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.



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?

Using internet resources to rock your YA & kids programming

I just presented at Wisconsin Library Association’s annual conference with two other awesome librarians on using tech to make better, more engaging, and often cheaper programs. Peg Checkai of Watertown  presented Karen Wendt’s work on online book reports. Kristin Lade of West Bend showed us all how to do skyped author visits free or inexpensively.

I, as usual, had a gazillion ideas to share, so created this powerpoint to showcase some of the internet sources I use to create what I (modestly) consider some of the most booty-kicking teen programming in the universe.

While the powerpoint is currently devoid of the commentary that tells you how I use these resources and why, it still may inspire you. I’ll try to create a slidecast shortly with commentary. For example, I look at Etsy with teens to decide which crafts we’d like to make, and I actually get emails from teens who have looked at it at home.  They clue me in on a great idea, then I keep all these ideas on Pinterest. While this isn’t exactly innovative, I like to put teens in the driver’s seat and they like to look at all the cool stuff available on sites like these.

I’d love to hear what tech (not just internet) you use to make fabulous programs at your library.