By this time you have figured out that working in a library is not as simple as you might have thought. Have you ever had to ask a patron to leave for inappropriate behavior? Have you had a mother complain about a book in the children's section? You could choose to deal with these problems as they come up, and ask your staff to do the same. But then you have problems with consistency. People respond to situations differently. Your mood or what kind of day you have had can also affect the outcome. While it is difficult to respond in exactly the same way each time, a good policy will get you close to that. It gives you and your employees guidelines, as well as protection. In the event of a problem, you'll have more leverage if you have a good policy that clearly states what is inappropriate behavior or explains why you choose the items you do. Written policies are an excellent training tool for new employees, and the public responds to what they perceive as a clear statement of authority. When library staff can show customers a written policy about the problem, customers tend to respect the library's policy.

Hopefully you've been convinced of the importance of having written policies. Your library probably already has policies covering a wide range of topics. With luck, you may even have a policy manual. If you don't, we encourage you to develop one. Having all of your policies in one place is convenient. You always know where to look. Creating a manual can be as simple as gathering up your current policies and placing them in a notebook. However, you may find that your library doesn't have much in the way of policies. What types of policies do you need? Here is a suggested list. This is a minimum, but it is a good place to start.

  • Personnel Policy: Includes job descriptions for all library staff, evaluation criteria, job expectations, information about salaries, benefits, etc.
  • Collection Development Policy: Describes what kinds of materials will be selected, how will they be selected, how donations will be handled, how collection maintenance will be done, and how the library will respond to complaints about materials.
  • Operational Policies: covers library hours, loan periods, how to deal with overdues.
  • Acceptable Use Policies: who has the right to use the library without charge, what types of behavior are acceptable and what types are not? It may set special conditions for the use of library resources. A good example of this is an Internet Use Policy.
  • Special Policies: are specific to your library. If you have a genealogy collection, you may want to develop a policy for how it can be used, who can use it, etc.

Before developing policies see if your library already has some of these (or all of them). Check with library staff and trustees. If you don't have all of the policies, start slowly. Writing good policies takes time. Give yourself, library staff, and trustees plenty of time to discuss a policy. And be sure to ask for staff input. They will have to explain the policy to customers, so they can add real value to the process. If you'd like to see policies from other libraries, the State Library has examples to share with you.

ASPeN: The New Library Directory

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