Mission Statement Analysis article

My research looking at 32 public library mission statements has just been published by The Library Quarterly. Check it out if you’re interested in how these libraries position themselves in relation to their users, what roles they highlight, and the implications of these missions for real user-centered service.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s not looking so good for user-centered service.

Deconstructing the Mission: A Critical Content Analysis of Public Library Mission Statements

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.


Policy for library makerspaces

owl oopsI am regularly asked for a policy for a library’s makerspace offerings. I’ve seen many of these, and provided a brief one elsewhere on this blog. But I was thrilled to recently be offered a shot at looking over East Troy Public Library’s policy. East Troy is a small town in Wisconsin, and is part of a group of libraries offering a mobile makerspace. I’ve been consulting with them for the past couple of years.

This file is the DRAFT policy penned by the wonderful director Alison Senkevich, along with my comments and suggestions. While it is not the final, approved policy, I love the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of the policy.

My main recommendation: Ensure that a comprehensive procedures book is created alongside the policy to guide specific, quantitative guidelines for staff to follow when training, and ensuring use of the materials is up to the policy’s standards. If they do that, I hope to be able to share that as well!

Let me know if you have ideas, recommendations, or amendments you’d like to propose. The makerspace model in libraries is full of promise, but without strong policy, any makerspace will probably look like the 3D printed owl on the left of the photo above–starting out well, but devolving into chaos. (Note: the cat you see in the background was responsible for this mess. We call her Pandora for a reason–she is the original curious, and destructive, cat.)

East Troy Library General Makerspace Policy_comments


library mission statements

After an exhaustive (or more properly, exhausting) study of 33 library mission statements, and intense case study of the creation, implementation, and understanding of one library’s mission, as well as a lengthy critical discourse analysis of 8 types of library mission statements, I can, with some degree of authoritativeness, say most library mission statements blow.

Including the two I wrote myself. *hanging head in shame*

In the off-off-chance that someone finds this post whilst seeking ideas for a new statement, I have two to put forward. I think they dodge some of the worst faux pas of elitism, overstatement, power-hoarding, self-centeredness, neoliberalism, and lack of responsibility that many statements seem to fall prey to (as well as–and this is my bias–an over-reliance on books as the way we do our jobs).

A 23-word mission statement for libraries for when succinctness is good (i.e. always):

The library facilitates equitable, happy, and resilient communities through the open access to ideas discovered through shared space, materials, tools, and social interactions.

A 60-word “promise” mission statement for when thoroughness is preferred (though kind of ponderous):

We meet you at your point of need, and promise to support your informational, recreational and educational needs with the tools you choose. We bridge the digital divide with open access to programs, services and materials, so everyone can prosper.  We craft community, and facilitate social, economic, and ecological resilience as a forum actively engaged with issues of the day.

Please: Critique here. I’d love to see what others think. I realize these aren’t “snazzy” in a marketing sense, but I think that’s ok–marketing with a mission statement is a bit of a mistake I think. Go ahead and have a “tag line” or some other marketing statement, but back it up with a real commitment talking about why you exist and what you offer.

Also, for goodness sakes, don’t cut and paste your mission statement. Each library is unique and serves a unique community. Adapt any statement you like (whether the ones above are or are not what you like) to your actual library. Libraries should not be represented as cookie cutter, replaceable, anonymous institutions, but as the living beings they are.

p.s. If you want to know my shame, here is the first statement I wrote: “Our Mission: To enrich the lives of all our community members with free access to programs, materials and services that empower, educate and inspire.” I used the word ’empower.’ I feel awful. What a horrible, sneaky word that is, and enrich isn’t much better.