MakerBot, I wanted desperately to be the first public library to have one, but snooze and lose. Fayetteville PL will beat us to the punch. Their FabLab is going to be fab indeed.

Any library that teaches knitting, art, writing, cooking, entrepreneurship, finance, or holds town meetings is a content creation space. We are already creating everything from jam to democracy in our libraries. Why not take this to the next level with a concerted focus on creation? I’d be willing to sacrifice 50% of my books to have room for creation spaces.

What do you create at/because of your library? Can you put a “library-made” sticker on it? We’ve got some of these stickers at HPL, if you want some. I’ve put them on gifts that I made with skills learned from library resources, staff, patrons and workshops.